by Ken Getchell
The UCI C2 Wissahickon Cyclocross, round four of the MAC Powered by SRAM Series, served up an exhibition of different ways to win a cyclocross race today. Laura Van Gilder (C3-Sollay.com) won the Women’s race in the last minute of the competition, while Jeremy Powers (Cyclocrossworld.com) won his race in the first minute of action.
The Wissahickon course at the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show and Country Fair Grounds is fast with lots of power sections and a couple of tricky off-camber hairpins. The venue is a wide-open hilltop to the northwest of Philadelphia, and has become well-known for its windy conditions. Today it was the setting for one of the most competitive MAC Powered by SRAM Women’s races ever held. Rebecca Wellons (Ridley Factory Team), took the early lead, but almost immediately was joined by defending MAC Powered by SRAM champion “Mo” Bruno-Roy (MM Racing Presented by Seven Cycles), yesterday’s Granogue winner “Dee Dee” Winfield (Velo Bella-Kona) and Van Gilder in a breakaway that would define the race. Behind them a chase formed that, at various times, consisted of yesterday’s runner-up Kathy Sherwin and Anna Milkowski of Velo Bella-Kona, Josie Jacques-Maynes and the only rider on the track who had previously won the race, Barbara Howe (unattached).
Laura Van Gilder’s strategy in the tactical battle soon became obvious — stay second wheel behind Winfield. Van Gilder, who’s MAC Powered by SRAM winning streak had been halted by a first lap flat at Granogue yesterday, was looking for redemption at Wissahickon. “My plan was to ride an aggressive race. I felt like I had a lot to make up for after yesterday,” said the road veteran in her rookie year of cyclocross. “And not having ridden with the girls yesterday to see how their fitness and tactics were, I was a little more conservative in the wind. And Dee Dee, she was just killing it on the front, so I was content to sit in and as the laps counted down, I really wanted to asses where I wanted to make my move to try to gain any sort of advantage.”
At the same time, Winfield, Wellons and especially Bruno-Roy were also assessing where they wanted to make their moves, as they didn’t want the race to be together on the long road finish with one of the greatest women road sprinters of all time in their midst. Said Winfield, “I wanted to lead through the circle of death (a cinnamon bun shaped spiral feature on the course) because it was so easy to slip out through there. I figured it would be better to take it at my own pace, hoping that somebody would come around and pull through the windy sections, but that didn’t happen. So I thought it would be better to just ride my race and if they were there, they were there and I’d just do the best I could. A couple time I tried to get away, but I think should have, maybe, let them come around and attack from the back. I thought maybe I could accelerate through the corners ad get a gap, but I couldn’t hold anything.”
Winfield had won the sprint on a similar uphill asphalt finish yesterday at Granogue, but nobody seemed to fancy her chances against the powerful Van Gilder. As the pressure ramped-up in the last kilometer, Bruno-Roy lost contact. Then, unexpectedly, Van Gilder attacked across the barriers on the Victory Brewing run-up, just as she had one month earlier at the Charm City Cyclocross. Winfield and Wellons tried to respond, but once they hit the pavement just five turns later, Van Gilder was able to light her afterburners and seal her third win of the short season. Winfield held off Wellons for second, capping a profitable weekend in the chase for UCI points.
Afterwards, Van Gilder revealed that she had caught the cyclocross bug. “I find that ‘cross, although it’s short and intense, you really have to be on your toes both mentally and physically and especially with your technical skills. You know, all those things are coming into play throughout the lap in so many ways. Each lap you’re trying to asses where your weakness is and improve on that. And really it feels like the whole 40 minutes you’re just evaluating everything. And there’s the competitors around you, and that’s just one more element. For me I really like that mental and physical aspect because it just encourages me to fight harder.” Later she said of cyclocross, “I’m very, very fond of it and I find the atmosphere so welcoming.”
In the men’s race, a stacked field of over 50 riders lined up for the drag race up the start/finish straight. And like a drag race, it was all over in a little over 6 seconds. Jeremy Powers (Cannondale / CyclocrossWorld.com), in the midst of a season in which he’d already won four UCI races, took the holeshot and exploded off the front of the field in a start that Jeremiah Bishop, yesterday’s third place finisher, described as “pinball”. Bishop (Trek/VW) was mid-pack heading into the first turn and in full-pursuit mode. Lap after lap Powers continually extended his lead over an ever-changing chase group. Defending MAC Powered by SRAM champ Davide Frattini of Colavita/Sutter Home and Jamie Driscoll of Cannondale / CyclocrossWorld.com lead the charge with one of the season’s revelations, Dan Timmerman (Swan Cycles). They were eventually joined by both Ryan Trebon and Barry Wicks of Kona, Andy Jacques-Maynes (Specialized/ KMC presented by California Giant Strawberries), Troy Wells (Team Clif Bar) and Power’s Cannondale / CyclocrossWorld.com teammate, Tim Johnson. The chase changed size and shape like a lava lamp as gaps would develop between groups of riders only to rejoin the main chase again. One rider who never looked comfortable on the day was Ryan Trebon, who was one of many to crash on the day. “Some days you just go slow,” he said afterward.
Trebon did actually lead the chase at one point, but once he pulled over, Tim Johnson hit the front and brought the pace down, allowing Powers to bring his lead up to 27 seconds. Meanwhile, Jeremiah Bishop was continuing to hopscotch his way toward the front from group to group until he high-sided spectacularly with 4 ½ laps to go. “What happened was that the road was slippery because it had a lot of gravel, but the grass was pretty grippy. I slid on the slick, but when I hit the grass, the bike stood up and I went over the handlebars.” Undeterred, Bishop carried on, “that’s probably my strength, pressing on regardless.”
With Power’s lead over 30 seconds, Tim Johnson suddenly switched from defense to offense. “That’s the beauty of having teammates,” he said. “Because once Jeremy had a lead that was established, then it was up to me to get away from those guys and finish second. So I hit it a couple of times to just string it out and see who was there after it happened and it was just Jacques-Maynes and Timmerman at first. I let Andy (Jacques-Maynes) ride for a little while, and then I attacked those guys twice before I finally got away. But then once I got away, I just kept the gas on. Jeremy had such a big gap that it was just about staying away from the guys behind me. It was a great day for the Cannondale / CyclocrossWorld.com Cannondale team.” Then he added, “But we miss Lyne (Tim’s wife Lyne Bessette). She’s retired now and traveling is just a little bit different without her.”
Powers went on to become the first repeat winner in Wissahickon cyclocross history with a jubilant finish 29 seconds in front of Johnson. Bishop recovered from his crash to finish third, with Timmerman outsprinting Jacques-Maynes for fourth. “I’ll take a win any ay I can get it” said Powers immediately afterwards. “This is one of my favorites. All the best guys in the country are here and I’m really happy with how the day turned out.”
Other Race Notes:
- 15 year old High School Sophomore Jeff Bahnson extended his winning streak to 7 and remained undefeated in MAC Powered by SRAM Category 3/2/4 adult completion. It was his fifth win in 10 days following a sweep in Cincinnati last weekend and the Granogue/Wissahickon double header this weekend. He was also part of the organizing committee that produced yesterday’s Granogue race.
- Roger Aspholm dominated the Elite Masters class, again. With the win, Aspholm stays undefeated for the year in MAC Powered by SRAM action.
- Philadelphia’s Sturdy Girl Cycling Club provided bonus primes for competitors aged 35 and over in the Elite Women’s race, while racing chiropractor Barry Wahner donated primes for several of the amateur classes.
- One of the more unusual sponsors of the race was actually another race. The 2009 New Jersey State Fair SpectaCross sponsored the Men’s B (category 2/3/4) race at Wissahickon. According to organizers, it will be a “supercross-style arena cyclocross race” on the opening weekend of New Jersey’s State Fair and take place in the same arena used for tractor pulls, and demo derbies. Plans call for a cyclocross with a run-up over a car, a mtb trials competition and unicycle jousting to entertain the fairgoers between races.