A long and very successful road season came to a close for SMU this past weekend. Mina, Nicky, Frank, Jeff, Buzz and Caryn all claimed victories in 2010. Whether it was the cyclocross victory of Mina Pizzini in Austin's Lone Star Challenge, Nicky Boulle's TxTough win in front of a huge crowd, Jeff Klein outsprinting the Cat 4 field at Cotton Patch, Frank's solid season with many top 10's and a handful of crit victories, Buzz Nanavati's omnium win in Greenville or Caryn's dominating ride in the W35+ at the state championship, the year was full of superlatives.
The drive to the site of the Ft. Hood Challenge, which is held on the military base, is somewhat surreal, the white fine gypsum like soil and sparse vegetation make the tent city appear more like the Burning Man festival. Typically the last serious road race of the year, Andy Hollinger's Racing Post Fort Hood Challenge is the Texas State Championship. The race course, despite it's severity, brings out the experienced racers and the novice cyclist's alike, despite the race's placement late in the racing calendar. The lure of the state championship jersey that is awarded to the first place finishers in skill based and aged based races is a tempting goal for the entire racing community.
For the SMU team, Jeff Klein opted out due to an intense summer, going from a Cat 5 to a Cat 3 in just a few months. Buzz was competing in a national triathlon event, and that left Nicky, Frank, and the Montague's to compete in the Fort Hood Challenge. Nicky was racing the Cat 2 race, Frank the 3's, Caryn the Woman's 4 on Saturday and Sunday Frank and Nicky did the U23 race, Caryn the W35+ race and Scot the M50-59 race.
Caryn and her season began in April, with a new licence, many miles in her legs but little organized racing experience. Like Buzz, her background was running, with numerous New York HS State meets and a NY title to her name. She would compete and become friends with many of the W4's in the DFW area including Sarah Wells, Kathy Weldon, Cindi Philippi, Carla Keeton, Erin Hotchkiss, the intense competitor Brandi LaFleur and the revelation of the late summer, Kaelly Simpson. A recent grad of the University of Nebraska, Kaelly arrived in Dallas to teach math at Bishop Lynch and soon made her presence felt at the local road and cross races.
The W4 race split on the first obstacle, a steep hill that appears 7.5 miles in the course. Kaelly and Amy Brown distanced Caryn, with the other girls far down the slope. The race was established here, with Amy and Kaelly in a breakaway, with Caryn and Stephanie Page in pursuit and the rest behind. Two Shama woman and the two showing the colors of the Huskers and Mustangs. The rest of the 25 miles saw these places solidify, with the Shama racer Amy Brown's experience getting the better of Nebraska's Kaelly in the sprint. Amy briefly dropped her chain and Kaelly went, earning her the nickname "Contador." Whether the nickname sticks depends upon a little matter of clenbuterol and plasticizers. Caryn was able to outsprint the other Shama cyclist Stephanie for Bronze. 6 minutes later Cindi sprinted ahead of Jennifer Wagner, U of H's Afton Shelton, MetroVW's Carla, Park Place's Sarah and Rockwall cycling's Kathy. Kudos to collegians Becca Camp of TCU and Lauren Fossum of Texas Tech, who chose this demanding course for their first race. Watching expectantly like a new father, Michael Gacki was proud that his girlfriend, Shelby, also finished the race. She was first among the debutantes!
Of all the racers on SMU's roster, club president Nicky Boulle needs little introduction, especially after his sweep of the races in Mineral Wells as a 3, and his win in Dallas' TX Tough as a 2. His race on Saturday, racing in his Park Place colors, saw him feeling quite ready for the challenge. Too bad his Dura-Ace chain wasn't. It snapped 10 miles from the finish, leaving him to start his focus, not on a victory salute, but where to find a chain in the middle of the wind swept, butte horizoned plain. Luckily, he would be able to race on Sunday since the race's mechanic from Bicycle's Inc had a spare 10 speed Dura Ace chain.
Frank Cusimano's race was setting up nicely for him (returning to the scene where he won the Cat 5 State Championship in 2009) but his good legs were not rewarded with the right wheel to follow, but he still finished a credible 8th in a very large Cat 3field.
Of interest was the nick of time arrival in the Cat 4 race of Alex Gibson of TCU and MetroVW, who had the misfortune of having keys, bike, shoes, helmet - all locked in his truck. Two handy slim jims were no match for the skill and experience of the AAA locksmith, who followed our 45 minute struggle to get in the Yukon with a seemingly effortless 5 second and successful break-in that left everyone dumbstruck. Race saved for Alex, whose TCU club was also at the race in full force, (Becca, JR, Cash, Justin and Filip (who is a former Bosnian Junior cycling champion.)) Also seen in force, the Texas Tech club, who had a slew of "Will's" competing in the 5's. Eric Wright aka "Crashman" was cheering/jeering his Tech team mates to the finish. One Tech racer had the greasiest chain ever seen, it looked like an oil extrusion.
Sunday had the Age based races and everyone complained of heavy legs, save for Scot whose broken femur 6 weeks earlier allowed him to do only one race during the weekend. Dropped on the first big climb, a serious chase back in the nurturing field was foiled in the last three miles with cramps on the last obstacle before the finish, another climb. 17th in age, 26th overall, but considering a broken leg 6 weeks earlier, mission accomplished.
More troubling was Frank's distress due to possible food poisoning (two trips to the Copperas Cove Subway. Two trips?) had him feeling very shaky for the U23 race. Nicky was able to finish 9th, 3rd in the age class, just behind the Garmin developmemt rider Thacker Reeves and the winner, Colt Bates.
Our new friend Kaelly raced with some much more experienced riders who gave her on-course suggestions and lessons (the reason that girl is slowing up? She has a team mate up the road! Oh, duh) A great element of much of woman's racing is that the camaraderie of racing together transcends team and experience. Want to learn? Ask a fellow competitor. The new Texan by way of Nebraska, Minnesota, Germany, and DC showed that she has an effortless climbing style. She was the one who broke apart the W4 race the previous day. Kaelly's 3rd place added to her weekend total. Afterwards, the "unnattached" next to her name was getting a lot of inquiries with PACC, Park Place, Team Bicycles Inc, (direct from Andy) and others positioning themselves as the team to ride for.
Now for Caryn's masterful ride to get her the jersey. Knowing that, again, a selection would probably occur on the first big hill, Caryn was watchful. Brandi made the first attempt to get away, but Sally Sonnier's fluid climbing broke the group up including dropping Caryn near the summit. Megan Babb, Michelle Montoya, Stephanie Page, Donna Lakomski and Sally powered away, only to be shocked that Caryn bombed the descent, reaching 50+. Megan turned around and saw Caryn hurtling towards them. They started to pedal faster but her momentum caught them. Megan complimented Caryn on the catch, Stephanie was happy to see Caryn back on. The rest of the hills saw the group reduced to four (Caryn. Megan, Michelle, Stephanie) Caryn caused the other to marvel that she always climbed in the big ring, and wearing a skinsuit no less!
Stephanie and Caryn discussed concern that they were doing all the work and didn't know what to do since Michelle said she was waiting for Sally (who had been dropped.)
Caryn and Stephanie pulled the last 5k to the finish and Caryn knew she was in the wrong spot, potentially pulling Michelle to the victory, as she had the most feared sprint. Leading out, Caryn went at 225 meters, surprising Michelle, Caryn powered to the victory from the front with a visible dissappointed Michelle 2nd. As she crossed the line, Caryn did what has become a tradition, flashing pony ears across the line in triumph.