Louisville hosted the first race on the MWCCC and it proved to be the first real test for the Irish as they came off of an unexpectedly warm and pleasant winter for South Bend. The weekend featured two distinctly different and challenging criteriums, Saturday’s at the hilly Long Run Park and Sunday’s at the flat and smooth Shawnee Park. Highlights from the weekend include two top-5 finishes, many successful first-ever races, and numerous points earned for the conference title. In addition the weather was not ideal with temps hovering in the 30’s and 40’s.
Day 1: Long Run Park
Zach Llorens, Ron Mau, and Sam O’Melveny, started their racing careers with the Irish in the 30 min, 6-lap Men’s D race. All three were caught behind a crash early in the race, but managed to stay upright. Their chances to stay with the front group rode off into the distance as they picked their way through the wreckage. Sam O’Melveny (34th) had the best finish for the D squad after chasing back with a smaller group. Ron and Zach also found groups of their own as the field was splintered under pressure from the course. The three finished well and look to continue their development as racers.
The cold temperatures did not let up for Theresa Smart, who represented Notre Dame in the Women’s Category C Race. With over a dozen competitors, Smart had her hands full with opponents and managing the rigors of a first bike race. The strong morning winds did not add any warmth to her situation, but Smart fought hard. After the field suffered from a solo attack, the leaders of the peloton made efforts to catch the solo escapist. Theresa finished in 8th place, a fantastic top-10 finish for the first time racer in a completely new environment.
John Caffarelli, Anthony Hall, and Connor Williams raced in the Men’s C race and from the starting whistle animated what would be a slow cat and mouse affair. On the first climb of the day Caffarelli accelerated and found space up the road. Teammate Connor Williams made the bridge and the duo had a small gap over the sleeping field, that roared to life when they saw the men in blue and gold up the road. The group was together for the rest of the race as the occasional attack flew off the front. Caffarelli covered a Marian 1-2 punch and the race stayed together for the remainder of the race with UW-Madison, Purdue, and Notre Dame controlling the front. Things got dicey in the final as Caffarelli was pushed off the road, avoiding a potential wreck. Williams sat up after he saw his teammate out of contention and both rolled in a few seconds after the uphill field sprint. The C men were pleased with team tactics and strength during the race, but felt they had missed an opportunity in the final.
David McKenna represented the Irish in the Men’s B race, a 45 minute affair around the loop at Long Run Park. A solo move from a Marian rider featured for a majority of the race as the field, including large efforts from McKenna, worked to pull back the lone wolf. The escapee was eventually captured near the final of the race and on the final lap, McKenna attacked on the penultimate uphill punch prompting the moves to the line. The effort proved to be just too far away from the line as the field eventually caught back and McKenna rolled in for a 13th place finish.
Sarah Cullen raced the 45 minute women’s A crit, a 11-woman field consisting of only two non-Marian or Lindenwood riders, Sarah and a Michigan rider. The pace was leisurely for the first half of the race, but attacks soon created gaps, and Cullen lost contact. She managed to chase back on. Two women were up the road on the final lap, and Cullen back in the group, who sprinted to a top-10 result in her first race of the season.
Tony Pratt and James Pratt were looking to showcase their strength in the Men’s A race and Tony Pratt was first to flex his muscles when early attacks began to fly off the front. Both Pratt men spent time near the front of the group throughout the race, an affair with odd team tactics from powerhouses Marian, Lindenwood, and UW-Madison, who all wanted a field sprint, but attacked nevertheless. Tony Pratt was very well positioned in the final and rode to a top-5 finish amongst the heads of state in the conference. James rolled in mid-pack confident with the state of his fitness, despite the finish.
Zach Llorens and Ron Mau raced the Men’s D race on the second day of the Cardinal Criterium in Louisville. Zach Llorens improved upon his finish from the day before as he found more comfort in the pack and held on to the main group before the pace started to ramp up with one lap to go. Ron Mau also had a strong showing, working with other dropped riders throughout the race to chase back on. The group never caught back onto the main field, but Ron enjoyed a small sprint to the line at the close of the race. The weekend was successful for all three first time D racers (Mau, Llorens, O’Melveny) as they look to continue their development throughout the season.
The Men’s C squad found some redemption after a tough end to a strong opening race the day before with a top-5 finish, and 2 top-10s. The race started slow, with Connor Williams, John Caffarelli, and Anthony Hall content to follow wheels and “stay hidden” in the pack until the final. All stayed well positioned amidst the barrage of attacks and mid-race sprints as Purdue, Marian, and Lindenwood battled for prime points. The final prime came on the bell lap and all three followed the attacks into the finishing circuit. Caffarelli was well positioned at the front behind the UW-Madison leadout train when with 600 meters to go Williams attacked up the road, prompting the dash for the line. Caffarelli powered home to 4th, thanks to a well-timed leadout, with Williams finishing 8th, and Hall 10th. All three riders scored points for the team with their top performances and make-up for Saturday’s disappointment.
David McKenna raced in the Men’s B race and was active in the field in sprinting for primes, chasing down the solo move, and setting up for a fast finish. Due to the fast course and strong field McKenna was unable to finish as he wanted, but certainly didn’t have a race to frown upon. His racing strategies and tactics will continue to develop especially as teammates from the C team upgrade to B riders throughout the course of the season.
Sarah Cullen continued her success for a second day in the row, matching her best women’s A career finish. The race was fast and strung out as the small field, dominated again by Marian and Lindenwood, worked to secure points from primes. Cullen hung on throughout the proceedings as attacks flew almost every lap, sometimes with prime laps in succession of each other, and sprinted past a few riders in the finish for 8th place. She was content with the result and overall pleased with her first race weekend.
The men of Pratt looked to continue early season success from the day before on a course that suited their flatland prowess. Attacks started early and Tony Pratt was quick to follow moves, and made the first move of the day, an eight-man group that found some space for just over a lap. The escapees were pulled back and while Tony recovered in the field for the next few laps, James Pratt spent time on the front pulling back the little moves as the day’s break attempted to be established. Mid-race, a 6-man move featuring the key teams in the race and key riders in the field created a significant gap . Tony Pratt made a stunning bridge before the group was out of sight, and once involved in the move, the gap grew and held between 20-30 seconds. Lindenwood’s team leader was left out of the move, creating havoc for the break’s chemistry as the Lindenwood rider involved was unwilling to work. The Lindenwood train eventually pulled back the move with 4 laps to go and the Pratt’s, as well as the top riders who had been in the break, took shelter in the back of the pack. With 2 laps to go, James was locked onto Tony’s wheel at the front of the pack, in perfect position to launch into the finish. In the final corner before the bell lap, Tony Pratt was caught up in a crash between a Marian rider and his UW-Madison counterpart. James made it through and came around for the final time for a top 20 finish. Tony Pratt suffered a cut on his leg from a chainring, but otherwise is ready to race in Miami.
Overall a successful first week to build upon as the season continues. Race reports for Miami-Ohio RR to follow soon!