NOW WITH VIDEO: Race Report: Iowa Criterium Championships in Cedar Rapids

What could be better than a bike race on a beautiful summer day in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa? That’s right: Nothing!

The course is a rectangle that crosses the Cedar River four times. How is that possible? Because the river splits around Mays Island, hence four bridges. The two bridges at the bottom of this pic were used.

 

Mays Island, Downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Mays Island, Downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa

 

Besides the slight bowing of the bridges, the course is a pancake. The factors will be, as usual, the wind and the corners. The wind is not very strong, but still, it will be a factor when you are going at your max. Great corners (surface wise) and from what I heard, good surfaces throughout. That did not prevent all crashes, but I only heard of two: one in the master’s race and one in the men’s cat. 4 race.

 

WOMEN’S CATEGORY 1, 2, 3 RACE

 

I arrived during the women’s cat. 1, 2, 3 race. The field was very small, only about 13. And the funny thing was that it paid out to 15 places. Everybody wins something! The pack held together for most of the race. Robin Williams (ICCC) tried to break away, but was reeled in with about 5 laps to go. Kim Eppen (also ICCC) was nearly always at the front. I thought she might have enough to pull away during the last lap, but the other racers rudely used her and came around her in the sprint. Sorry that I don’t have the results for this race.

 

[note: this is a blog, not the New York Times. What this means is that I am not just a little biased, I am ultra biased: I don’t know everybody’s name, I only know a few cyclists from the Iowa City area, and I am not tethered to correct spelling. Sorry, sorry, and sorry.]

 

OUT OF ORDER: MEN’S SINGLE SPEED RACE

I was able to interview Matt Hartman (Atlas) after the single speed smackdown. There were only 5 racers, but still, not walk in the park. Matt said that he was just taking a moderate pull at the front of this 10 lap race when he noticed that he had a gap. “It was not an attack really,” said Matt, “it was more of a roll-away.” Continuing to ponder, Matt said that he didn’t intend the move: “I blame the rest of the group.” He decided to continue as the race was about half over. Then, on the last lap, Brian Eppen (ICCC) caught and passed Matt in a surprisingly quick manner. Still, Matt got second. Will (Bikes 2 You) was 3rd; Nick Martin (Atlas) 4; and somebody riding a Fuji (sorry no name yet) was fifth. I might mention that Brian was second in the master’s race. I might also mention that in the master’s race, he selected his single speed as his quiver, as his “WEppen” of choice. One wonders if a geared bike would have netted the win, or perhaps, a lesser placing.

 

MEN’S 4:

38 riders made for a big and exciting race. After a couple of flyers came to naught, the wind picked up a bit, and that kept the bunch rather bunched up. The pace and the corners whittled the field down to about 25. The last few laps got interesting.

 

With three laps to go, a rider burst out of the fourth corner and got a few seconds gap and another rider also had a few seconds on the pack. With two laps to go, one of these two riders who had a small gap was still off the front (the second guy I think). This rider off the front, Tim Putnam, looked big, strong, and smooth—although his face was a rictus of pain. As much of the course was open and flat, spectators could see him maintaining his lead of about 5 seconds through the corners. With one lap to go, Putnam had about 4 seconds—what, maybe 50 yards. The crowd went wild.

 

The suicide attack so rarely works, but when it does, it makes careers, it makes stories, it launches a hundred other copy-cat attacks too. How many times have we watched the lone rider in the Tour de France licking his stem with 10km. to go hoping against logic, hoping against history, to survive to the finish line. We watched Putnam grimace through the finish, one long lonely lap (.6 miles) trying to hold off the hungry pack that could see him the entire time. My guess is that nobody wanted to try to reach Tim alone, and nobody was fresh enough to try for the win off the front.

 

Rounding the last corner of the last lap, Putnam still had a lead, but it looked as if the pack was right behind him. The optical illusion of trying to figure out exactly how much daylight was between Putnam and the pack was a pickle. But I figured his lead was 30 feet. When the riders approached the line, I saw Putnam look back. Was he completely gassed, or was he looking to see if he had time to raise him arms?

 

And…a legend is born! Putnam held them off by about 20 feet at the line. A brilliant, gutsy move. Who doesn’t want this kind of win? I was able to track down the winner to get some insight. Putnam said that he was not confident of his sprint ability and the swerviness of many tired riders made him nervous. “I’m decent at time trials, and I did a bunch of cross-country skiing this winter, so I am in better shape,” said Putnam, smiling from ear to ear. Sorry I don’t have any pics of this glorious win.

 

Tim Putnam (North Iowa Spin) 1, Mike Hunter 2, Norbert K. 3 (Atlas), Jay Gorsh (Atlas) 4. Did I get these names right?

 

MEN’S CAT. 3 RACE:

About 33 riders took the line for this race. I was sorta hoping that the wind would continue to pick up because that would make for a very interesting race with echelons and tactics and blocking and all that noise. But the wind did not cooperate and died down.

 

My friend Brendan Kealey (ICCC) was amped for the race. Not everybody is able to rock the pink trainer with this much style.

 

BK on the PT

BK on the PT

 

 

After about 10 laps of only a few efforts to break up the sticky pack, I noticed one rider quickly established about 14 seconds—Derek Cassidy. Ouch, he looks smooth, I thought. This could be it. But then another rider took off to catch him, Jerome Rewerts. The catch is made and they work together. And they are gone. The race is sewn up tight.

 

These guys are big and strong. Two others get a gap after waffling for a bit. Ryan Jacobson (Atlas) and Brian Zinc finally break the elastic and solidify their lead over the pack. Ryan and Brian have 3rd and 4th locked. Then one other rider takes off in search of someone to take him in. But nothing doing. Poor Ryan French has to slog it out between Ryan and Brian and the pack, but he does hang on for a very hard fought 5th place.

 

Men's 3 Podium

Men's 3 Podium

My friend Brendan came in 10th, which is a good showing. He said that the pack was surging all the time so it was impossible to know which riders would get a gap and which ones would fail. So, of course, you have to stay near the front the entire race, and that costs you some “matches.”

 

What do I mean by matches? Well, each rider comes with a certain amount of matches that he or she can light during the race. These matches are metaphors for attacks or large efforts. For example, I usually pack about 3 matches on any given day. The guys who came in the top 5 of the men’s 3 race carry about 15 or so.

 

MEN’S PRO, 1, 2 RACE:

Talking  Smack in the Smack Shack:

 

The Bikes 2 You Smack-Talk Shack

The Bikes 2 You Smack-Talk Shack

 

“This is just a workout. Hey, if I win, it’s just a bonus.”

“I hope for a really hard race, ‘cuz that helps me do well.”

“It will be very unlikely for me not to win.”

“A good goal for today is to lap the field two times.”

“I like chicken.”

 

The potency of these claims and this brio is one of the reasons that I could never reach the top ranks in this sport. Simply too much hard-core, knuckle-busting, spine-snapping competition for me. Too much of that killer-instinct for me.

 

Little Known Facts:

•   Kenny Labbe was one of the announcers. He rode on the Postal team with Lance Armstrong for many years. Very nice guy and a great announcer—very informative.

 

•   Brian Eppen decided to stick with what he knows: he will ride his single speed in his third race of the day.

 

•   At least one 50 plus rider is in the field; at least two 40 plus riders are here as well.

 

•   21 riders line up. The race pays 20 deep.

 

The line up

The line up

 

From the gun there are several attacks. Lee Venticher (Bikes to You) gets a few seconds, but is absorbed. Clark Grebbe (Poweraid) gets a few and is absorbed. He is always near the front. Paul Denninger gets a few and is then is absorbed.

 

Some Key Playas in the Early Laps

Some Key Playas in the Early Laps

 

 

Clark goes again and is joined by one. Then next lap three more chase. Then these 5 are all together. This might be the break that sticks. The pack hesitates. And that is it! These five will contest for the win: Clark Grebbe, Brian Eppen, Sean Walker (Bikes 2 You), Jim Cochran (Atlas), Gerald Osterlof (All 9 Yards). Hope that I didn’t forget anybody.

 

With this break established, three riders go off the front in search of some glory: Dave Lippold, Brian Mortiz, and Paul Denninger. They will all stay away and hold their places (6-8). I can’t remember if Paul was 7 or 8 in the end.

 

The leading 5 lap the pack and since there are so many Bikes 2 You guys in the pack, I am sure that they will set things up for Sean Walker. It is hard to tell what is going on, because each lap shows new riders in the front.

 

Going into the last lap, the Bikes 2 You train is solid looking. But wait, it looks like Brian Eppen and Adam Price (ICCC) take off on the right and hit the first corner with some serious speed. I look on the back side of the course and it looks like Price is leading out Brian. But it must be too early to ramp it up, no? Everybody is single file now. One the backside, it looks like two Smurfs (ICCC) are followed by some Mellow Yellows (Bikes 2 You). Who is who? The Smurfs have maybe 12 feet between ‘em and another 12 between the Mellow Yellows.

 

They disappear behind corner 3. By corner 4 it looks as if they might be together. But wait. It looks like one Smurf and one Mellow Yellow are going at it as they near the line. Sean Walker and Brian Eppen. Does Eppen have a big enough gear? Will Walker come around him. Going to be close.

 

Eppen wins by a few feet! Too much. And on a single speed too! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

 

Pro, 1, 2 Iowa Criterium Championship Podium

Pro, 1, 2 Iowa Criterium Championship Podium

 

 

And here is a video of the last lap: 

 

My friend Lee was nice enough to let me interview him after the race. His knee-length socks are red-white-and-blue numbers that nicely accent his pale legs very well. I’ll give him the last words:

Me: “So how was it? Any insight into team tactics?”

Lee: “That sucked.”

 

And there you have it.

But wait. I can’t let Lee have the last word. First, I want to say that this was a great event. I hope they have the crit championships here next year. I hope that downtown Cedar Rapids continues to rebuild after the flood (not many people were around, and few businesses were open). And while it may have sucked to have to race your ass off for an hour, it was really a splendid afternoon if you watch.

 

Thanks to HBA Racing for hosting this, especially Vern and Shirley Rotert and Larry Howe—the chief promoter. Thanks to all the racers and their families for supporting the fastest, coolest, most exciting sport in the world. Kim West might have some choice info on these races as he was an announcer, and as he has a radio cycling show, I need to give him a shout-out. Hey. Am-1460 KXNO (KXNO.com)

 

And thanks for reading.

 

Official result should be up soon at www.hbaracing.com

 

That’s the word on the street—

Scraps.

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3 thoughts on “NOW WITH VIDEO: Race Report: Iowa Criterium Championships in Cedar Rapids

  1. Good stuff, Sean. That Eppen is a maniac. 1st, 2nd, 1st, all on the single speed. Unbelievable.

    I must say, though, based on the previous post, I somehow got it in my head that you would be reporting on your own race. No number for you?

    No worries. I’m the last person who should point fingers. When was the last time I pinned on a number for a crit? Spring of ’03. And it probably won’t happen again anytime soon. I like the view from the sidelines.

    Or in this case, I like your view from the sidelines.

  2. Pingback: GATEWAY CUP PART II: ST. LOUIS HILLS STAGE (REALLY MORE OF AN INCLINE)–WITH VIDEO « Scraps: Street Theorist

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