Cycling Team Wins National Chamionship
Dartmouth College is now home to eight proud bearers of cycling's coveted stars and stripes jersey. After three grueling days of competition in Burlington, Vt. this past weekend, the Dartmouth cycling team brought home the gold, winning the Division II team title at the Collegiate Cycling National Championships over 25 highly competitive schools from across the country.
Team captains Todd Yezefski '04 and Amy Wallace '04 led the team to nationals after a strong season of competition in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference that lasted from early March through the end of April. Yezefski finished in an impressive second place for the Division II men in the Eastern Conference -- a remarkable comeback after an early-season crash -- and Wallace came in fifth for the women.
The national competition began on Friday with a criterium race in a hilly, residential section of downtown Burlington. A criterium is a race on a loop of typically one kilometer to one mile in length, and usually features fast straightaways and hard corners. Racers compete until time is up -- usually 45 minutes to an hour.
Yezefski was the top Dartmouth finisher, earning fourth place in a sprint finish on a very challenging course. Yezefski, who has won several national championships in track cycling, disliked this particular course for the same reason as most racers -- the course featured a hill that gained 65 vertical feet in just 200 meters, equivalent to a 15 percent grade climb.
"It was the most challenging crit course I have ever done," Yezefski said.
"The hill splintered the pack and unmercifully wore everyone down, leaving them with little energy at the end."
Mark Nathe '02 and Tim Clement '05 began the race as well, but along with 35 other racers who were lapped by the leaders, got pulled from the race before the finish.
Following the men's race, the three Dartmouth women earned a heap of team points in their criterium race.
Amy Wallace placed sixth after getting caught up in a crash early in the race and, amid much confusion, was down one lap from the leaders.
First-year medical student Cloe Shelton finished in seventh, and Kristina Eaton '04 raced to an impressive 11th place finish in her first crit at this level of competition.
"It was hell on a bike," Eaton said. "Luckily David Yin '03 yelled from the sidelines that I was 'still strong' every time I reached the top of the hill. The things people say on the sidelines are about the only amusing part of the whole ride when your legs are on fire and the timer over the start/finish isn't anywhere near 0:00."
After less than 24 hours of recovery time, it was on to the 65.5-mile road race. The point-to-point race began at Mad River Ski Resort and gave riders a real Tour de Vermont.
After 28 miles of fairly easy terrain and not-so-smooth pavement, racers were faced with crossing the Middlebury Gap, the first of two ascents of the Green Mountains. The unforgiving two-mile climb was the first opportunity for the pack to spread out -- those who reached the top first could get away with other fast climbers, and those who struggled on the way up were left to chase the leaders for the last half of the race.
A fast and dangerous descent of the Middlebury Gap was followed by more roads through Vermont countryside, including a two-mile section on hard-packed dirt. The finish loomed at the top of the formidable Appalachian Gap, featuring unbelievably steep roads that made at least a few of the competitors cry. The 20 percent grade at the finish was too much for some racers to handle, and they were forced by their lack of strength to walk their bikes across the finish line.
No shame was brought to the Dartmouth squad by walking up the hill -- each of our team members rode across the line like a champ. Top Dartmouth finisher Tim Clement found himself right behind teammate Mark Nathe at the top of Middlebury Gap.
"We worked together a lot between Midd and App Gaps, and controlled the pace of our group of 25 guys on the climbs and flats for the most part," Clement said.
When the men hit the Appalachian Gap it strung out quickly. Clement ended up in 21st place, with a time of just over three and a half hours, while Nathe also earned points for the Big Green with his 29th place finish, only 32 seconds behind his teammate.
Steve Weller '05 finished in 48th place, and Todd Yezefski was forced to pull out of the race at the Middlebury Gap due to an unfortunate stomach virus.
On the women's side, the pack spread out considerably when a crash early in the Middlebury Gap climb knocked about 15 riders off of their bikes.
"As I tried to swerve out of the way, a girl flew over my front wheel and landed on two feet in the creek on the side of the road," Cloe Shelton recalled.
At the top of the two-mile climb, Shelton and Wallace managed to stick together and ended up riding all the way to the start of the Appalachian Gap with approximately 15 other racers. Both extremely strong climbers, Shelton and Wallace passed countless struggling racers with ease in the final miles and finished sixth and seventh respectively.
Although not far behind her teammates after the Middlebury Gap, Eaton had an unfortunate accident after 50 miles of racing, causing her to crash on a downhill. She suffered some minor injuries and was unable to finish the race.
The final event for the weekend was a fast and flat 19-mile team time trial on Sunday morning. Members of a time trial team take turns working in the front while their teammates get a short chance to recover behind the leader's draft. Yezefski, Clement, Nathe and Tom Temple '03 were on the line with minutes before their start when they learned that Dartmouth currently had the leading Division II team overall score by a narrow margin. This news got both the men's and women's teams very anxious.
"We probably went out a bit too quickly as we were all really keyed up for the race," Nathe said.
The big competition looked to be the Yale team, as its men had trained specifically for time trials during the season and rested all weekend, and the Yale women were the defending national champions in the team time trial.
Although the Yale men placed second to Dartmouth's sixth in the time trial, and the Yale women beat the second place team of Wallace, Shelton and Eaton, it wasn't enough to knock the Dartmouth team off the top spot on the podium for the weekend.
Dartmouth's 409 points were enough to crush Yale's score of 377 and all the rest of the competition. The five men and three women racing for the Dartmouth cycling team earned the title of National Champions for the first time in the school's history.
Both Yezefski and Wallace also received individual honors at nationals -- Yezefski for his fourth-place finish in the crit, and Wallace for earning fifth place in the individual omnium (crit and road race points together).
Amy Wallace and Todd Yezefski are the sophomore captains of the Dartmouth cycling team.