Dangerous men were marked, gauntlets were thrown and intrigue filtered through the pelaton as the first three bicycle races of the NUVO/BAP Series were contested this past weekend. Nine teams are competing in the series, hoping for a piece of the $5,000 purse and bragging rights that will come with winning the overall title.
The 11-race series — for professional and Category 1 and 2 racers — began last weekend with two criterium races at Butler University and a time trial at the Major Taylor Velodrome.
The team competition created by the NUVO/BAP Series essentially becomes a race within a race. Each of the participating teams denotes a leader for every race who is marked by a red race number. As the men in red eye one another during the race, their respective teammates are working to help their leader collect series points. Points are available for intermediate sprints during the race — called “primes” — and for the finish. Meanwhile, many other racers whose teams aren’t competing in the series are pugnaciously going after the race win.
The NUVO/BAP Series has partnered with the Metro Grand Prix, a series of local bicycle races promoted by Truesport.com, and is “crucial” according to Darren Reno, co-owner of Truesport.com. “The series adds a whole new dimension because it changes the dynamic of the racing.”
The Louisville-based Texas Roadhouse Cycling Team, after finishing second to the NUVO/BAP Cycling Team in last year’s series, announced their intentions by accumulating 22 points over the course of the weekend. The NUVO/BAP team earned 16 points and Team Dayton from Ohio collected 15.
On the first day of racing, the teams were acutely aware of the red-numbered leaders and their movements. By day two, the strategy had changed. “Yesterday the red number riders just really looked at each other, and let everyone else fight it out for themselves,” said NUVO/BAP’s Aaron Hubbell on Sunday (See Sidebar). “Today the consensus on my team — and I think everyone else’s — was, ‘Look, let’s just ride the bike race.’”
Extremely windy conditions did not deter the Pro/1/2 Men’s field from racing aggressively at Butler University Saturday afternoon. More than 70 racers tore around the normally sedate campus on a .6 mile course, and a feisty pack would not let any racers break away during the first half of the 55-minute race.
Then — on the heels of a halfway sprint for cash and series points — an opportunistic Carlos Vargas bolted away from the field. Vargas, whose semi-pro Endeavour Team is not competing in the series, was quickly joined by Texas Roadhouse’s Curtis Tolson, establishing the two-man break that would stay away for the remainder of the race. “I wasn’t enjoying it very much,” Tolson admitted with a wry smile. “He never let up. He pretty much dragged me around.”
A native of Columbia who now lives in Milwaukee, the 22-year-old Vargas celebrated his birthday by setting a blistering pace, dropping Tolson in the final two laps and winning the race. Tolson took second place, and Rapid Transit’s Eric Knight, along with NUVO/BAP’s Rob Rhamy, successfully eluded the hard-charging field for third and fourth place after forming a two-man chase that never made contact with Tolson and Vargas.
Pat O’Donnell, who wore the red number for Texas Roadhouse, won the field sprint for fifth place and series points as the first team leader to finish. The 30-year-old medical student said the team’s strategy had unfolded nicely. “Our plan was to get something away without any red numbers in it,” O’Donnell said. “My job was to watch all the other red numbers in the field and make sure I was around for the points sprints and win the field sprint.”
Eschewing a typical daytime time trial on a road course, the race promoters instead used the Major Taylor Velodrome for a 12-lap race against the clock Saturday night. Despite favorable conditions — the wind had died down considerably — and an excellent venue for fast times, many racers stayed away. Only three series teams sent racers to compete, leading to speculation that others were intimidated by the prospect of riding on the velodrome or they were resting before Sunday’s race.
Tolson won the 4-kilometer time trial in 5:06.2, riding a track bike with aero handlebars and a rear disc wheel. “Most of the guys were riding road bikes which were a big disadvantage,” said the 30-year-old insurance salesman. “A track bike’s probably worth five seconds minimum because the drivetrain is more efficient.” Tolson — wearing the red number for Texas Roadhouse — won series points for the time trial. Team Estridge/Delta’s Darin Marhanka garnered second place with a time of 5:13.4 and Texas Roadhouse’s Harry Clark took third with a 5:21.39.
Sunday’s 1-mile circuit at BU was a dumbbell-shaped course that proffered eight corners and only two straight-aways. The first turn, a narrow right-hander, proved tricky for a handful of riders who tumbled onto grass and into hay bales when they were squeezed off the road. Ultimately, the winner of the race would credit the technical course for his victory.
Despite a scorching pace that strung the field out single file, a strong two-man breakaway survived until halfway through the race when a prime for cash and series points wound things up and the duo was reeled in. After about 40 minutes of racing, with the field visibly throttled, the definitive breakaway seemed to slip away almost effortlessly.
Hubbell, who was the last man to leave the field, found himself chasing to get into the break after he saw “dangerous-looking riders” and no teammates in it. The large, nine-man breakaway put a lot of distance between themselves and the field, which contained their teammates who were shutting down any attempts to chase.
On the last lap, the break accelerated in anticipation of the finishing sprint, when Michael Sterr, the lone Team Dayton rider in the race, surprised his cohorts in the breakaway by attacking them before the last two corners. “I really like corners,” said the 31-year-old Sterr from Springfield, Ohio, “because some people are weak at it and I can use it to my advantage. I was able to take them just a little faster.”
Carlos Vargas recovered to take second. Texas’ Clark and NUVO’s Hubbell, both wearing red numbers, were third and fourth, picking up valuable series points.