Snapping at Roadhouse’s heels

Downtown Zionsville has always hosted outstanding bicycle racing action and this last Thursday was no exception. For the first time in several years, the Zionsville Grand Prix was opened to elite riders as the penultimate event in the 2006 NUVO-Tortuga Team Series. The mighty Texas Roadhouse squad started the series with a commanding lead over Bacardi-NUVO, Tortuga and Dogfish but these other teams began snapping at Roadhouse’s heels last month in Carmel.

Immediate and nearly non-stop attacks welcomed the field as they began their journey of 50 laps on a half-mile course of narrow brick-paved streets lined with awestruck spectators. Consistent speeds of over 30 miles per hour and tight corners shed less experienced riders as the favorites on the sharp end of the race fired salvo after salvo.

Small groups constantly shot off the front of the field only to be absorbed within a few laps. Combinations of riders and teams in the attacking groups never reached the critical mass necessary to allow a break to be successful: Just one unwilling worker would doom a breakaway at those high speeds, or in the case of Bacardi-NUVO’s Declan Doyle and Bennet Vandergenugten, it made the other teams extremely nervous.

Near the halfway point of the race, Doyle and Vandergenugten attacked together and the teammates forged ahead. This elicited a furious reaction from the other teams, particularly Texas Roadhouse, and the race went into warp-drive. Bacardi-NUVO’s Tom Hanley wisely sat behind Roadhouse’s Curtis Tolson and Skiles Keith as they rocketed over the bricks in hot pursuit of the Bacardi-NUVO escapees. Once the pair was captured, Hanley took advantage of the counterattack and escaped in a group of about 10 riders.

After several laps the break began to disintegrate, leaving Hanley, Keith and Tortuga’s John Kelly together off the front. The leading trio quickly built a 10-second lead as the rest of the field, with the exception of Dogfish, was content to let their representatives battle for the win. Keith led out of the final turn followed by Hanley and then Kelly. Hanley passed Keith by mere feet before the finish line to claim the victory.

Hanley’s win along with a greater concentration of top-20 finishers allowed Bacardi-NUVO to claw back some of Texas Roadhouse’s overall series lead. Dogfish and Tortuga remain in a tight battle for third place. The final race on Aug. 5 in Bloomington will validate the best of these four teams: Will Bacardi-NUVO win in Bloomington a third consecutive year, will Texas Roadhouse retain their grip on the lead or will Tortuga or Dogfish swarm the others for a surprise victory in the series?

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Team standings after 3 races:

Texas Roadhouse 149

Bacardi/NUVO 115

Tortuga-Big Brothers 71

Dogfish  61

Final race will be in Bloomington Aug. 5.