WALLA WALLA, Wash. – An experienced nine-rider team representing the Whitman College cycling club has made its way to Madison, Wisc., for the start of this weekend’s USA Cycling Collegiate Road National Championships.
Since its inception in 2002, the Whitman club team has pedaled to the top of the collegiate road discipline ranks, winning the Division II overall team titles in 2005, 2006, and 2009. Success at nationals has also included victories in the women’s road race, criterium, team time trial.
This weekend, Whitman hopes to continue its streak of success with an experienced contingent that features seven riders with past national experience.
"Collegiate Road Nationals is definitely a test of endurance," says club vice president Ben Chaddock, a senior who is making his third trip to the championships.
The long weekend of racing, which starts tomorrow (Friday) with the first of three events, continues through Sunday.
Friday’s road race takes place at Blue Mound State Park west of Madison. The course features a challenging hill that gains 800 feet of vertical elevation, running 73 miles for men and 58 miles for women.
Racing rolls on Saturday with the criterium, a circuitous race that circles around the Wisconsin State Capital Building in downtown Madison. The four-corner loop covers six-tenths of a mile, setting the stage for 60 minutes of racing for the men and 45 minutes for the women.
On Sunday, racing concludes with the team time trial (TTT) in Waterloo. Each team races independently around a set course, and teams are ranked according to their times.
Whitman has enjoyed success in all three events in past years, and with a larger roster in Madison for this weekend’s racing, its optimism is running high.
"Our team’s strength is its depth," says club president Colin Gibson, a senior. "While standout performances may capture attention, a team cannot expect to do well if it is not well-balanced.
Whitman demonstrated its depth at nationals last year in Fort Collins, Colo., winning the Team Omnium competition with 500 points. MIT was a distant second with 373 points.
"While it’s true that we had some big wins on the women’s side last year, we wouldn’t have been where we were without our ability to place several riders in the top-20 of each race," Gibson said.
On the women’s side, riders returning to nationals for Whitman are seniors Kendi Thomas, Mia Huth and Emily Rodriguez, and junior Roxanne Pierson. Competing at nationals for the first time are junior Chelsea Momany and sophomore Eloise Zimbelman.
A year ago, the team of Thomas, Huth, Rodriguez and Pierson captured victories in the team time trial and women’s overall competitions. Thomas also won the women’s criterium crown after finishing second in 2007 and 2008.
The women’s team can make good use of its added depth in this weekend’s races.
Teams can enter up to six riders in the road race and four in the criterium and TTT events, although only the top three finishers from each school are scored.
By sending a full team into the road race and criterium, Whitman increases its chances of earning top finishes for its top three riders, since remaining riders can dedicate their energies to helping teammates by shielding them from wind and countering tactics of opponents.
The full roster can also make a difference in the TTT event. Extra riders can be entered as alternates if one of the original four cannot start the race.
In contrast to the women’s roster, the Whitman men’s team has shrunk in size but hopes to compensate with its three experienced seniors.
Timbah Bell joins Chaddock and Gibson to give Whitman a substantial shot of experience. Chaddock and Gibson were on last year’s national championship team, and Bell is back after taking a two-year hiatus from Whitman. Bell was on the national champion 2005 and 2006 teams.
The men’s team demonstrated its strength at Northwest Conference TTT event, bettering times set by last year’s four-man Whitman team by as much as 30 seconds over 10 miles.
And given the fact that the Whitman men missed a national TTT championship last year by just 19 seconds, it is clear that the 2010 Missionary trio has plenty of potential for success in Madison.
This weekend’s racing is being widely covered online, and USA Cycling’s Twitter feed is set to post updates and results as they become available.
The Whitman cycling club will also post updates of its own on its team website.