Saturday's Mass Ave Criterium was a rousing success by almost every measure.
With perfect weather, a record number of competitors, big crowds of enthusiastic spectators, hefty prize packages, happy sponsors and no major crashes Indianapolis' premier USA Cycling event of the season couldn't have turned out any better. Unless, sadly, you were a NUVO/Cultural Trail cyclist.
The day consisted of a series of races pitting cyclists of like ability in six different competitions. And while each of those came with their own racing drama and excitement, it was the final race of the day that brought the most heat the Men's Pro/Category 1 and 2 race.
Defending champion Chad Burdzilauskas came with only one Kenda teammate, Jake Rytlewski, and both were at the front of the line. Also at the front: a block of NUVO riders, ten in all, who were there, in theory, to support teammate and current Indiana State Criterium champ Aaron Hubbell. The Texas Roadhouse lined up strongly, as well, with eight riders including Kirk Albers, John Grant and Greg Strock (who had taken first in the Masters 35+ race about an hour prior). After a ceremonial parade lap led by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, the fastest race of the day was underway.
The first few laps of a bike race are similar to how a round of poker unfolds. Everyone tries to gauge what the other guy's got, while also trying to figure out what to bet on yourself without tipping your hand. Eventually, however, it becomes clear who is in the game to win and who is just glad to be sitting at the table.
A few breaks were attempted early, but they were quickly brought back in, and it wasn't until about twenty minutes into the race that anything stuck. That's when the three-man break of Burdzilauskas (Kenda), Grant (Roadhouse) and Nathan Moorhouse (WDT International) shed everyone else and made their move.
And while it didn't seem like anything all that special when it launched, it seemed a little too early for the rest of the field to be shut out, particularly with so many strong competitors, those who bet against the break quickly learned they'd been out-played. For the next forty minutes, the trio went unchallenged and their gap gradually widened with each successive lap of Mass Ave.
Not to steal anyone's thunder, these three riders deserve high praise, the real reason for the success of the break is due to the incredible teamwork of the remaining Texas Roadhouse riders controlling the peleton. To say Roadhouse dominated the race would not be an understatement. With six riders relentlessly controlling the front of the pack, they were able to control the speed of the entire race and guarantee their teammate Grant no challenge from behind.
Which isn't to say there weren't attempts. Of the 65 riders who began the race, only 28 finished 37 others either got lapped, blew up from trying to chase, or simply gave up when it became clear that Roadhouse had no intentions of relinquishing the reins. The biggest casualty of Roadhouse's dominance was, undoubtedly, the NUVO/Cultural Trail team. We got our asses beat. Badly.
Had his team managed to stay in the game, there's no reason why the break couldn't have been bridged by NUVO, sending Hubbell up to a sprint finish that would have challenge the trio in the lead. Hanging at the front of the pack, literally boxed in by Roadhouse, he was exactly where he should have been, given his choices after missing the break.
Instead, the team simply disintegrated. One by one the NUVO riders fell off the back, including Adam Leibovitz who ran out of steam pretty early on and Ben Weaver who was lapped by the main field about halfway through the race. For the final third, only Hubbell and Erik Hamilton remained in the competition for NUVO.
With the top three competitors decided early on, the only suspense was in what order they would place. And waiting to see the sprint to the finish between Burdzilauskas and Grant had everyone guessing. Taking turns as the lead-out on the final few laps helped them to build suspense and conserve energy, but many of those who've seen these riders compete before thought Burdzilauskas would turn on his trademark last-minute juice and eek out a victory. In the end, however, the dominance by Roadhouse extended all the way to the finish and Grant took the win by more than a wheel.
Kevin Attkisson of Roadhouse took fourth, Burdzilauskas' Kenda teammate Rytlewski sixth, and Hubbell managed to claim seventh place. While several other Roadhouse riders filled out the top ten, NUVO's only other rider to finish, Hamilton got twelth place.
1. John Grant - Texas Roadhouse
2. Chad Burdzilauskas - Kenda
3. Nathan Moorhouse - WDT International
1. Neil Bartley - Berkeley
2. Aaron McCombs - Proctor
3. Matt Kiel
1. Michael Schroeder - MOB Squad
2. Adam Mercer - Speedway Wheelman
3. John Ryan
Men's Masters 35+
1. Greg Strock - Texas Roadhouse
2. Harry Clark - ABC
3. Dean Peterson - Zipp Factory
Men's Masters 45+
1. Mark Swartzendruber - Verizon
2. Tom Saccone - Tortuga
3. Kevin Noone - NUVO/Cultural Trail
1. Jacqueline Kurth - Kenda
2. Katharina Weber - ABC
3. Bri Kovac - ABC
Full results at www.truesport.com