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By Dave Campbell, special to VeloNews.com
The biggest purse track event in North America, the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge concluded Sunday. A stiff breeze made the homestretch about 3 mph slower than the backstretch and a baking hot sun further added to the difficulties. Conditions, however, did not deter the athletes from some record-breaking performances nor hundreds of fans from packing the bleachers and lining the rails of the 268-meter track located on the grounds of the Alpenrose Dairy in the Southwest hills of Portland, Oregon.
The day started with sprint qualifiers for women and masters and the close proximity of times hinted at an exciting tournament to follow. Erin Mirabella (Home Depot/Red 5 Racing) posted a 13:38 to qualify just in front of perrenial AVC sprint contender Suzie Tignor of Frisco (13:43). Joanne Kiesanowski (Diet Rite) was not far behind with 13:85 and 19 year old Ashley Kimmet (Serrota) posted a solid 13:87 as fourth-best. The masters had five men under 13 seconds…and all within .42 seconds of each other! Frisco’s Tim Goodwin topped the list with a 12:34 followed by Gregg’s Greenlake/Specialized rider McKenzie (12:41), local favorite Brian Abers of Lakeside Bicycles (12:54), Shaw’s GCC rider John Simmons (12:74), and track racing legend Gil Hatton of Gotham Cyclists posted a 12:76.
Portland rider Marjon Marik (Prime Alliance) thrilled the crowd with her repeated attacking in the women’s 5-mile scratch race. Her longest foray off the front lasted until just a few laps to go, and an inspired Kiesanowski just held off Mirabella to win an exciting sprint. Kimmet was not far behind, and Marik despite spending over ten laps off the front, still mixed it up in the final dash to claim 4th. Meanwhile, in masters competition, Seattle rider Mike Eddy (Gregg’s Greenlake/Trek/VW) put in probably the most dominating performance of the weekend, stamping his authority all over the points race. Eddy took a lap early in the 75 lap race with frequent Marymoor competitor Duke Anderson (Saturn of Bellevue). Salem rider Steve Yenne (Capitol Velo) started the move but was unfortunate to be the “Laurent Jalabert of the day”, frequently getting half a lap on the field only to blow and fall back. Eddy took another lap around half way, this time alone and the race was effectively over. Perhaps still smarting from his elimination in the match sprints, where he believed Hatton took him up-track too often and too aggressively, Eddy continued to ride the front and pile up the points, eventually ending with 45. Anderson’s early lap earned him second and Yenne’s efforts netted 31 points and third place.
The first event of the day for the elite men was the Olympic sprint, although several teams also included masters and women riders. Proving smooth accelerations and riding well together can overcome raw power, youngsters (all 20 or under) Josh Weir (Team Major Motion) and East Coast Velo’s David Wiswell and John Fredricks teamed up to blast to a scintillating 54:80. PVL/Forte teammates Keith Bruneau and Sam Whittingham, both from British Columbia raced with perennial Washington strongman Kenny Williams (Saturn of Bellevue) to claim second in 55:56, just in front of Stephen Alfred (The Family Cycling Center), Jeffrey LaBauve (Focus 2004), and Jame Carney (Prime Alliance), who posted 55:65. The third placed team looked to be strong favorites on paper but the two sprinters blistering open legs left Carney uncomfortably gapped for the whole ride and unable to finish with a flourish.
The masters sprint finals ultimately pitted the top two qualifiers Goodwin and McKenzie against the experienced Hatton, who came up through the reps due to an early round relegation. The three-up finals was not as tactical as expected and Goodwin opened the sprint early with Hatton grabbing his wheel and McKenzie appearing out of it. Although Gil tried to come over the top on the final banking, Goodwin proved too strong and held him off all the way to the line. An incredible late burst from the much-improved McKenzie pulled him to within a wheel at the line, and although moving visibly faster than his rivals at the line, it was too late to overtake the speedy Goodwin. Goodwin’s teammate Suzie Tignor, the 2000 AVC Sprint Champion, had to go through the reps to find her way into the finals due to a relegation in the semifinals. Once there, she was pitted against 2000 US Olympian Mirabella and the versatile Kiesanowski. Mirabella opened the sprint on the bell, but the compact and powerful Texan exploded on the backstretch to open an insurmountable gap over Kiesanowski with Mirabella left in third.
One of the most highly anticipated events of the weekend was the men’s keirin Final. After several heats and reps, the eight finalists read like a who’s-who of North American keirin racing: Weir, Bruneau, LaBauve, Wiswell, Alfred, Australian Jeff Hopkins (Jittery Joe’s), Carney, and two-time world keirin champion Marty Nothstein. Carney quickly took the motor with the kind of slick maneuver that has made him legendary on the track and criterium circuit. As the speed built in the ensuing laps, there was little movement and fastmen Alfred and LaBauve seemed too far back, and the excitement built as the crowd sensed an action-packed finale. When the motor pulled off, Carney charged with Nothstein in tow, and it appeared the two track veterans had a pre-arranged game plan. A huge roar came from the stands when Nothstein scorched into the final banking to take the bell firmly in command. As chaos unfolded behind, the Olympic gold medalist seemed sure of victory and raised his fist as he approached the finish. Underneath that raised arm scooted Hopkins to take a narrow victory right on the line! LaBauve, meanwhile, made an incredible charge from the back of the line that brought him up to third on the line within half a bike length of the two leaders. Nothstein chuckled and pounded his Aussie buddy on the back as they entered turn one, actually knocking off the victor’s glasses! The two saluted the crowd together as they warmed down and everyone, including Nothstein, chuckled at his elementary mistake.
The final mass-start event was the men’s 110 lap points race which saw 25 starters line up under the mid-day sun. The 42 minute event, with temperatures in the mid 90’s proved a war of attrition, with only 9 men left to contest the finish. After a very fast, single file opening few points sprints, five men sprang free and quickly took a lap: Carney, Nothstein, Tillman, Williams, and Joey D’ Antoni (Cycles DeOro). As the laps dwindled down, a Nothstein attack drew these same riders clear again, this time minus D’Antoni. The second lap, perhaps intentionally, took much longer to take and points were not “shared” in the tradition of many breakaways, with the lead riders engaging in many hotly contested points sprints.
While officials struggled with a malfunctioning computer system and were unable to give the riders points updates, the riders blazed on unperturbed with experienced trackies like Carney’s “calculators in their heads” keeping them updated on the standings. Shortly after taking his second lap, the amazing Carney was off again, this time mostly solo, although he did receive some timely help from Prime Alliance teammate John Walrod along the way. For several long laps, his gap stalled at a half lap, but when the main field bunched up and swung uptrack debating who should lead, Carney redoubled his efforts and quickly pounced on the back. A desperate Tillman attacked in the closing laps and while racking up points, he could not gain more than half a lap on Carney and the depleted field. With one final incredible burst with 3 to go, Jame joined the powerful pursuiter and even challenged him in the final sprint as a matter of pride. Tillman won the battle on points with 67, but would have to settle for 2nd behind the irrepressible Carney (58 points), the only rider to gain 3 laps. Nothstein was 3rd with 46 and Williams 4th with 33.
Kiesanowski’s consistency over the weekend (2 wins and 4 seconds) was rewarded with victory in the omnium with 36 points. Mirabella was second with 27 and Tignor third with 24. Tillman’s wins in the pursuit and Madison, along with placings in five other events netted him the men’s omnium with 31 points to Nothstein’s 24. Carney was third with 23 points.
The traditional final event of the AVC, although not part of the omnium, is the flying lap…a race known for getting the people up on their feet, cheering until they are hoarse, and drawing out spectacular performances from the cyclists. Sunday’s flying lap continued this tradition in glorious fashion. First up were the women, who were not only eyeing the victory in the final event, but the 1997 track record of 17:21, set by Jen Evans at the EDS Cup. Erin Mirabella’s 18:02 looked solid until the final starter, Tignor, Masters World Champion in the 500 meters, laid down a blistering 17:40. Although she missed the record, her 35 mph effort won the race in front of Mirabella and Kiesanowski.
An afternoon rainstorm robbed Nothstein of a crack at the flying lap record at last year’s AVC and Steen Madsen’s 15:44 set in 2000 stood as a daunting challenge to this years field. Australian Hopkins was the early leader for the men after gregariously soliciting crowd support during his wind-up laps, and then Alfred became the first man to go under 16 seconds with only LaBauve left to ride. The big sprinter with the bright future did not disappoint the noisy fans, blazing to a 15:24 that obliterated the record, won the race, and had the people longing for an encore. That performance came, but not from LaBauve, but rather courtesy of the women! Tignor, Kiesanowski, and Mirabella teamed up to challenge the track record in the Olympic Sprint. Dating back to 1998, the record of 1:03:46 was set by Alpenrose regulars Lynn Hughes, Laura Suditu, and Nina Strika. The people were behind them and after blistering laps by Tigor and Kiesanowski, Mirabella roared home in 1:01:90 to bring a fitting close to a spectacular weekend of track racing at the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge.