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By Matt Ringgenberg
With a coveted spot on the TIAA-CREF Cycling team on the line for the overall men’s and women’s individual champions, the 2004 collegiate national road cycling championships kicked off Friday afternoon with a round of criteriums on the streets of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Early morning thunderstorms threatened to stop the races before they started, but the weather was only the beginning in what would be one of the most dramatic days in all of collegiate racing.
After a heart-breaking second-place finish at last year’s collegiate national championship road race, the University of Wisconsin’s Bryan Smith was hoping for some hometown magic, and he got it: a last-second, photo-finish win in his hometown.
“I almost had one last year, and I kind of screwed it up, so this is awesome,” said Smith. “It’s twice as special here on State Street in Madison. I’ve lived here my whole life.”
Although the day’s early morning thunderstorms gave way to sunny skies, the storms returned in full force just before the men’s Division 2 race was about to get under way, creating a two-hour delay that would cause both the men’s Division 1 and 2 races to be shortened. Despite the wet conditions and slippery corners, the shortened races brought higher speeds, which in turn caused both men’s criteriums to evolve into brutal contests with countless attacks and counterattacks.
Going into the final straightaway, Smith was trailing UCLA’s Bernard Van Ulden by more than a bike length.
“I’d didn’t think I had it,” said Smith, “I just put my head down and went.”
Van Ulden apparently didn’t think Smith had it, either – his early victory celebration may have cost him the race, as Smith came around him in a photo finish that took the race judges nearly five minutes to call.
For Smith, the victory was one for the team. In fact, had it not been for the thunderstorms and the photo finish, the theme of the day might very well have been teamwork.
In the Division 2 race, the men from Dartmouth, last year’s overall team champion, did their best to take control of the wild and often unpredictable race. Their hard work paid off, as Dartmouth’s Michael Barton easily took the field sprint.
“Our first goal is the team championship, and then out of that comes the individual stuff,” said Barton.
Continuing the charge, the Dartmouth women competing in the Division 2 race spent much of the day dictating the pace. However, despite their best efforts Northern Colorado’s Nicole Wansgard managed to pip Dartmouth’s Amy Wallace at the line, winning the sprint by a half bike length.
In the women’s Division 1 race, the red jerseys from Indiana stamped their dominance all over the field on route to winning several primes and the individual title. With a strong presence at the front all day long, it was only fitting that with two laps to go, Indiana’s Jenn Wangerin found herself driving the lead pack in exactly the position she had been hoping for.
“I knew that if I had a good position and it was in the front that I’d be able to take it,” said Wangerin.
Wangerin, who is no stranger to national championships, having already collected a half-dozen medals on the track, led the entire last lap before uncorking a devastating sprint to take her first criterium national championship with ease.
Racing continues Saturday with a road race in Black Earth, Wisconsin, located 20 minutes west of Madison. The weekend’s competition will conclude Sunday with a team time trial that starts from Trek Bicycle’s Waterloo factory.
1. Bryan Smith, Wisconsin, 32:50
2. Bernard Van Ulden, UCLA, same time
3. Troy Heithecker, Washington, s.t.
4. Michael Cody, Vermont, s.t.
5. Benjamin Haldeman, UC-Berkeley, s.t.
6. Dan Bowman, Fort Lewis, s.t.
7. Marc Collard, UC-Davis, s.t.
8. Michael Kehrberg, Indiana, s.t.
9. Anthony Colby, Fort Lewis, s.t.
10. Daniel Holt, Florida State, s.t.