AUSTIN, Texas (VN) — With support staff sporting neon orange tank tops and muscle T’s, a race packet containing an assortment of costume mustaches, and a queen stage on the historic grounds of the Austin State Hospital (formerly named the Texas Lunatic Asylum), the Tour of Austin, a three-day criterium series over Labor Day weekend, fully embraced the town’s official motto: Keep Austin Weird.
On Saturday, a strong field of regional and national level talent lined up at the Driveway Austin racetrack, a circuitous two-mile loop along the banks of the Colorado River just east of town.
Marquee participants included homegrown Texas pros, Andrew Dahlheim of Bissel and Chad Haga of Kelly Benefit Strategies, the recent winner of the USA Crit Series’ Iron Hill Twilight race, Joseph Schmalz of Elbowz, and the elite national criterium champion, David Wenger of Super Squadra presented by Bicycle Sport Shop.
In the women’s event, two of the nation’s top sprinters, Jen McRae of 787 Racing and Jen Purcell of Danbury Audi, faced off against the strong regional squad, Metro Volkswagen-FCS Cycling.
In the men’s race an early break with all of the major teams represented sailed out to a nearly one-minute lead as the field nullified numerous chase attempts from Haga, Dahlheim, and New Zealander Logan Hutchings of Team Hotel San Jose. Near the one-hour mark of the 75-minute race, a large group bridged across to the break, and rode through it, creating a three-man lead group containing Wenger, Schmalz, and his Elbowz teammate, Tyler Jewell. Jewell won the race in a sprint over Wenger with Schmalz taking third.
In the one-hour women’s race, McRae out kicked Purcell for the win, taking the first battle in a sprinting war sure to last the course of the three-day series.
On Sunday, the Tour of Austin staged out of the University of Texas Pickle Research Campus. (In previous Tour of Austin editions, racers were treated to free dill pickles at this event, but alas, no such electrolyte tubes were seen this year.)
Forty mile per hour wind gusts produced by tropical storm Lee and 100-degree late-summer temps combined to decimate the racing fields in each of the day’s events.
In the men’s race Elbowz and Super Squadra rode an echelon at the front of the field, causing carnage in the gutter behind. Both Dahlheim and Haga crashed when the severe wind knocked their front wheels out from underneath them. A five-man group emerged after 20 minutes, containing Schmalz, Hutchings, Heath Blackgrove (Elbowz), Brant Speed (787 Racing), and Ian Dille (Super Squadra).
Schmalz took the win in a group sprint, with Hutchings second and Blackgrove third.
Jen Purcell exacted her revenge in the women’s race when McRrae overshot the treacherous final turn and took a brief detour onto the grassy shoulder. McRae still held on for third behind Metro Volkswagen-FCS Cycling’s Lauren Robertson.
Monday’s race took place on the bucolic grounds of the Austin State Hospital in the heart of town. Race organizers positioned the start-finish line in the shadows of the State Hospital’s grandiose main building, a marvel of southern architecture with towering white columns and thick limestone walls.
Each year the State Hospital invites racers to compete on its grounds in an effort to diminish the stigma often associated with the mentally ill. A cool front graciously dropped the day’s high temp below 90, and spectators sat beneath the shade of sprawling Texas live oaks.
Near the mid-way point of the men’s race, Schmalz and Blackgrove escaped, building an insurmountable advantage over the strung-out field. Blackgrove took the win ahead of Schmalz with Jewell taking third out of a small chase group.
In the third round of the women’s series Jen Purcell overcooked the final turn. Purcell came wide in the corner attempting to overtake McRae in the sprint, but a crown in the road caused her to lose control and hit the barrier. She shattered her carbon frame and required a trip to the hospital, but reported no major injuries.
“If you ain’t wreckin you ain’t ridin’,” Purcell later wrote on Facebook.
McRae took the victory ahead of up and coming local rider, Kathleen Hattaway (Austin Flyers-Mellow Johnny’s), who made a late, solo bridge across to the winning break away.
As the Tour of Austin drew to a close, race participants and spectators had just one suggestion for a more festive event in 2012: somehow incorporating the city’s other official motto, Live Music Capital of the World.