Column: Memorial Day Weekend Races
The Memorial Day Weekend is typically a time for most people to hangout with family and friends in the backyard flipping burgers and hot dogs on the grill or boating on Pinehurst Lake. However, with the Annual Dragon’s Challenge Bicycle Race only minutes away from Southern Pines, more than 40 people from the Sandhills Region were seen at the event competing in the races or cheering for their favorite rider.
The Dragon’s Challenge Bicycle Race was a three day event that offered $10,000 in prize money as well as state championship titles to the top finishers in the Criterium. The road race event was on May 26, 2007 on a16 mile loop at Fort Bragg with laps ranging from one lap for younger racers up to 5 laps for the professional racers. The racers had to conquer 800 feet of climbing on each lap as well as 90 + degree temperatures. In the Junior Category (ages 15 – 18) Matt Goodrich placed 8th. Thomas Wrona who would normally race in his Junior Category ages 10-14, decided to race in the Category 5 Men’s event and placed 7th in a field of men 10 to 15 years older than him. While Josh Delmanzo dominated the field in the finishing sprint and came in first place. Thomas Wrona’s father Jeff Wrona also raced in the Masters Men (4/5) and came in 2nd. Tony Austin competed in the Masters Men (4/5), but was seen limping in with a flat tire, while Tim Tennant finished 11th. Milanne Wilhite raced in the Women’s Category 3/4 and finished 12th. This was only her second road race and demonstrated great potential for future events. Mac Cannon and David Brooks raced in the Men’s Master Open 50 + Category. Mac and two other racers attacked on the toughest climb on the first lap and left the remaining riders behind chasing for the remnants of the race. At the finish, Cannon placed second in the sprint, while Brooks decided to take it easy for the rest of the race to focus on the next day’s event the time trial event. Alexander Galeano competed in the Men’s Elite Category 3 event and came in 9th place. The last event of the day was the Men’s Elite pro/1/2 race. Justin Beard, Mike “Vandy” Vandenheuvel, and I competed in this event. I am happy to report that Justin won the race while Vandy and I finished 12th and 14th respectfully. Justin made a very good impression with the members of a premier team in this region during the race. After the finish, Justin and I talked with the team’s representative about Beard becoming a member of their squad in the future, and it looks promising. As Beard’s coach for the past year, I have been hopeful for this opportunity as a long term goal for him. It seems this goal is coming together for Justin, and by next season he will be racing with a very strong and experienced team that will help greatly in his development as an elite racer.
The Time Trial event was on May 27, 2007 on the same road race course where the athletes competed for the fastest individual time. A fewer number of competitors from the Sandhills region entered the time trial with the State Criterium Championship the very next day. Thomas Wrona placed 6th in the Junior Category (10-14). Tim Tennant was 5th in the Mens Category 5 race, while Milanne Wilhite finished 8th in the Women’s Category 3/4 event. In the Men’s Open 50+ Mac Cannon finished 2nd and David Brookes came in 5th place.
The finale of the Dragon’s Challenge was the NC State Criterium Championship on Monday, May 28, 2007. The Criterum was in Downtown Fayetteville on Hay Street on a .8 mile loop around city blocks. The Criterium has been dubbed NASCAR on bikes and the distances for the Criterium ranged from 20 laps for younger racers up to 65 laps for the professionals. The top Sandhills finishers for the day were Tony Austin, Milane Wilhite, and Thomas Wrona. Austin placed 2nd in the Master’s Men Category 45+. After having bad luck in the road race with a flat tire, it was great to see Tony win the silver medal. Milanne Wilhite brought home the bronze medal in the Women’s Category 4 event and Thomas Wrona had a great race as well and finished 3rd capturing the bronze medal, too. Jeff Wrona finished in 5th place in the Men’s Category 4 event. Matt Goodrich finished 9th in the Junior Category (17-18). Alexander Galeano raced in the Elite Mens Category 3 event and finished 11th. Beard, Vandy, I competed in the Men’s Elite pro/1/2 race. Things did not go as I hoped. Justin was pushing the pace very hard early in the race trying to get in a break away, while I was sitting at the back of the field waiting for the action to pick up near the end of the race. Unfortunately, after Beard was brought back by the chase group, another attack went off the front with seven riders. This break stayed off the front for the remainder 55 laps. With approximately 12 laps to go, I attempted to get away from the remaining field by bridging up to another racer. Shortly, Justin came up to us as well with another rider and we now had a foursome and we began driving the pace in hopes of at least a respectable top ten finish. Our attack did not go unnoticed by the chase group and they caught us with six laps to go. Immediately a solo attack went off the front and no one seemed interested or had the energy to chase. With a short recovery, I attempted one more time to go off the front, but it was no use. My legs were saying “your crazy” and my mind was saying “You should be doing yoga.” In short, I was immediately brought back by the field. With four laps to go a field sprint was immanent, so I chose to race at the front and ride a hard tempo rather than bump elbows in the sprint. I finally cracked and sat up and watch the racers pass me with one lap to go. In the end it was a good race, Justin, Vandy and I left our best efforts on the course. Justin finished 19th and I came in 22nd. Vandy helped his teammates get off the front and then decided to relax on the sidelines and drink a cold beverage while the rest of us enjoyed an anaerobic Memorial Day.
Greg Combs is a cyclist and coach for more than 30 years. He is also the Director of the Sport Management Program at Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC. For more information browse: www.velosmart.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.