2009 JBN Race Report by Steve Lehman

JBN Criterium, Bethlehem, PA - July 12, 2009

At last year’s JBN Criterium I was still pumped from my win at the Coupe des Ameriques Stage Race in Canada the weekend before, so I rode the race with reckless abandon. I attacked and attacked from the gun only to be brought back each time by Scott Haverstick. For my "arrogance" after six laps of this behavior Scott and the trailing peleton refused to come around my wheel and forced me to ride at the front for the final twelve laps of this 1.25 mile circuit. It wasn’t until the last 100 meters that Scott and John Auer finally came around and relegated me to a third place finish. This would not happen this year, certainly not as a result of "bad behavior."

I decided to approach this year’s edition of the race in a more "respectful" and conservative manner. My pre-race plan was to hit the race hard in the final laps. From the looks of the 55+ field it appeared there would be fireworks aplenty, so even sitting in might be a challenge. However, the challenge would be easier to face with my stalwart Tri-State Velo squad in attendance which included Ron Ruggiero, Tom Kellogg, Jay Hoffman and Steve Laverty. With a team of this experience and capability we had a good chance to send riders off the front, cover breakaways, block the field and even win.

Also, not to be overlooked among the talented field were a strong Lehigh Wheelmen contingent of Chip Berezny, Andy Buck, Royden Detweiller and Greg Ruch, as well as Guy’s Bob Kehl, Squiggle’s Pat Gellineau, Main Line Cycling’s Kevin Tuttle, ERA’s Barry Free and Big Daddy Phil Stanley of the Morgan Stanley Cycling Team fresh off his silver medal performance at the Masters National Criterium Championship. With a field of this quality the race would require attentiveness, conservation of energy and patience.

I have to tell you it is really a pleasure and joy to ride in southeast Pennsylvania races. The local 55+ field is as strong as you will find anywhere in the world and is peppered with more than its fair share of world and national champions. There is also a perfect balance of trust and deceit. You can trust everyone’s wheel, but you can’t trust its rider’s motive.

After final instructions from the race official, Sally Urffer, we were off. The circuit was a lollipop configuration. We started and finished on a 200 meter straight that led to a left-hand turn onto the clockwise, two kilometer loop. After 18 laps of that circuit we would turn left onto that road we started on and sprint the 200 meters back to the start/ finish line. The circuit itself was somewhat D-shaped with a 500 meter flat home stretch into a relentless headwind transitioning to a downhill arc of about 300 meters to turn one. As we exit turn one we are faced with a short rise leading onto an otherwise relatively flat back stretch into turn two. Exiting turn two we enter an uphill (approximately 4-5% gradient), 400 meter climb to the home stretch. Again, after 18 laps we would be directed into the left-hand turn onto the 200 meter run in to the finish line. Got the picture?

Almost as soon as we entered the first lap of the circuit Bob Kehl gave a test of his legs and the peleton’s diligence. Both seemed to be working well. This move was followed by a few half-hearted attacks over the next two laps. At this point teammate Ron Ruggiero rolled off the front after turn one on the back straight. I moved to the front of the peleton, playing marshal, and slowed the pace of the field. This type of strategy would force opposing riders to come around me and chase Ron, thus tiring themselves in the process. As Ron’s advantage on the field approached 50 meters Chip Berezny came around me to bring Ron back. He was just about on Ron as we exited turn two and hit the base of the hill. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to test the field with a jump of my own. I stayed on it for the next 300 meters. When I looked back to see the damage created I was surprised to see the peleton nearly 100 meters back behind a virtual dam of TSV red, white and green. I knew there was no way I was going to stay away, but the peleton would have to work to bring me back. There were still fifteen laps to go.

I settled into a solid rhythm, but really nailed the incline after turn two on the next two laps. With this effort and the blocking of my teammates I was able to put the peleton out of sight most of the way around the circuit. The good news is I had a nice advantage. The bad news is I had thirteen laps (26 kilometers or better than 16 miles) to go!

At this point I was thinking there is no way to give up on my assault. I knew Ron, Tom, Jay and Steve were hard at work riding herd and effectively corralling the likes of Berezny, Buck, Kehl and Gellineau . . . no easy feat. The team would kill me, but so was the headwind on the home straight. Although I was riding in the 53x12 on most of the circuit, I had to drop to the 53x15 or 16 when fully exposed to that wind. That 500 meters sucked more energy out of me than the rest of the course, but I pushed on.

At about 12 laps to go I no longer saw my pursuers. The only thing I had to distract me from the "pain management" was the motorcycle official who stayed dutifully just far enough ahead that I could only imagine how great the vanishing draft he was making would have felt. Still I plowed on in as big a gear as I could push.

Each remaining solo lap was pretty much the same as the one before and the one after. I would roll down the home straight into the headwind in a 53x15. As I entered the downward arc toward turn one I would grab a quick drink and shift to the 53x12. After a wide entry and exit of turn one I would remain in that big gear up the small rise until some small sign on the right side of the street. Then I would downshift to the 14 or 15. Once over the rise I would go back into my 11 or 12 cog until a driveway on the left side about two-thirds of the way up the climb, then back to the 15 or 16 for the slog, once again, down the home straight. To help keep my sanity I made a deal with myself that I could take a respite in the 53x17 on the home straight and have two drinks after I hit eight laps to go. Hey, it gave some positive, shorter term goal to look forward to.

As I crested the climb approaching seven laps to go, never fully confident I would stay away, I ventured a look back. There entering the climb some 300+ meters back was a blue rider. I wondered, was it Chip or Andy Buck. At the next vantage point my pursuer was about the same distance back, but now appeared to be yellow. Another look back and he was blue again. Bingo! Two riders were coming across. My decision now was to either wait and try to recover before they caught me or keep hammering on and make them work all the harder. I chose the later.

Each lap they brought me back another 50 meters, or so, and with three to go they drew up next to me. To my surprise they stopped and immediately started playing cat and mouse. Ah ha, they were tired and not so confident. . .excellent.

As I was lulled into a sense of security Bob Kehl attacked. I watched him pull away and waited for Andy to chase. He hauled off and did nothing. He just sat on my wheel! Were they ganging up on me? I brought Bob back and tried to convince them to just work with me until we entered the last lap. This idea was met by another attack, this time by Andy. Again, I had no help in getting the three of us back together.

Finally, as we were cresting the hill coming into our last circuit we saw the peleton just ahead and without mentioning a truce there were no longer any attacks. None of us wanted to mingle with the field this close to our finish. Somewhere on the back straight with Bob in the left gutter, me in the right gutter and Andy riding the centerline, Bob looked across and said, "Steve . . . I just love racing with you." I had to agree, but wondered when he was going to drop the other foot and make his final move. He is one of the fastest guys I know of those who can do what the three of us did today, so I was hoping I had enough left to match what he, or Andy, were going to throw at me in the last 250 meters. I slowed down and swung onto Bob’s wheel with Andy firmly attached to mine. I expected Bob to jump as he exited the turn onto the finish straight, but he caught me off guard, somewhat, with a powerful jump 25 meters before the turn.

I don’t like accelerating out of the saddle through a 90 degree turn, but took the risk and snagged his wheel shortly after we entered the final run to the line. Bob was flying. I shifted, but nothing happened. I was already in my 53x11. 150 meters to go and I'm pulling every trick out of my sleeve to stay on his wheel. A glance under the arm and I don't see Andy. It's just me and Bob. 100 meters and I'm thinking, "Patience, patience, patience." With 50 meters to go I take a run on Bob and am concentrating so much on my up stroke that the bike is lurching forward on every stroke. Fortunately, I found the cadence I needed and with a throw of the bike I had him. I was unable to give a victory salute, but I bet they heard my rebel yell in Allentown. To top great riders like Bob and Andy was just too fantastic. I congratulated them both on a super ride and boogied back to the finish line to watch the bunch sprint.

As the charging field swung off the circuit and onto the finish straight I saw Tom "TK" Kellogg first and thought, "Oh no, he went too soon!" Then as they approached it was apparent that he had a gap on the field. Chip Berezny finally entered Tom’s draft, but it was too late. TK beat the bunch and took fourth place. Ron finished a respectable ninth place, while Jay Hoffman and Steve Laverty for all the work they did to prevent further breakaways in the final laps, were relegated to the back of the field.

I immediately chased down my teammates to give them the good news and celebrate our day. When Ron asked me if I stayed away I answered that I was caught by Bob and Andy with only three laps to go. I hesitated (intentionally), could see the disappointment in his eyes and finished my report with, ". . .and I BEAT THEM IN THE SPRINT!" Ron, the guys and I were ecstatic.

What an excellent day for our team. You never know what role you’re going to play on any given Sunday, but this Sunday we all played our roles to perfection . . .Bravo, TSV.

Steve Lehman Tours, Ltd.
648 West Spring Street
Fleetwood, PA  19522