The University of New Hampshire is shaping up as New England's best hope for team honors in the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Championships next weekend.
With a road race Saturday in Grafton, team time trial Sunday in Concord and criterium later Sunday in Somerville, the championships are expected to draw about 300 racers from more than 30 college teams, according to organizer Mark Abramson from the host school, Tufts University.
UNH won April 6 at Williams College in Williamstown -- the only collegiate race in New England before the Easterns -- and at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., the next day, when it was snowing.
After last weekend's four-stage Army Spring Classic at West Point in New York, the leading teams in the National Collegiate Cycling Association's Eastern Conference were UNH, the University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Massachusetts in Division I, and Vassar College, the U.S. Military Academy (Army) and Bucknell University in Division II.
UNH finished second overall to UPenn at the Army race despite an illness that affected several team members. Craig Mathern, a four-time Pennsylvania juniors state champion when he was growing up in Pittsburgh, boosted UNH's standing with a sixth-place finish in the criterium.
UNH rookies Sarah Foulkes from Deerfield, N.H., and Celeste Young from Lenox placed second in the women's team time trial. Young, making a smooth transition from the cross-country ski team, was third in the road race, crit and individual time trial. Foulkes, better known on the mountain bike circuit, quickly gained respect on the road this spring with a second-place finish at RPI and third place at Williams. But all season, all the women have been chasing Army's Dena Wright.
Next weekend, Mathern said, UNH is "looking to win it. UPenn is definitely a team to beat. Army is a team to be reckoned with, and Penn State is a big threat for us." Penn State has the current national collegiate champion, Stephan Kincaid.
Individuals from other teams could be spoilers. Boston College has doctoral student Greg Swinand, a Shrewsbury High School graduate who brings laurels to the Worcester-based O'Neil's team every year in USCF racing. Swinand placed third in the Army crit, third at Williams and 10th at RPI, the only collegiate races he entered this year.
And UMass has Chris McDonald from Hamden, who broke away with an RPI rider to win the Army criterium. McDonald does USCF racing with the Worcester-based Hot Tubes team, and as a junior won two events in the Killington Stage Race in Vermont last summer.
McDonald said in the men's category A race, he'll be watching out for Vassar riders Wyatt Korff and Greg Donofrio. "They're very strong and have a team that can get them to the line first," he said.
The Grafton-Westboro course is rolling, with some "nasty little corners" but no heartbreaking hills, Abramson said after biking it Monday. The climb on Brigham Hill Road in Grafton will "shake 'em up a little bit, but I don't know if it's going to be a deciding factor," he said. Women will race 26 or 52 miles, and men will race 26, 39, 52 or 78 miles.
The action starts at 9 a.m. Saturday at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine on Route 30. The men's A and B and women's A races start about 11 a.m. and should finish by 3 p.m.
[Editor's note: Swinand won the men's A road race, and Wright won the
women's A road race. UNH clinched first place in Division 1.]
Women's racing in New England is getting a boost this year from the Women's Category 4 Challenge Series, sponsored by Boston Sports Supplement. By offering cash prizes of $10 to $100 to beginner-level women who amass points at existing USCF races, the series organizers hope to encourage larger women's fields and give Cat. 4 women more opportunities to compete against racers at the same level.
Because women's fields tend to be small, race promoters often lump several women's categories together, and the Cat. 4's don't stand a chance. Each of the 18 races in the new series will have a separate Cat. 4 women's start. "The series is a way to break the cycle of too few women participants and too few races," said organizer Gerri Moriarty of Hudson, N.H. (603-886-4908).
The prize purse totals $1,530 for three categories: overall, under 21, and 35 and over.
The first race in the series is next Sunday in Falmouth,
Maine. Local races in the series are the Sterling Road Race on May 11, the
Fitchburg Longsjo Classic July 4-7 and the Marlboro Circuit Race on Aug. 17.
TIP OF THE HELMET -- To Frank McCormack of Leicester, in his second season with the Saturn pro team, for winning Stage 7 of the Niedersachsen-Rundfahrt race in Germany last week. McCormack, 26, also won two stages in the Tour of Texas, and his brother Mark, 25, also with Saturn, won one. According to The Ride magazine, Frank McCormack will not race in the Tour DuPont next month because he's saving his strength for the Olympic trials in June.