Mani Wins and Driscoll is Second in First Weekend of Racing at Rochester Cyclocross
At the opening weekend of UCI cyclocross racing in the US, the Raleigh-Clement Professional Cycling Team didn’t skip a beat from last season as they were once again a dominant presence. Jamey Driscoll opened the podium count on Saturday with a second place in the C1 race when he crossed the line behind US National Champion Jeremy Powers. Caroline Mani added to the podium total when she stormed to victory in Sunday’s C2. Lance Haidet bounced back from a rough day on Saturday to record his best result on the weekend with a 16th place finish on Sunday.
Unseasonably hot and humid conditions greeted the racers on Saturday, which made for tough racing on the dry and dusty course at Genesee Valley Park. In the women’s race, Mani sprinted off the start line to take the holeshot and was soon joined by Maghalie Rochette (LUNA Pro Team) and Kaitie Antonneau (Cannondale p/b Cyclocrossworld.com) at the pointy end of the field. A couple laps in, Mani’s race was derailed when her cassette got tangled up with brush forcing her to change bikes. While in the poorly placed pit area, the front of the race bolted past leaving Mani left to do a lot of chasing.
Mani was able to ride herself back into the top 10, but her sixth place was certainly not the result she was hoping to have on opening day of the 2016 season.
Off the start line, the men’s field kicked up a cloud of dust as they hammered down the gravel start/finish chute. The pace was fast and furious as everyone was anxious to dust off the cobwebs. As the heat took its toll, discharging many riders from the front of the race, Driscoll sensed the time was right to attack. On the sixth lap, Driscoll made his move. He quickly distanced his adversaries, including US National Champion Jeremy Powers. With only a lap and a half to go, everyone waited with bated breath to see if Driscoll could unseat Powers from his C1 throne.
As the bell rang to indicate one lap to go, Powers caught and passed Driscoll. Powers got the gap and was able to hold it during the final lap to claim victory. Driscoll crossed the line pumping his fist satisfied with second place, only five seconds off the pace of Powers.
Suffering in the heat and humidity, Haidet was unable to piece together the race he was hoping to have. Used to more dry environs, the San Luis Obispo resident finished a disappointing 26th on the day.
Overnight rain did little to tame the dusty course, but waking up to cooler temperatures on Sunday brought a sigh of relief to all the racers. With the first race of the season out of the way, the nervous energy in the start grid of the women’s race had subsided, but everyone on the front line was still gunning for a win. Ranked as the number two rider in the world, Mani wasn’t satisfied with her result from the previous day. She was determined to stamp her name at the top of the result’s sheet on day two. The look on her face on the start line said it all.
Mani stormed off the front of the race early putting on a clinic for those following in her wake. The 3-time French National Champion and silver medalist at the World Championships in Zolder was on a mission and she didn’t let anything stand in her way as she seemed to effortlessly put time into her competitors. Within a few laps of the five lap race, she had put 25 seconds into the chasing group of five riders.
Employing her trademark ferocity, Mani put in a dominating performance to cross the solo without a rider in sight behind her. Ahead of the next big block of racing, which includes the CrossVegas and Jingle Cross World Cups, Mani’s win gives her a dose of confidence before lining up against the best women in the world.
“I think yesterday hurt my ego,” said Mani. “Today I used whatever I had physically, mentally to just go for it. Every day is different and you just have to learn from your mistakes. I am just trying to do that.”
“It felt good to win,” continued Mani. “I was a bit worried yesterday. I felt a bit stressed. It feels good to be able to go by myself and smash it. It’s a good sign ahead.”
In the men’s race, the action once again got off to a ripping fast start. Without the heat to wreak havoc on the riders, the front group swelled to as big as 14, which included Driscoll.
As the race clock ticked closer to an hour, the lead riders continued trading blows, which served to reduce the size of the front group. As the damage was unfolding, Driscoll found himself on the wrong side of the split. When Driscoll rolled into the pit for a bike change, he watched the fastest guys speed away. Using his “dad strength”, Driscoll was able to rally back to ninth place – a short distance back from the lead group of five who finished on the same time.
The goal of the day for Haidet was to find his teammate’s wheel and hang on as long as he could at the front of the race. The 18-year old was able to work his way through the field to make contact with Driscoll’s wheel, but eventually found the pace to be a notch too high and drifted back to the second group. Although still not quite where he wanted to be, Haidet improved his finish by 10 places from 26th on Saturday to 16th on Sunday.
For Driscoll, whose wife is expecting their first child in October, his results from the opening weekend of the season are confirmation that his off-season homework paid off.
“The weekend started out pretty well,” said Driscoll. “I was really happy with my result Saturday. Today wasn’t as good a result and I didn’t have great sensations in the legs, but I think it’s early. I’m more concerned about the first day with how I feel.”
“I’m definitely happy with how I’ve come into the season, especially compared to years previous,” Driscoll added. “I’m looking forward to getting into the groove of racing the next few weekends. This weekend gave me some confidence that I was hoping to gain. I confirmed my form with race results against all the main contenders.”
Haidet knows he didn’t have his best showing on Saturday but was happy that he was able bounce back on Sunday with a better result.
“I didn’t have the legs or the mindset going into Saturday’s race,” said Haidet. “Today was a lot better. I felt pretty good. Tactically I should have done things differently to stay in the front group a bit longer rather than yo-yoing off the back. Eventually I imploded a little bit and was relegated to the second group, but I’m happy with today.”
“I want to stay in the front group longer,” Haidet explained. “I was able to get to the back of it today, but my goal is to actually get into the mix of the lead group. Hopefully by being there I can stick it out to get inside the top 10 to get UCI points.”
Next up for Raleigh-Clement is the Trek CXC Cup in Waterloo, WI September 17 and 18.
All photos courtesy of Meg McMahon