While not Flandrian geographically, the weather at the West Branch Classic certainly had the look and feel of some mournfully dower Belgian spring classic. Low temps, rain and blustery winds turned the infamous Mur de Huy climb into a slogfest from start to finish, punctuated with some helligen thrown in for pure torture.
The early June start date is always a throw of the dice, and this year the luck ran out. The wet and cold kept more than a few riders at home, but those who showed made the West Branch Classic one of the toughest and most memorable races of the young season.
A gusting wind out of the west pushed riders with an extra miles per hour worth of breeze at the start line, though the real effect wouldn’t be felt until the racers completed 3/4 of a circuit. Rounding the corner to Engel Road, the wind slapped the peloton in every category hard and cruel. The run-in to Fairview, and the infamous finishing climb, is usually a quick and easy jaunt with a handful of rollers en route to the final showdown on the Mur. This year, it was a veritable wind tunnel.
All of the racers put in a long warm-up, taking an extra to map out the finish climb and test the gearing options. Perhaps the most difficult part of the race was the fast first forty minutes in a steady downpour. Cruising along a touch over 30 miles per hour with nearly as much rain coming up off tires as came down from overhead, the peloton was treacherous and tense. The rain relented to a sprinkle after a lap or so, but the roads were still soaked thoroughly for the rest of the race.
In the CAT 4 race, a massive field of 66 Gents rolled off into the hurricane winds and steadily plodded along over the course of the first circuit. The action didn’t really get started until they turned into the wind on Engel Rd and crested the second to last hill. John Leach and an East Hills ride got a gap, with Yours Truly trapped in no man’s line between the break and the field. The acceleration of the group splintered the peloton as it turned toward the final climb, breaking it into one’s and two’s before clumping back up at the base of the climb. That was the first and final selection of the day, with Leach being yanked back into a group of just over twenty riders heading into the final lap. Leach held on for fourth on the day, another quatro placing at West Branch in Einstein Racing black after taking the same spot in CAT 5 last year.
The Master’s 55+ fielded far fewer riders than expected, and it forced the riders to work hard in the wind. Anyone not helping battle the breeze was at a massive advantage, and it ended up being the difference in the race. The back third of the group broke apart on the last corner turning into the wind, losing seven riders and leaving the top ten to decide the placings on the final climb.
Bridgit Widrig of Hagerty Racing took the CAT 3 win in style, riding away from a combined field and fending them off comfortably. The climbing specialist was at home on the hilly West Branch course and took the summit finish with a solid gap. In answer, Einstein Racing’s Mackenzie Woodring won the CAT 1 field with a solo break of her own. She kept ahead of a field that refused to chase, and with three other Einstein teammates tucked in the peloton of mixed categories, she had the win sacked up and wrapped once she gained over 30 seconds. For style points, however, she stretched that lead well over two minutes.
The Men’s Master’s 35 was small field showdown, with Leadout Racing’s Tom Linck taking the victory in a tough, compact finale with nearly the entire field in the mix heading into the final 500 meters. The wind, again, played a huge role in keeping the peloton in check, with breakaways serving only to draw out huge accelerations in the field.
Check back soon for full results as they become available.