Philly Phlyer - First ECCC Race 2019

By Victor Nicolet - with editing by Boris Dyakov and Janssen Woo - March 15-16, 2019

The first race of the 2019 ECCC series took place in Philadelphia (the long-running “Philly Phlyer”), a solid 8 hour drive from Toronto. A team of three UTRR racers - Boris, Janssen and Victor - set off in the morning to arrive at the host around 8pm. We decided to forego the TTT since we were only three and not eager to wake up early enough to make the 8 AM rollout for that race. Our sleep-in plan ended up failing as we were asked to help marshall the time trial course anyways - a small sacrifice we were willing to make for being able to stay with hosts for the weekend!

The first day of the Philly Phlyer consisted of the aforementioned team time trial and a circuit race, The Schuylkill Scramble, which had us racing a 10 km loop on the shore of the Schuylkill river. Starting in front of the Please Touch Museum on E Memorial Hall Drive, the route took a left turn into a fast descent towards the river on Lansdowne drive. After a long flat section and a u-turn after Strawberry Mansion Bridge, we had to tackle the first hill up Greenland drive before a few sweeping turns led us back down to the river. We would then return along the initial flat section before a second punchy climb on Black Road. A strong crosswind along the flat on the day of the race suggested that a breakaway would be unlikely.

Janssen was the first of our team to start with the Men’s D race at 10 AM. His season opener did not however last long; after a moderate start to the race he found himself at the back of the peloton and needing to move up fast. As he moved up along the flat, someone hit a pothole and went down right in front of him. He diverted his line to avoid the fallen rider, but was then hit from behind by someone who didn’t see the initial crash. Janssen walked away from the race with his bike and body intact, save for some lost skin on his hands and minor road rash on his leg. He ended up abandoning the race after only about 4 minutes of racing; a disappointing result for someone who finished on the podium at the very same race last year, and a sobering reminder that anything can happen in a bike race.

Boris and I raced in the Men’s B field which consisted of around 20 riders. The peloton eagerly charged down the descent but the pace slowed to a conversational pace along the flat with nobody wanting to make risky moves so early on into the race. I felt good and wanted to accelerate at the start of the first climb, without trying to drop the group. However, nobody tried to match my effort and I found myself with a small gap on the peloton. Unexperienced and not knowing exactly what to do as this was my first bike race ever, I first maintained my pace without commiting to a breakaway. The lack of response from the bunch and fresh legs made me try to get away in the descent. I was joined by two riders on the flat, and one of them, from MIT, stuck with me to form a break. We agreed to work together, with me taking longer pulls and him promising me a win in a sprint. Together we managed to establish a significant gap on the field. With 1.5 laps to go my companion started to drop back on the climb. I decided not to wait and carry on with my effort. The last sixteen kilometers were a solo effort for each of us, and I finished about one minute ahead of Quinn White (the rider from MIT who joined me in the break), who finished about a minute ahead of the last guy on the podium, who was slightly ahead of the pack.
Boris leading the pack!
Leaning on corner 3 - Janssen took risks for this shot!
The second day of the Philly Phlyer showcased the Temple University Criterium. A fast and flat four corner course, the last corner carried a technical challenge in that it was extremely narrow and of suboptimal road quality (i.e. bumpy). The first few laps of the race were really fast after a savage from-the-gun attack by Félix Fournier of McGill University. I tried to establish a breakaway after the first lap and opened a small gap with a rider from Liberty University, but we were quickly reeled back in. It seemed people were marking me now, and I would not have an easy chance to get away. I made a tactical mistake once the pack got back on our tail. As a novice racer, I expected people to start taking pulls or attacking. But everyone was content with me doing a solo effort on the front for a few laps, before Boris kindly moved up to the front to tell me to stop working so hard! I fell back into the pack to save my energy, and waited for something to happen. Noel Hwang from Tufts University attacked to open a small gap with about six laps to go, and went alone to build a fifteen second advantage ahead of us. With two laps to go, he still had an sizeable advantage (in my opinion) and nobody was willing to work to bridge. I attacked after the first corner on the final lap with a sprint on the tailwind section. After a quick look back after the second corner I saw I had a small gap and decided to carry on full gas in aero position, until I caught the solo rider before the last corner and finished the race with a small sprint that would secure my second victory in as many days.

All in all we had a fun, fast, and educational weekend of racing. Getting to explore Philadelphia and trying some world-famous cheesesteaks was the icing on the cake. Hungry to continue testing our fitness and improving skills as racers, we look forward to our next ECCC weekend in Lewisburg, PA (The Bucknell Cycling Classic, hosted by Bucknell University, which is thankfully a bit shorter of a drive from Toronto!).

Stay tuned for more race reports all season long as we test our skills and seek upgrade points in the ECCC, Ontario Cup races, and local Midweek Criteriums!