Yesterday, on my ride home from work, I was reminiscing. I was thinking about the 1994 Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC) Championships. The two-day/three race event was one of the wildest race weekend’s of my life. There was crazy weather, a crazy criterium finish, crazy results, and some awesome memories. Today, I went into our cold storage area to dig out some photographs that I had saved. I knew that I had some images. Someone (possibly Mark Abramson) gave me some negatives in the weeks after the race. I was taking Photography 101 at the time and used them to practice my printing. It was those prints and some contact sheets that I found in my archives.
The Cornell University Cycling Club hosted the race near their campus in Ithaca, New York on Saturday 30 April and Sunday 01 May. I was a Junior at Boston College and raced “Men’s A’s” for the BC Cycling Club. Greg Swinand, a first year Ph.D. candidate studying economics at the time; and Eric Sakalowsky, a sophomore undergraduate, were my two teammates who also raced Men’s A’s. We had a few women on our squad and riders in both the Men’s B and C fields too. It was a fun bunch of characters. Our three person A team was on a mission to qualify for the 1994 National Collegiate Road Cycling Championships, hosted by Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas.
20 years have passed and I don’t remember all of the details, but the highlights stand out. In that short collegiate road season, we had already accumulated points at the Williams College Criterium, Army Classic Stage Race (road race, time trial, criterium), and the University of New Hampshire Circuit Race. “Eastern’s” was worth more, and despite our short roster, we had a chance to be one of the top teams to go to the championships. I can’t recall if it was the top three or top five.
A year earlier, in 1993, I qualified for “Nat’s” as an individual when they were hosted in the Boston area by the Massachusetts institute of Technology. I was hungry to get back to the big show and had devoted myself all season long in support of Greg, who was one of the best cyclists in New England, and was very much on form. Our goal was to qualify as a team, which would have been a minor upset. Throughout the winter of 1993-1994, we trained hard together. I learned a lot from riding with Greg. Most of the time, he rode in the hardest gear. I sat in his draft and just tried to hang on.
The team drove to Ithaca after classes on Friday afternoon. We all crammed into a few rooms at a cheap motel. The road race was 63 miles long. I think it was three laps, but it might have been five. I don’t remember. The course was in the farm country outside of Ithaca on some damp and rough roads. There were several sections of dirt and it was sandy and rutted after a long winter. The finish was on a climb. My records show that my time was 2:49:46, but I think I was well off the back. Greg always executed our race strategy and he sent me in a break very early in the race.
The idea was to have a BC rider up the road so that Greg could sit in and force the other teams to chase. Greg had Eric for support, and I rode with a small group that eventually became a group of two, including me. I think I was out front for 25 miles before my legs gave out and the pack swallowed me up. I recall Greg putting his hand on my back as a slid back through the peloton. He complimented me on the effort and moved to the front of the group. I don’t know if he launched an attack immediately, or chased one, but it wasn’t long before he was in a break of his own, which became the race winning move. I hung in the main pack and did some work to slow the chase. Eventually I was dropped as the field shattered.
I know he didn’t win the race, but he was either on the podium or just off of it. He scored some good points for the team. Eric and I finished, but out of the points. The other memory from that road race came from my friend Roger Nauth, who raced for rival Boston University. I was actually on the BU team from 1991-1992 before I transferred to BC. I didn’t witness what he saw, probably because I was up the road at the time of the incident, but he cracks me up every time he recounts the story. Roger was in the pack when they rode by a field. There was a stud chasing a mare and he was wielding his “manhood” in all of its glory. He says the site of this horse showing his stuff nearly caused a crash.
After the race, we returned to the motel to eat, rest, and do homework. It rained overnight and on Sunday morning, we arose to wet roads. The criterium was early and the course was treacherous. We were somewhere near campus on a freshly paved circuit. I think it was a kilometer-long clockwise loop. The asphalt was oily, which was bad, but that wasn’t the worst problem we had. There was no grass on the outside or inside of this loop. It was all dirt and hundreds of earthworms had made their way on to the pavement. When those worms were squashed under the tires of our bikes, they were like grease. I don’t know why they didn’t attempt to clean the course. The race was on. We just had to deal with it.
The wet, oily, and wormy road was like an ice rink. It is the most slippery (non-ice) road surface I’ve ever raced on. The race was 30 miles long, so we did more than 45 laps. Some guys crashed three times. It was nuts. All four corners were dicey, but the final corner was the worst. Riders were sliding out every lap. They would end up off the course in the muddy dirt. The strategy that Greg hatched was for us to get him into a breakaway because there were many intermediate sprints with points towards the team omnium. Ideally, he would launch this break with independent riders from teams that weren’t in contention for the overall.
We made the plan work perfectly when he got into a break with a Yale University rider and a Hampshire College rider. I forget their names, but they were both strong. Greg’s version of the story at the time was that he made a deal with them. He wanted to win every intermediate sprint prime. There was no money and they didn’t need the points, so the arrangement was that if they let him cross the line first to collect the maximum points, then he would not contest the final sprint and allow them to duke it out. I’m sure he did the math in his head. After all, he was studying economics!
I made it through the entire race without a crash, though I was fish-tailing all over the place on my Spectrum Titanium bicycle. I as able to ride several laps at the front, which helped thwart any chase. The three-man break was never far up the road. We could see them on the long straightaways. Coming into the bell lap, things were crazy. The crashes never stopped. Guys were taking the corners too fast and the final corner was no exception. It was so slippery that people weren’t getting hurt. They were sliding out and with the slimy road, avoiding major injuries. Like I said, many got up, took a free lap, and jumped back into the race only to crash again. I was hanging on for dear life and losing ground. I probably went into the final corner 10th in the field, but amazingly, I came out of it in third.
No less than six riders in front of me, crashed on that last corner. They literally slid off of the road. It was mayhem. I couldn’t believe my good fortune…and my fortune was nothing compared to Greg’s fortune. He was sitting third going into the final corner and his two breakaway companions both crashed. They were actually the first riders to crash in that final corner. Greg had no choice but to win the race. It was an amazing finish. The photos are so much fun to view. One image shows Greg winning. His expression is more surprise than glory. But the best image is of his companions running their bicycles to the line for 2nd and 3rd place. Obviously both of them had mechanicals. It’s hard to tell, but its likely that their chains came off. With the field bearing down on them for the sprint, they had no time to make repairs and remount, so they ran all the way from the corner.
The photo shows what was left of the pack coming into the final corner. At the edge of the photo, you can see several guys going down into the dirt with others forced to ride around them. Even more are out of view. I think Stefan Bumbeck, from the University of Vermont, took the field sprint for 4th, only second behind the two breakaway victims. He had several bike lengths on the rest of us. Another rider was on my left and he got 5th. I made it through the crashes to take 6th. With 1st and 6th, plus all of the intermediate sprint primes, we were well positioned going into the 12 mile long afternoon team time trial. I think we only had to finish 9th or better, which was still going to be hard with three riders when we were going up against teams of six.
9th is what we got and we punched our ticket to Nats. I love thinking about that weekend. It was so much fun. Vermont had been the strongest team all year-long. Stefan and his teammate, Angus Whelchel, were very good riders and they had a loyal supporting cast. I’m pretty sure that they were the season-long champs. They joined us on the trip to Texas. Unfortunately, only Eric and I raced Nat’s. Greg got really sick the day before our flight and he didn’t come along. That is too bad because he was really going good and I would have loved to see him compete with the top riders from California and Colorado.
I didn’t have the best National’s. With only two of us, the time trial would have been a waste, so we only did the road race and criterium. I remember getting off of the plane on that Friday in June, and it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit with no humidity. We came from Boston where it was in the 60’s and raining. I was wearing a flannel shirt with jeans, and I though I was going to melt. There was no way we could prepare for those conditions, even if we had trained in a sauna. The road race was like 111 miles long. I think it was an 11 mile loop that we were supposed to do 10 times. Well, I think I made it three and a half laps in 92 minutes. My only memories of the course was that it was pancake flat, ridden at crit speeds, and that they had to sweep snakes from it throughout the day.
Thankfully, the Sunday morning 45 mile criterium was a whole lot better. I was able to ride near the front for much of the race. It was also pancake flat and had a lot of turns. I don’t remember how long the loop was, but it was probably between a kilometer and a mile. I know we did a lot of laps. There was a really good crowd watching the downtown race. My bad luck hit again 90 minutes and 42 miles into the race. There were less than five laps to go when I was moving up and there was a big crash that took me down. I “tacoed” my front wheel, rendering it unrideable. The free lap rule had ended with five to go, so my day was over. I didn’t get to cross the line, which was a real bummer, but it was still a fantastic experience. Many of the guys in that 1994 race and the 1993 race, went on to race as pros.
So, 20 years later, its good fun to think about that season and that crazy ECCC Championship at Cornell. I was further encouraged to write this report when I saw a headline on Facebook earlier today. Greg Swinand, the wily veteran, is still riding strong. He might be as good as he was 20 years ago, which is both inspiring and amazing. Today, he won the 100 mile first stage of the Tour of Ulster. 46 years old, and crushing it. Bravo Greg! I love it!
I got a comment from Bill Luecke from the National Capital Velo Club. Bill knew of a 1994 NCVC newsletter with a story written by Chris Hardee, who was the Yale rider in the criterium breakaway with Greg Swinand and Chris Kowecki. Click here for the story.