Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies) took advantage of a small field and severe weather Sunday in St. Louis, Missouri, to take home the Tour de Grove title in a shortened men’s race. Laura Van Gilder set foot in town just long enough to solo away from the women’s field, collect her earnings and get back to the airport for a flight home Sunday afternoon.
Turn on the blow dryer
The weather was the story of the day Sunday. Temperatures rose above 90 degrees by the time the men’s race started at 3:00 p.m. Added to the heat was the oppressively high humidity. According to Jelly Belly-Kenda’s Mike Friedman, “It was like riding with a blow dryer in your face.”
The startlist was top heavy, with Jelly Belly, KBS and Rubicon-Orbea each bringing deep squads to face off against a largely regional field – the result of the event coming one day after the NRC Clarendon Cup in Virginia.
Considering their strength in numbers and the toll the weather would likely take on the small field, the KBS riders were aggressive from the start. According to Zwizanski, their goal was to place more than one rider in any move that materialized. When his teammate David Veilleux was able to escape partway into the 79-mile circuit race, Zwizanski bridged up. The pair quickly dislodged companion Andrew Crater (Aero Cat Cycling Team) and built out an eventual lead of nearly one minute.
“We tried to be greedy and put two-to-three riders in every break,” said Zwizanski. “David and I just got into a good rhythm and started rolling.”
From hot ‘n damp to hot ‘n wet
With Jelly Belly leading the chase from behind, the KBS tandem held a 50-second advantage when a thunderclap boomed and lightning struck within miles of the metropolitan course.
“We knew there was the potential, so we were monitoring the weather on iPhone,” said chief referee Chuck Hodge. “Wind was literally pushing the (finish line) truss down the road with the finish line camera.”
When the sweltering weather began to turn, a motor official approached Veilleux and Zwizanski to update them on the situation. “The thunderstorms were rolling in and the official on bike told us they would call the race if there were a lot of lightning,” said Zwizanski.
Meanwhile, Hodge, his officiating crew and announcer Dave Towle monitored the approaching squall from the finish stage. According to race director Mike Weiss, the intensity ticked up with approximately 14 miles remaining.
“We got hit by this supercell in the men’s race,” said Weiss. “At six to go, Dave Towle the announcer said the barometric pressure was dropping. Chuck Hodge looked to the left and it was like Hurricane Gustov was coming. Just when Chuck said that he would call it if thunder hit; there was a huge thunderclap.”
Friedman was in the chase group, which had been reduced to a handful of riders by then. “It just opened up,” he said. “It was windy with thunder and lightning. It was windy enough that it blew the barriers into the finish at one point.”
“I tried to get us through,” said Hodge. “But when the truss is blowing away and lightning is striking within a mile, you have to call it.”
The motor official notified the leaders that the race would be shortened and that they would finish on the next lap, which would have been six-to-go. “They told us almost two laps in advance,” said Zwizanski.
The KBS tandem was able to hold onto a 20-second lead through the final lap and came across the line together, Zwizanski taking the win. “As a team I think it’s a good confidence builder,” said Zwizanski. “We’ve had some bad luck this year and this could lead to us turning things around for the rest of the season.”
Zwizanski said of the weather stoppage, “Luck was on our side; I wasn’t going to complain. It was pretty intense.” In the end, said the race winner, “There were a few bolts of lightning right overhead. It was justifiable.”
Friedman, too, said that the shortage, while a disappointment for Jelly Belly competitively, was understandable. “As a rider, I was mad because it likely cost us the race,” he said. “But if I’m in their shoes, I don’t know. I can understand why they did it.”
Timing is everything. “Probably 20 minutes after they called it, it was calm,” said Friedman. “But how do you know that’s going to happen?”
- 1. Laura Van Gilder Mellow Mushroom in 1:33:48
- 2. Carrie Cash-Wootten Team Vera Bradley Foundation at 59
- 3. Nichole Wangsgard Roosters P/b Edge Composite at s.t.
- 4. Christine Roettger Mesa Cycles Racing Team at 3:02
- 5. Jill Kislia Team Kenda at 3:03
- 1. Scott Zwizanski Kelly Benefit Strategies in 2:14:06
- 2. David Veilleux Kelly Benefit Strategies at s.t.
- 3. Mike Sherer Verizon U23 P/b Abd at 20
- 4. Mike Friedman Jelly Bellyp/b Kenda at s.t.
- 5. Alexander Candelario Kelly Benefit Strategies at s.t.