Trek Red Truck Racing capped off a fairytale season over the weekend, sweeping both the U23 and Elite categories at the 2018 BC Criterium Championships. Racing was hard fought, the heat was searing and the inaugural “Awesome Grand Prix” delivered a course that wasn’t for the faint of heart—and yet, TRT excelled.
“So are we gonna make a plan or what?” Callie Swan posed the question to three of her teammates getting ready under the Red Truck Beer tent. They smiled at each other. The pre-race meeting began.
Alternating attacks was the strategy for the day. The four TRT ladies were by far the most considerable team presence in the relatively small women’s field.
“Make it fast. We don’t want any parts of the race to be lame. If it’s lame, we attack” said Swan.
The race had just begun, and already the TRT ladies were lighting it up. First up the road was Anna Talman. Talman surprised the bunch with the earliness of her attack, spurring stronger riders to ride laboriously while the rest of the team conserved energy in the wheels.
Countering each other and controlling the front, other teams struggled to cover the non-stop attacks. The atmosphere was electric. Onlookers in the Red Truck beer garden cheered as the race went passed them nearly every minute.
“HOLLY SIMONSON LOOKS TO BE TRYING HER LUCK OFF THE FRONT!” crackled the announcement over speakers.
Soon it was Schaeffer who made the decisive move. Followed by Joanie Caron of Fluevog Crit Nast, the two quickly put time into the field.
No response came from the main field until Schaeffer and Caron were nearly half a lap up. Then it was Haley Gill of Rise Racing who attacked, quickly covered by Holly Simonson. Simonson, not willing to work to chase down her teammate, sat on Gill’s wheel while the Rise fought to catch up to Schaeffer and Caron.
Meanwhile, the original escapees were working well. Schaeffer and Caron built up their lead over the peloton and soon had them in their sights. Fans were impressed with Schaeffer’s performance; the TRT rider was visibly giving it her all.
Being urged to pull through by Gill, Simonson rightly did as little as she could to bring Gill across until she was sure that Schaeffer would lap the field.
Ultimately, the four riders succeeded. Schaffer and Caron rejoined the field, with Gill and Simonson joining not long after.
With four to go, the final bell rang for the pack sprint. Fifth place and one-hundred-dollars were up for grabs.
Seventeen-year-old Elizabeth Gin of Cannondale P/B Fortius took the honours.
Unbeknownst to the crowd, TRT had been plotting their overall finish during the pack's short time together before the sprint. The two remaining TRT ladies agreed to attack through the pack finish and try to surprise Caron and Gill. Simonson was the one to jump as they passed under the finishing banner. Covered quickly by the Fluevog and Rise racer, Schaeffer countered the move, then drove the pace at the front.
On the final lap, Simonson sat on Schaeffer’s wheel hoping to contest the final sprint. The spectators were ecstatic. Fans cheered so loud that the announcer had trouble being heard over the loudspeakers. Simonson has already sown up the U23 win. The bell rang for the final lap.
Schaeffer was giving it her all on the front. Into the final climb, Michele used every ounce of strength left in her legs to deliver Holly Simonson to the line. In the last corner, Joanie Caron launched her sprint. The sudden effort opened up a slight gap between her and Simonson.
Simonson fought back and the two powerful sprinters drag-raced down the road. Closing the gap, she swung out to begin coming around Joanie. It was the Quebecois rider, however, who managed to cross the line in time. Running out of road, Simonson would still take home the BC Elite Criterium Championship jersey. After a heroic effort, Michele Schaeffer came across the line in fourth.
“So we’re gonna work for Al today, okay?” Kyle Buckowsky addresses his teammates while pulling on his base layer.
“Yeah, it’s Al’s course. He has the best shot today” agreed another.
Reluctant to pressure the whole team into working for him, Murison kindly offers an “opt-in” to whoever wishes to take part in leading him out. Clearly just looking forward to racing his bike, Brendan Armstrong lets out an enthusiastic “Yeah brother! I don’t care” followed by “Can I be the guy [in the train] just before Al?”
The crowd roars as the elite women sprint to the line. They pass under the finishing banner, and the elite men immediately take to the line.
There's a crash in corner two on the first lap. Only a single rider goes down. Stretched out along the straightaways, it’s evident that the elite men are already reaching the highest speeds of the night. Riding towards the front early on is Kyle ‘Buck Wild’ Buckosky. The experienced rider, who spent his pre-season training in California, is clearly identifiable among his pasty Vancouver-based competitors.
A breakaway group of five or six riders forms up the road. The group contains many race favourites, including, Florenz Knauer of Herrmann Radteam; Nigel Kinney of Langois Brown Racing; and Trek Red Truck’s own, Al Murison.
As the escapees increase their lead, the main field becomes panicked. Provincial Road Race champion, Alexander Amiri, attacks the peloton. With Amiri threatening to reach the escapees, nineteen-year-old TRT rookie, Erik Diertens, starts to drive at the front. Diertens gives it his all to ensure Amiri does not distance himself the field. In a race considered challenging for even the most seasoned riders in the peloton, Diertens rides outside of himself and successfully prevents Amiri from slipping away entirely.
With four laps to go, the race emulates the Elite women’s competition, and the bell rings for the field's final sprint. With no U23 riders in the breakaway, the peloton gears up for a race for U23 glory and fifth place overall.
Appearing around the final corner, the front of the race teems with red. Brendan Armstrong is leading out Chris McLeod and Kyle Buckowsky. With less than a hundred metres to go, Buckowsky exits the slipstream and charges up the road. He crosses the line first, taking McLeod and Armstrong with him. Buckosky's effort will earn him a monetary placing, while McLeod and Armstrong go one-two in the U23 competition.
On the final lap for the last four riders, Murison and Knauer are the two favourites to win the sprint. The streets are lined with spectators nearly the whole way around the course. The main field stands near the barricades, cheering on their teammates and squinting to the finish for a better look. Upon exiting the final corner, both Murison and Knauer seem to appear out of nowhere at opposite sides of the road. Murison swings to the centre and Knauer takes the outside. The two sprinters throw their bikes side to side as they hit peak velocity with the final hundred metres to go. With just enough kick remaining, Knauer manages to open up a small gap between himself and Murison. Knauer takes it, with Murison coming in just behind.
In the end, Holly Simonson took home both the Elite and U23 Provincial Criterium Championship titles and the four-hundred-dollar cash prize. Michele Schaeffer finished fourth place, collecting another two-hundred-dollars. Anna Talman and Callie Swan finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Al Murison was awarded the Elite jersey and four-hundred-dollar prize, while Kyle Buckosky rounded out the monetary placings with fifth place overall. Chris McLeod was awarded the U23 title for his sixth-place result, with Brendan Armstrong finishing second place in U23 and seventh-place overall.