Hot Competition at the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge
By Dave Campbell
An unknown entity, Georgia Simmerling left quite an impression in Portland by establishing a new record time in the Individual Pursuit and making podium appearances in all six events she entered to claim the Omnium.
Now in its 17th year, the Alpenrose Velodrome Challenge (AVC) is the premier track racing event in Oregon and one of the biggest in the Pacific Northwest. Riders travelled from as far away as South Carolina to swoop down the 42-degree banks of the unique little 268-meter concrete oval nestled in Portland’s southwest hills. Temperatures for the July 18-19 competition approached the century mark on both days, with blustery afternoon winds bringing extra challenges as both the new and well-seasoned competitors vied for a $10,000 cash purse.
Racing began with the Time Trial events and $200 cash bonuses were on offer for new track records. The women’s 3,000-meter record of 3:57.78 set by U.S. Olympian Erin Mirabella back in 2005 did not appear in danger with the field of mostly regional competitors and a couple of promising rookies taking part in that event. The first rider off was a Canadian unknown named Georgia Simmerling, a serious and intense athlete with a ski racing background. To be clear, officials later learned that her skiing past consisted of two Olympic appearances in the Alpine events. Well-equipped with a skinsuit, aero helmet and a sleek Cervelo bicycle featuring a rear disc and 5-spoke front wheel, she didn’t look like a rookie, but was nonetheless seeded to go first due to a lack of any past results. Rolling smoothly and steadily around the track, it was clear to the small crowd gathered in the stands that they were witnessing something special — and with 1,000 meters to go, she was near a record pace. As the energy picked up and the crowd adopted her as a weekend favorite, Simmerling rallied her considerable resources into a blistering final two laps to cross the line in 3:57.13, a new track record! Local Jasmine Zamora (BriHop Racing) dug deep as the local favorite and final starter to record a 3:57.16 time, also under the former record, but succumbing to the newcomer for both the title and Alpenrose’s best mark ever.
In the men’s Pursuit, 21-year-old John Croom (Revolve Residential), a big strapping lad from South Carolina, laid down a 4:57.93 time for the 4,000-meter race and that was only bettered by final starter Zac Kovalcik’s (Black Lodge Cycling) at 4:56.72, still several seconds off record pace. Kovalcik, just back from many weeks competing in Europe on the 6-day and motor-paced circuit, has been a dominant competitor in recent AVC meets and was last year’s Omnium champion. His strength and flamboyant style have not only made him a crowd favorite, but a marked man as well. His pursuit title was the highlight of his 2015 AVC competition, as mass start success would elude him. Oregon State Kilo champion Conor Klupar (Marian University), known locally as “The Mullet Bullet,” negative split his way to the Kilo title in a solid 1:10:65 while local prodigy Hannah McDade (Exergy Twenty16 Development) slightly overcame Simmerling by six hundreds of a second to win the women’s 500-meter race in 39.72.
Simmerling attacked just after the first sprint in the 70-lap women’s Points race and despite a sustained and concerted chase by Zamora, defending AVC Points race champion Erin Goodall (Olympia), and Amy Shepard (Stages Cycling), she lapped the field prior to reaching the mid-point. Continuing to stay out front, the riders behind, notably Zamora, racked up points and closed the gap. Zamora eventually dropped her companions and lapped the field as well, taking the lead with just two miles to go. Simmerling, undaunted even with the obvious fatigue of fighting the wind alone for most of the race, attacked again. Taking a second lap and despite Zamora rocketing in to claim the final double points sprint, the Canadian took a narrow and well-applauded victory the hard way, 57 to 53, before collapsing in a heap in the infield. She would rally to win the Miss and Out and manage a close second to Zamora in the Scratch race.
The men’s Points race was equally dramatic with favorites Steven Beardsley (HPC) and Kovalcik effectively taking each other out of contention through their hyper focus on one another. The 110-lap affair ran in the mid-day heat, which was blistering. Patrick Jacks (Bike Central/Barbur Vet) absolutely dominated the event, taking laps on no less than three occasions. Mike Garrett, a real rocket scientist from MIT, now living in Boulder, Colo., did a great job of frequently counter-attacking after the inevitable group sit-ups that followed the Beardsley/Kovalcik sprint spats. He would ultimately take two laps and third place with 50 points while a late rally by Portland homeboy Tim Reinhart (Rapha/River City Bicycles) netted two laps, 60 points and the runner-up spot.
Another high point of the weekend was the Sprint tournament. Another rookie and avid recreational cyclist, Kae Erickson, only started road racing in April and the AVC meet was only her fourth time on the track. As third best qualifier, she was pitted against the young (18), but experienced (8 years on the track), McDade. Going long with considerable strength, the 30-year-old rookie managed to frustrate the more savvy track rider twice to move into the final against past Masters National Champion Alexandra McLaughery (Bike Central/Barbur Vet). Employing the same enthusiastic, gloriously naïve strength-based tactic and on board a borrowed bike no less, Erickson just outmuscled the more seasoned rider, this time in two out of three rides to take the title. The men’s final saw a rematch of the Oregon State Sprint Championship, but this time the younger Klupar came out on top of the man twice his age, Stephen McLaughery (Bike Central/Barbur Vet), with a scintillating best time of 11.38 that nearly hit 40 miles an hour over the 200 meters.
The long, hot weekend concluded with the traditional AVC finale, the Flying Lap. 43 years young Alpenrose regular McLaughery, the two-time defending champion in this event, brought the meet to a close in style — blasting around the track in 15.38. He punched the air and whooped loudly when he realized he had not only recorded a PR but the 4th fastest Flying Lap ever at Alpenrose. His wife and local veterinarian Alexandra, nearly made it a family double but her 18.51 was bested by the star of the 2013 meet, Jen Featheringill and her 18.39 as she competed in only her second race of the weekend.
Klupar’s Sprint and Kilo victories along with his runner-up position in the Keirin (behind a delighted Beardsley) were enough to secure the men’s Omnium with 19 points, just clear of the visibly frustrated Kovalcik score of 17. Beardsley, who frustrated Kovalcik yet again with his narrow victory in the Scratch race, was third with 16, showing the balance of strength in this year’s men’s field. The irrepressible Simmerling dominated the women with 34 points backed by top 3 performances in all of the six races she contested. Zamora finished second with 21 while McDade was third with 17. Remember the name Georgia Simmerling; after all, three-time Tour de France Champion Greg LeMond and 1984 Olympic Pursuit gold medalist Steve Hegg both came to cycling as summer training for skiing.