CU Cycling posts another win at Auburn
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
The Cumberland University Cycling Team recently posted another victory and a second-place finish at races hosted by Auburn University. The team traveled to Auburn, Ala. for three separate events with key competitors including Auburn, Clemson, Lees-McRae, Florida and Florida State.

The weekend began on Saturday morning with a road race along the rolling hills of Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. Teams completed three laps of a 26-mile loop for a total of 78 miles. The Men's A Division saw its usual attacking style with each team doing their best to form a breakaway. Ben Bevans, Peter Fairbanks and Whitney Stanbrough of Cumberland were all active in attacking or countering moves by other teams. During the second lap, the decisive breakaway formed and contained four riders, which included Fairbanks, Scott Stewart of Lees-McRae, Phil Gaimon of Florida and Ben Zawacki of Clemson.

With their respective teams controlling the pack behind, the four riders built up an advantage of over five minutes. With such a large advantage, the foursome was assured to finish in the top four places. On the third and final lap, Zawacki fell off the pace which left the remaining three riders to fight it out for the win. The last half-mile of the course featured a short hill before leveling off at the finish line, and this short rise in elevation proved to be the decisive point in the race.

Coming into the finish, it was Stewart of Lees-McRae who picked the right moment to sprint and accelerate ahead of Fairbanks and Gaimon. Cumberland's Fairbanks countered quickly but was unable to close the gap to beat Stewart as his sprint was too much in the end. Fairbanks crossed the finish line in second place just a few bike lengths behind, but ahead of Phil Gaimon of Florida who took home third. Cumberland's Whitney Stanbrough and Ben Bevans finished 11th and 17th, respectively.

"Peter closed a big gap between himself and Scott at the end, but his mistimed sprint left him with too little distance to overcome Scott's advantage. Picking the right moment to sprint for victory is the hardest thing to judge in the heat of the moment. Timing is everything in bike racing. Despite the disappointment, it was a great result for Peter and our team, which earned us valuable team points," CU Cycling Team Director Tim Hall said.

Saturday afternoon offered up a 21-mile team-trial along most of the same roads covered in the morning road race. Racing 78 miles in the morning took its toll on the team as Cumberland finished in sixth place, well behind the winning team from Clemson University.

"One of our riders bonked half-way into the race, and the boys literally had to stop to regain their composure," Hall said. "With only three riders competing, it meant nobody could be left behind since the final time is taken once the third rider crosses the line. The typical collegiate time-trial consists of four riders, but the squad was without Shawn Mullican for the weekend."

The team's attention then turned to the Sunday criterium on the campus of Auburn, which comprised a short seven-tenths loop around the famed Jordan-Hare Football Stadium. Weather played a critical role in the early morning event as scattered rain showers fell on the area shortly before the race began. Wet roads, painted street markers and 90-degree turns can have a major impact on race safety. The roads dried shortly before the race started, but a brief shower late in the race played a role in the outcome. What was supposed to be a 70-minute-plus, three-lap race turned into a 60-minute event due to the dangerous conditions.

Despite the sketchy conditions, Cumberland's Peter Fairbanks attacked the course and split the field. Fairbanks had some familiar breakaway companions with one addition: Gaimon of Florida, Stewart of Lees-McRae and Luke Winger, also from Lees-McRae. The four riders showed their strength by lapping the field after only completing half the race. Once they caught the field, the four riders stayed with the main pack for several laps before surging ahead once again.

It was at this time the rain began to fall, creating slippery conditions on the course. As expected, a big crash did take place and saw several riders from the lead breakway group hit the pavement. With 20 minutes to go, both Fairbanks and Winger crashed in turn one, but neither was seriously injured, suffering only minor road rash. In criterium racing, riders who crash can take advantage of the "free-lap" rule and re-enter the race within their previous spot in the pack of riders.

"One lap I see Peter pushing the pace along with Scott Stewart, but the next time around Peter was missing," Hall said. "I immediately knew he had crashed somewhere on the course and only hoped it wasn't serious."

Fairbanks re-entered the race alongside the remaining two breakaway partners (Winger did not re-enter), and those three continued to build their advantage over the field. Once their lead was established, all of the remaining racers in each field slowed down their pace and rode cautiously around the course. Not until one lap remained did everyone rampu up their intesity to battle for the finish.

Despite the earlier crash, Fairbanks timed his attack perfectly and, with less than 500 meters to go, he jumped ahead of Stewart and Gaimon. Fairbanks held onto his lead for the last 100 meters and crossed the line for victory by a bike length over Scott Stewart. This marked Fairbanks' second victory of the season -- his first being a road race at Georgia Tech.

"What more can you say about Peter? He was determined to not repeat his second-place finish and demonstrated why he's one of the toughest riders in our conference. We are very fortunate to have a rider of his ability within our program. Not only that, but his influence on everyone else helps to raise their abilities as well," Hall said.

The team's next event takes place in Banner Elk, N.C. at Lees-McRae College before the regular season ending conference championships in Nashville on April 21-22.

"These last two race weekends are critical for our team. Both are great preparation for collegiate road nationals in early May, which is our biggest target for the season," Hall concluded. Collegiate Road Nationals will be held on May 11-13 in Lawrence, Kan.