Mass St. momentum

Tour’s 1-mile circuit weaves through downtown

David Hejduk, Overland Park, celebrates his win at the finish line of the Men's 40+ and 50+ race during Downtown Criterium events of the Tour of Lawrence Saturday, July 4, 2009.

Lawrence residents didn’t have to look far for an interesting way to spend their Fourth of July this year. The Tour of Lawrence cycling event took over downtown Lawrence once again with the Tour of Lawrence Criterium on Saturday.

Amateur and professional racers from across the country and even riders with foreign roots took turns speeding their way around a one-mile circuit that cut across Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont Streets.

The Juniors’ Race kicked off the second day of the tour with a field of five riders. Robert Englert, a 15 year-old member of SKC racing from Shawnee, took home first prize.

“I just started racing so I’m trying to get into it more,” he said. “I’ve done a couple races like this, but this one was really fun.”

The Juniors’ Race was followed by the Category 5 Men’s Race. Andrew Zens, of Spidermonkey Cycling in Chicago, pedaled in for first place. Spencer Martin, a Lawrence resident, followed close behind in second and Zens’ teammate, Bryan Witry, took third. In the Masters 40+ and 50+ Race, Overland Park’s David Hejduk of 360 Racing, took home the top honors and the $210 prize. Tulsa’s David Billingsly of Team Soundpony claimed second and Frank Jakofcich of OKC Velo Club from Olathe took third.

In the Category 3 and Category 4 Women’s Race, 15-year-old Emily Shields of Carolina Masters from North Carolina stunned the field to take home first place and a $210 prize.

“On the last lap, I just went to the front and then stayed behind the other person,” she said. “Then when we got to the last half-lap, I got out in front and just stayed to the front until I could sprint to the end.”

Shields and her twin sister, Katherine Shields, who also raced Saturday, will be heading to the USA Cycling Junior, U23, and Elite Road National Championships in Bend, Ore. later this summer.

“Hopefully that will go well,” Emily Shields said. “We’re just going to keep racing.”

In the Category 4 Men’s Race, Ashton Lambie, a rider from Lincoln, Neb., passed the finish line first. Lambie received $210 in winnings. He was followed by Robert Schultz of SKC Racing. Eric Stull of Team Colavita/Parisi Coffee from Kansas City, Mo. took third.

In the Category 3 Men’s Race, Michael Giem of ColoBikeLaw from Colorado Springs, Colo. won the $250 first place prize. Adam Lange of Mesa Cycles Racing Team from Olathe took second and Britton Kusiak of Team Colavita/Parisi Coffee rounded out the top three.

Then it was time for the professional races. On the women’s side, Catherine Walberg of Team Kendra Racing from Topeka won first place and a $250 prize. Sydney Brown of Midwest Trek SRAM from Lincoln, Neb., followed in a close second and Lise Olivier of Tulsa Tough/Tulsa Wheelmen took third. The women’s field was much smaller than the men’s, with only eight riders battling it out on the course, but the competition was fierce.

“It started out pretty fast,” said Michelle Jensen, a Lawrence resident and rider for Mercy Racing. “Within the first 10 minutes, it kind of lit up. But after the second lap, it opened up a big enough gap for a breakaway.”

That breakaway belonged to Walberg and Brown, who were neck-and-neck for much of the race.

“At first I did an experimental attack just to see what was going on and then I decided to go after it,” Brown said. “After I went through, I looked back and realized there wasn’t anyone on my wheel so I just kind of drove into it and that’s where the break formed.”

A wandering spectator in the cross-walk accidentally disrupted the race, sending Brown on a wider turn than she had planned and giving Walberg an open lane to take the lead.

“When you take turns, if someone goes wide, you can always take the inside line,” Brown said. “It can be dangerous if you cut inside because you go wide when you exit the turn. So you have to protect the corner. I had been taking a line to protect that corner and when a women went in the cross-walk, I had to blow my turn way wide. And then she (Walberg) was off. I lost her and I just couldn’t get it closed downhill.”

“I was second. The first loser. I hate that. But that’s racing. That’s what brings you back to do it next year.”

The Men’s Professional 1?2 Race boasted a much fuller field, with more than 75 riders toeing the start line. Among those riders was Heath Blackgrove, a New Zealand native and member of Team Hotel San Jose/Redbudsports from Austin, Texas. Asked about his expectations heading into the race, Blackgrove replied:

“We’re here to win. Whether it’s myself or one of my teammates, we want to win it all. We want to get people up there and win some money and I think we’ve got the team for it. We’ve got the riders. We can try for breakaways. Myself, I’ll be trying for a breakaway.”

True to his word, Blackgrove led an early break away from the field and held onto the lead to claim first prize and $1,250 in winnings.

“It was a great win,” Blackgrove said. “In a break like that, I have to go for it. We had a really strong team. I was expecting more one of them to take it. We have four really qualified riders. If it wasn’t me, it could have been one of them.”

Stefan Roethe of Mercy Elite Cycling from Dresden, Germany took second place.

Blackgroves teammates included Columbian World Team Member Carlos Vargas, 18-year-old U.S. National Team member Travis Burandt, and Australian Sean Sullivan, who came to Lawrence this weekend with 10 years of European racing experience. With such a strong team, expect Team Hotel San Jose to be looking for a second victory in today’s KU Campus Circuit Race.

“This win gives us lots of confidence,” Blackgrove said. “It takes pressure off of us. We’ve got this one in the bag and that puts pressure on others to be more hungry for the win. We’ve got a couple of different options for (today) as well.”

The racing begins at 8 a.m. this morning with the Masters 40+ and 50+ race and concludes with the Men’s Professional 1?2 race at 4:30 p.m. Racers will face a much hillier course today, as they cycle around a 4.4-mile circuit. Organizers say some of the best places to watch will be where Naismith connects with Sunnyside or at the intersection of 11th and Mississippi Streets.