Post race interviews with BelGioioso Elite podium finishers after the second race of the season, the Crystal Lake Classic outside Rhinelander, WI. This week, we also interviewed Citizen Junior racers about their race experience.
WORS Media roundup for the Crystal Lake Classic:
Matter and Strigel two-for-two in 2012 WORS Series
Former Champion Lalonde breaks out the big gear for return to WORS racing.
By Claire Cannon
The second race of the Subaru-sponsored Wisconsin Off Road Series started fast on a parched, sandy course and sprinted to the line in a bracing downpour. Brian Matter (Gear Grinder / Trek) and Abby Strigel (Honey Stinger/ Bontrager ) rode through it all to take the win in their respective BelGiosioso Elite Series races. In total, 577 competitors raced on Sunday in ability categories ranging from First Timer to Pro, including 126 Juniors under the age of 17.
"It was very hard today, but I always love coming up to Rhinelander," said Matter. "It's one of the best and most physically demanding courses in the WORS series."
Even before the race began, the BelGioioso Elite men's start line welcomed back former WORS Elite Champion Jesse Lalonde. Lalonde (Lalonde Brothers Racing / T6), racing for the first time in two years, chose a rigged single speed, the same bike setup he rode to an undefeated season in 2009.
"It's a little tricky with the gearing here, with the wide-open stuff and the start," said Lalonde. "It can get pretty fast, so I kind of have to gear towards that."
Lalonde went with a 36:16.
"It's a gear I usually reserve for something like this, with a longer lead-out," explained Lalonde. "I can actually get on top of it better now than I used to in the singletrack. But rarely would I run something that big in the WORS Series."
The rest of the field also brought their big gears for Rhinelander's long, gravel lead out. The pace was high from “Go!”, spurred on by Mike Phillips (Adventure 212 / Specialized) at the front. Soon after entering the singletrack, the lead group was reduced to Phillips, Matter, Nathan Guerra (Wheel and Sprocket / Vision), Lalonde and relative newcomer Joe Maloney (KS Energy Services / Team Wisconsin). By the middle of the second lap, only Guerra, Matter and Lalonde remained and a sudden, cold downpour had wet the course and passed.
In the fourth and final lap, the rain returned and Matter turned on the gas to ride away from Guerra and Lalonde.
"The last lap, I just kept going harder, and harder, and harder until I got a gap," said Matter. "The gap opened slowly, but then that was it."
Matter rolled in alone at 2:07:27, followed by Guerra (2:07:43) and Lalonde (2:07:57). Tyler Guathier (2:11:11) and Justin Piontek (2:11:20) rounded out the podium steps.
In the women's race, Robin Williams (Mercy-Specialized) challenged defending Champion Abby Strigel at the start.
"She's really fast, and a great climber,” said Strigel. “She attacked on the first really big hill on the lead out and just dropped me. I chased after her and caught her in the singletrack. Then I just did anything I could to get rid of her. But there are quite a few climbs and she was hanging on. I know she likes the hot weather, too. So I was just thinking 'she's loving this!', while I was waiting for the skies to open."
By the end of her first lap, Strigel was alone and still hoping for rain to cool the parched, dusty afternoon. She got her wish midway through her second lap.
"Once it rained, that was just awesome," said Strigel. The rain may have helped Strigel to maintain her lead over Williams, who was careful in the rapidly changing conditions. Strigel finished three laps of the course in 1:50:16, nearly five minutes ahead of second place (1:55:15). Chasing from behind were teammates Lisa Krayer (1:57:37), and Sarah Agena-Wright (1:58:01; Adventure 212 / Specialized) with Lori Sable (1:58:19).
In the first two races of the Series, Matter and Strigel have seemed unbeatable. For the women, Strigel just might be untouchable. However, the next few races could shake things up for the men. Defending Champion Tristan Schouten has not yet raced. Mike Phillips and Nathan Guerra have challenged but left hungry for results. Perhaps the biggest question mark is the Lalonde Brothers. With Mark Lalonde’s third place finish at Iola and Jesse Lalonde’s third place at the Crystal Lake Classic, WORS Series fans wonder whether the singlespeed duo will return in force to WORS Racing this season.