Gauthier, Alexander Claim La Fleche du Nord Titles
May 14, 2013
road | race
Claiming his second victory in the prestigious La Fleche du Nord this weekend was Tyler Gauthier of Ishpeming. Riding for the upstart Border Grill / Quickstop Bike squad of Marquette, Gauthier was able to outpace 2012 champion Paul Johnston (Chocolay Ace) in a three-man sprint on the edge of Copper Harbor. Ryan Tervo (Dorfblick Training Center / Flyer Cycles), saved the Keweenaw’s honor with a strong third place finish.
On the women’s side, it was Nicole Alexander of the Chocolay Ace squad who continued her dominance at the queen of the U.P. classics. Finishing second in her first LFdN was fellow Ace rider Christina Bennett. Third place was awarded to Adina Christian of Marquette.
How it Happened:
On hand for the third edition La Fleche du Nord were over forty elite cyclists from across the Midwest, many of whom braved driving snow and gale-force winds en route to the race. Fortunately, the morning snow squalls had been blown eastward by a strong west wind and gave way to intermittent sunshine by race time. Temperatures, as they have been throughout the classics season in both Europe and the U.P., remained frigid.
With much of the Keweenaw still encased in a covering of snow and ice, race officials had been forced to make considerable modifications to the traditional course earlier in the week, eliminating the mountain-top finish on Brockway Mountain as well as two of the more challenging dirt secteurs: Garden City Road and the Delaware Crosscut, both of which were still under two feet of snow on race day. Nevertheless, race directors dug deep to find roads that were worthy of a classic. The Gratiot River Park secteur included sections of dirt, sand, running water, gravel and snow. Though short in length, the section packed 50 miles of heartache into two short miles and would see more than one rider lose time to a mechanical.
All of the U.P ProTeams were represented: Border Grill, with the bookmakers’ favorite Tyler Gauthier and teammates Danny Hill and Brad Jalonen; Chocolay Ace with the 2012 winner Paul Johnston and teammates Colby Lash, Steve Kuhl, Andy Stevens, Matt Colligan, Dave Grant, Mik Kilpela and peloton patron and Ace D.S. Tom Maheney. The Ace roster also included two of the favorites for the women’s race: two-time champion Nicole Alexander and Christina Bennett. The Red Jacket Cycling Team and LFdN host team was represented by cx standout Kit Cischke, past Ronde van Skandia podium finisher Chris Schmidt, and a well-trained Steve Webber. Though they brought only one rider to the race, Dorfblick Training Center / Flyer Cycles was always a threat, particularly if that one rider was Ryan Tervo. And it was. Leading the Machine Star Factory Team was dark horse Logan Zueger along with father Karl and his younger brother. There were also a number of other riders capable of inflicting pain: Keweenaw native Sam Kilpela, in particular, was a wildcard.
After exchanging pleasantries and fueling up on vitamin B(acon) at the Suomi, the peloton slipped out of the sleeping burgh of Houghton without fanfare. The town, having been emptied of students a week ago, had been transformed into a ghost town. Streets were vacant, sidewalks void of spectators. Had it not been for the whistling wind through the wrought metal grating of the city’s bridge, there would have been no sound at all as the riders embarked on their 70-mile excursion into the deepest bowels of hell.
Though all aspired to victory as the peloton searched for its legs and the embrocation began to work its magic in the early miles of the contest, there could be but one champion. Like an obscene Rube Goldberg contraption, with cyclists as the centerpiece, there was no stopping the inevitable, cataclysmic course of events that would lead the riders to the finish. Destiny, fate and luck would all play a role for each of the competitors along the hazard-ridden parcours. It would be the rider who cleared the dirt secteurs without puncture, who could both feign and endure pain, and who had the extra dose of speed, power and endurance when it mattered who would be the victor.
Cresting the end of the first dirt section and the end of the neutral zone, most of the riders made the customary stop to remove extra layers of clothing, burrow into back pockets for packets of energy – in numerous forms. Unaware of what was happening behind them, however, a few riders carried on past the designated stopping point and on towards the finish. Those who had stopped were equally unaware that riders had carried on. It was not until the group resumed the race that it became apparent that racers were missing. It was fuel on the fire, and the main group set off in chase.
The offical support vehicle was informed of the transgression via race radio and motored up the road in search of the missing riders. The duo of Matt Colligan and Logan Zueger were eventually found, and they were requested to wait for the peloton. The strong northwest wind that bore upon the pair on the exposed Lake Superior shoreline, however, drove them to continue onward to the finish line. In a decision reminiscent of the 2008 Paris Roubaix, which saw Tom Boonen, Alessandro Ballan, and Juan Antonio Flecha relegated for having failed to stop at a railway crossing, LFdN commissaires were similarly forced to relegate the renegade riders, though the decision was not an easy one: fellow racers, spectators, friends and family had waited with anticipation to see how the young Logan Zueger would fare against the top cyclists in the U.P.
Reports gathered from undisclosed sources indicate, however, that the U.P.’s aging peloton is for a lashing when Zueger finally gets his chance. Matt Colligan (Ace), in top form following a week of intense training in the North Carolina mountains, was reported to have faltered numerous times as Zueger effortlessly pedaled up the Keweenaw’s countless ramps. Not yet willing to crush his mentor’s spirit, Zueger repeatedly fell back and coaxed the aging rider on. At the finish line in Copper Harbor, Colligan was spared the agony of finishing second to a rider one third his age by an unfortunate mis-shift suffered by Logan on the final rise before the finish. Riders of the U.P. be warned: the tables will soon be turning.
Though unaware that they would be racing for the win, the peloton was burning up the miles further down the Keweenaw in search of the apparent leaders. A number of other riders who had neglected to stop following the neutral rollout were gradually reeled in and again ejected out the rear.
The dirt secteurs claimed their victims as well, with Black Rocks favorite Brian Geshel losing a chance to lay claim to the title with a puncture. Tyler Gauthier lost one of his key lieutenants, Danny Hill, who suffered a pair of flats.
Eventually, an elite group formed at the front, with Tyler Gauthier, Paul Johnston, Ryan Tervo, and Colby Lash leading the way. In the end, Gauthier outpaced Johnston for the win. Tervo fended off the advances made by Colby Lash and held on for third.
Not long after the remnants of the men’s peloton crossed the finish line, Nicole Alexander (Ace) finished as the first woman. Christina Bennett and Adina Christian followed shortly thereafter.
Thank you to everyone who volunteered their time to help make the race happen and to the Bike Shop and Mariner for hosting us at the start and finish. Thank you as well to everyone who came out to race!
Photos: thanks to Adam Grififs