OXFORD – A steady, day-long soaking rain would have washed out most outdoor events, but not the Oxford Criterium.
The seventh of eight cycling races that make up the 2013 Chesco Grand Prix came to southern Chester County under decidedly less than ideal conditions on Friday, but a surprising number of spectators braved the soggy weather, dodged the puddles and watched Andreas Graf out an end to Garneau-Quebecor’s four-race winning streak.
The Austrian out-dueled Canadian Simon-Pierre Gauthier on the final lap of an abridged pro men’s event to give the Rudy Project International All Stars its first victory of the week, and infuse a little intrigue into the series finale today in Kennett Square. Garneau-Quebecor already sewed up the team title earlier in the week, but the individual crown is still up for grabs, with Graf and a pair of Garneau-Quebecor riders -- Gauthier and two-time individual winner Adam Farabaugh -- still in the running.
For Chesco Grand Prix Co-Director Dave Chauner, the turnout was clear evidence that the second-year series is starting to take hold despite continued challenges from Mother Nature. A year ago, a stifling heat wave gripped the region for nearly every race. Last Sunday, a violent storm forced the shortening of the Coatesville Classic. And then came the unrelenting downpour in Oxford.
“Hey, it’s Pennsylvania and it’s bike racing – we go on rain or shine,” Chauner said. “It may not be quite as much fun for the fans, but some of the riders actually prefer riding in the rain.”
Granted, most spectators without umbrellas ducked under the awnings of 3rd Street businesses, but they showed up nonetheless.
“I think the momentum in the interest is really building in the whole series,” Chauner said. “Here in Oxford, they’ve done a lot of promotion, and the whole town is getting into it. They got off to a little bit of a late start this year, but they have a new event committee that kicked in. Just in the last month or so they put on a big push and everybody in town knows about it.”
About halfway through the race – which was shortened from 58 to 40 laps -- Graf and Gauthier pulled away from everyone else and soon began lapping the rest of the field, turning the Oxford Criterium into a soggy, two-man battle.
“Some of the riders are afraid of the rain, but I have confidence in it,” Graf said. “After 5-6 laps, I saw I could go to the front with one other rider (Gauthier), and then we lapped the field.”
On the final lap, Graf was just in front of Gauthier and stayed that way by beating him to the finish line. His winning time was 1 hour, nine minutes, 30 seconds.
“Riding in the rain has never really bothered me,” Graf admitted. “I have experience so I know how fast I can go through the corners and still be safe. I am always fast in the rain.”
Third place went to Floridian Lucas Wardien (unaffiliated), with Jamie Clinton (Team Alliance Environmental), Wes Kline (D3Devo Cycling Team) and West Chester’s Michael Chauner (Garneau-Quebecor) rounding out of the top five. The 2012 CGP overall champion, Bruno Langlois of Garneau-Quebecor, did not race on Friday, which likely marked his exit from the series. The Canadian won four times a year ago, but had just two top-5 finishes in five previous events in 2013.
“It’s all mental riding in the rain,” said Nick Sears, the winner of the earlier Category 4 race. “If you look forward to it and you’re happy in the rain, you will probably do OK. If you are scared, you probably won’t do well. It’s all about taking advantage of a bad situation.”
Sears prevailed in the 21-mile, 30-lap Category 4 race in a time of 47:41. Formerly of Chester County Velo and now with Equipe Vitesse, the Quarryville resident beat teammate Jeff Wolf of Hockessin, Del., and Exton’s Andrew Miller (Spinteck Cycling Team) in a very close battle.
“It’s pretty sketchy in the rain,” Sears said. “I lowered my air pressure in my tires from 116 to 75 for better grip, and then I did a lap and lowered it again to 65. We didn’t have any problems because we ran a very conservative race.”
Robert Grimwood of World Ski & Cycle Racing was the winner in the 45-plus criterium. The Lewisberry, Pa., native covered the 17-mile race in 39:06 to edge Kennett Square’s Michael Csuy of Pa. Masters Racing Club.