Men’s A: Gonda Doubles Up Atop Col du Skillman
By Jake Sisson – Cornell University
The Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference may have a new superstar in New York University’s Pavel Gonda. Just one day after taking a somewhat controversial victory at the Cadwalader Criterium, Gonda asserted his dominance in any terrain by winning the queen stage of the Princeton/Stevens Jersey Devil Weekend, the Col du Skillman Road Race. Gonda and the rest of the Men’s A field faced eight testing climbs and eight treacherous descents that were sure to give the race a unique dynamic.
It did not take long for the action to start heating up and despite topping the first ascent of the day as a group, by the time the peloton completed its first lap, a lone rider had made the day’s first split. That rider was the speedy Gonda, who was a well-known commodity in shorter criteriums and circuit races, but had yet to show his quality in a climbing situation. Gonda held a narrow margin of nine seconds as he crossed the line after the first lap, and with such a long way to go, few would have expected the NYU rider to survive to the finish.
As the field hit the climb for the second time, the University of Vermont’s Tristan Baldwin was wiling to take a gamble both on his fitness and the assistance of Gonda, as he quickly bridged across the gap and set about increasing the duo’s advantage. The group seemed satisfied with the makeup of the breakaway, and as the leaders completed lap two, their gap had ballooned to 49 seconds.
The increasing gap seemed to put the peloton back on alert and the pack started to pick up its speed. Riders from Penn State seemed the most motivated of the bunch, and within one lap, the gap had dropped to 36 seconds. Penn State’s riders were getting little help, however, as both the leaders jerseys were seen at or near the front of the race, and seemed more interested in covering attacks than chasing the leaders. After realizing that their chase would most likely amount to nothing, the pace eased off, and by the end of lap four, Gonda and Baldwin had an advantage of 1:09.
Gonda and Baldwin continued their charge, with Baldwin doing much of the pace setting up the climb and Gonda happy to sit in his slipstream. The duo added another 28 seconds on lap five, and started lap six with an advantage of 1:37. A further 16 seconds were added to their gap on lap six and by the start of lap seven, they were clearly headed to a two-up battle for victory with a gap of 1:54. Behind, the pack was clearly on edge, as the pace rose notably on the seventh ascent up the Col du Skillman. No riders were able to escape the field, but all signs pointed to an explosive final lap.
The pack’s final climb was not as devastating as it could have been, but one rider was able to escape the group’s clutches with a blistering solo attack. The U.S. Naval Academy’s Zachary McIntyre, who was visiting the ECCC from the Atlantic Collegiate Cycling Conference, bolted from the peloton near the top of the climb. McIntyre was afforded extra room when Yale’s Douglass Endrizzi could not hold the increased pace, and ECCC overall leader Max Korus and ECCC points jersey holder Trevor Eide realized that the Navy rider posed no threat to their points title concerns.
McIntyre was able to hold on to, and even extend, his advantage to the line and crossed comfortably for third. Behind, the University of Pittsburgh duo of Robert Stumpf and Nicholas Reinert won the field sprint for fourth and fifth respectively, with Korus mopping up minor points in seventh.
The real intrigue, however, was up the road, as all eyes fell to the battle between Baldwin, who was having a career day, and Gonda, who has a well-established reputation as a sprinter. Baldwin’s only chance at victory seemed to be if he could shed the fast-finishing Gonda before the duo hit the finishing straight. Baldwin could not manage to do so as the two hit the top of the day’s final climb together. It was Gonda, instead, who managed to dislodge the UVM rider on the descent to the line. Despite an all-out, last-ditch effort to get back on terms with Gonda, Baldwin would have to settle for second. Baldwin had laid everything he had out on the road, and ended his day by collapsing out of both elation and exhaustion.
Gonda did not have to sprint home, and even had ample time to celebrate his victory, his second in as many days. Gonda is quickly asserting his position as the fastest man in the collegiate peloton, and may find himself a marked man for the weeks to come. In the present, however, there is one man to beat on Saturdays and Sundays, and his name is Pavel Gonda.