Conference lead challenged in Aggieland

Cycling loses some ground at Texas A&M race


Sharome Burton

Morgan Ballesteros, physics sophomore launches attack during final lap of men’s ‘B’ criterium in College Station. Photo by Sharome Burton. Feb. 16.

Cycling’s grip on the South Central Collegiate Cycling Conference (SCCCC) Title received a major challenge Feb. 17 after its conference rivals rallied back at the second weekend of the road racing season hosted by Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

Cycling started the weekend strongly, with Zach Gregg, men’s ‘A’ rider and exercise physiology graduate, extending his perfect streak to four after claiming a comfortable win in the 6.3-mile individual time trial Feb. 17. However, Gregg had to settle for second in the men’s ‘A’ criterium  in the afternoon after losing a sprint to University of North Texas’s Andy Heuser. Pablo Cruz, exercise physiology senior, placed third.

The team was again denied gold in the 55-mile road race when Cruz was edged out by Oklahoma State’s Ryan Currie in the final dash.

Cycling Director, Charlie Zamastil said while the results were not optimal, there were positive signs in how the team adapted to the increased pressure.

“Obviously we weren’t able to surprise anyone with how strong we were this year,” Zamastil said. “Particularly in the men’s ‘A’ race, we were pretty thoroughly marked with the guys that we knew were strong. Zach and Josh [Buchel, finance and accounting senior] really weren’t allowed to do much without every other team trying to cover them and so we had to get creative with our strategy. We got Pablo into the breakaway and for him to sprint to second obviously was not the result we were looking for but I think it still speaks really well for us.”

Zamastil said the result could also encourage other teams to be more aggressive.

“We also showed the other teams that we weren’t gonna do all the work for them just for them to try to counter-attack us. By not winning this race with the strategy that we had hoped to employ, long-term I think it bodes well because it’s gonna compel other teams to have to do some work throughout the rest of the season.”

Pablo sprint
Sharome Burton
Pablo Cruz (second from left), exercise physiology senior sprints to third-place finish at men’s ‘A’ criterium in College Station. Photo by Sharome Burton. Feb. 16.

Cycling entered the men’s ‘A’ road race as favorites, fielding five riders in the teamwork-heavy discipline. However, only Cruz found himself isolated from the rest of the team early in the race when he joined a five-man breakaway, which he says changed the game plan.

“At the beginning, it was not the goal for the team but maybe only one out of ten times do things go as planned,” Cruz said. “It was a very tricky moment because I was trying to wait for my teammates to bridge up and it didn’t happen because the other riders in the breakaway were really strong and they were coordinating to make the break flow. I had to play my cards at the end and I got second.”

The weekend saw UNT and OSU making big gains in the team point standings, but cycling remains in firm control of the individual men’s ‘A’ omnium after Zach Gregg (444 points) held onto his lead while Cruz (306 points) leaped six spots into third place. Cruz, who is also the reigning Honduran national champion, said he was pleased to rebound at College Station after a difficult first weekend.

“The first weekend [in San Marcos] was very tough for me since I’m from a warm-weather country so I had a hard time performing there,” Cruz said. “This weekend it was much better weather for my qualities so overall I’m very happy with what I did and how the rest of the team did. I think we’re on the right path on the way to Nationals for a great performance there.”

The team’s ambitions for the SCCCC title were also strengthened during the weekend when Morgan Ballesteros, physics sophomore earned an upgrade to the men’s ‘A’ category by clinching a third-place finish in the men’s ‘B’ criterium Feb. 16.

Morgan fist pump
Sharome Burton
Morgan Ballesteros, physics sophomore pumps fist after claiming third-place in men’s ‘B’ criterium in College Station. Photo by Sharome Burton. Feb. 16.

“I’m just really happy to have been able to get the work done to get here,” Ballesteros said. “It’s especially cool because that Texas A&M weekend is the anniversary of my first-ever collegiate race so that was pretty cool to be able to race ‘A’s on the road race one year after I started racing.”

Ballesteros, who placed ninth from a field of 23 in his first top-level race, said he was delighted to beat some of the riders he looked up to in previous years.

“I definitely was intimidated by those guys but it’s been such a cool experience to race with them and then being able to beat a lot of those guys was amazing and really gives me more confidence in my ability going forward,” Ballesteros said.

He said his elevation to the ‘A’ team adds a new dimension to the overall strength.

“I really think the reason I’ve gotten to where I am this season is from the work I’ve put into my fitness and also I’m a smaller guy, so I can climb pretty well,” Ballesteros said. “The only real climber we had before me was Pablo so I’m definitely looking forward to helping everybody in the climbs and just being able to be a strong force in the races with my fitness.”

Joshua Alan Pablo
Sharome Burton
Joshua Buchel (left), finance and accounting senior, Alan Barrows (center), management information systems sophomore, and Pablo Cruz, exercise physiology senior leads peloton in penultimate lap of men’s ‘A’ criterium at College Station. Photo by Sharome Burton. Feb. 16.

Zamastil said the chemistry within the ‘A’ team is a significant advantage heading into the rest of the season.

“It’s extremely important. This is a team sport, no matter how much it looks like an individual one. When you have one person winning it’s typically because three-to-four guys put him there. We have five guys but any one of them would shoulder the burden in order to help their teammates out. There’s not a selfish rider on our team. As long as it’s MSU winning the race, they’re willing to do the work for it,” Zamastil said.

The team strategy changed once Gregg’s win-streak was ended, according to the cycling director.

“Once that was over, we kind of shifted tracks to where it’s like ‘it doesn’t matter who wins, as long as we get the win,” Zamastil said, “I think that’s gonna be the goal next week in Lubbock – winning all the individual races regardless of whether it’s Morgan, Alan [Barrows, management information systems sophomore], Pablo, Zach or Josh [Buchel, finance and accounting senior].”

Ramon Rueda, exercise physiology graduate, was also singled out for special praise by the cycling director. Rueda upgraded to the men’s ‘C’ category in only his second weekend of racing.

“I’m super pleased with how Ramon’s doing,” Zamastil said. “I had the pleasure of training with him for the entire summer. We rode together close to 1,000 miles per month, day after day. We went up to Mount Scott several times… so I knew just how strong he could be. He just needed that experience in the ‘D’s once [last weekend] and I knew he would be ready to go to the ‘C’s and I would not be surprised at all if within a month’s time he was racing in the ‘B’s with Ben [van Winkle, exercise physiology graduate].”

Bianca Brandi Cortnie
Sharome Burton
Bianca Zuleta (left), geosciences sophomore, Brandi Hobson (center), sports administration graduate, and Cortnie Grauel, Finance and Accounting senior accelerate towards finish line during women’s ‘C’ criterium in College Station. Photo by Sharome Burton. Feb. 16.

Meanwhile, Zamastil said the progress of the women’s ‘C’ riders is encouraging, and he expects the team to have a stronger presence in the female category in the coming weeks.

“I think [they’re improving]. They’re hanging in the pack a bit longer. We had Cortnie [Grauel, finance and accounting senior] racing her first race ever and she did exceptionally well. She was our top rider in the time trial and in the road race,” Zamastil said. “We were missing our women’s ‘A’s again obviously with Amy [Floyd, accounting senior] and her injury and Brissia [Montalvo, exercise physiology graduate] and her scheduling conflicts but at least Brissia will be back next week and we’ll have Bridget [Reilly, sociology and criminal justice senior] riding for us in the ‘C’s as well so all this new young talent is really exciting to watch… It’s not discouragement or frustration; it’s motivation and determination.”

The SCCCC continues Feb. 23 in Lubbock, Texas where Texas Tech University hosts the third race weekend.