1996 LOUISIANA STATE CRITERIUM CHAMPIONSHIPS

dhearule.gif - 4.5 K Seven unlikely riders worked together, smoothly circling the one-mile circuit beneath the oaks. Just a dozen seconds ahead, the main pack, now well over two minutes down, awaited the inevitable. Two laps before, the officials had been presented with the most unpredictable of events - a break was about to overtake the senior pack. All of it, the whole race but for these seven, including all of the pre-race favorites, was about to be pulled out of the State Championship Criterium. Nobody would have guessed it, but what had started out as an unthreatening gap in the first few laps had materialized into an upset - a powerful example of what can happen when luck, overconfidence, cooperation, tactics and determination combine in a short race that, we would soon learn, might be won by anybody.

It was Robin Robert who, sensing the growing gap and disinterest in the pack, was the last to bridge. For two laps, the pack had been pinched in the middle - a small group working at the front, a pack of 15 behind, and a few uncommitted riders in-between. It was not a break that looked dangerous. Sure, all of its members were strong, experienced riders, but only Breaux figured into the series standings. It was just seven guys that knew how to work, off on a way-too-early flyer. Although many had teammates in the pack, it was not often their good fortune to be the ones supported by the rest, but teammates back in the pack were already weighing their options. Series leader Rob Konrad already had enough points to win the series, and two of his teammates, one a good sprinter, were in the break. Both NOBC and Red Stick were also represented. Canít pull the pack up to the break if your teammates are in it. The options were now to sit and wait for the break to collapse, or to try and bridge alone.

Charlie Davis had decided to ride his own race that day, and as anyone who has ridden with him can attest, that means a fast start, however ill-advised it might be. Joey DíAntoni, improving rapidly this summer, had missed enough crucial breaks - this time he wasnít taking any chances. There too was Robert Bart, a frequent factor in the local training rides, who always seems to enjoy a hard ride for its own sake. Todd Herbet, riding his second race of the day, was always looking for opportunities to split the pack and shift the balance away from the sprinters. Robin Robert, having already ridden the Masterís race that morning, recognized a dangerous situation and made a last-minute effort to join the group just as it melded. Powerhouse Keith Breaux who had placed second it the first race of the series, and Baton Rouge rider Norman Nolan rounded out the group. Surprisingly, the pack barely reacted when the gap started to grow. Series leaders and championship hopefuls eyed their teammates in the break, and each other. No chance! Not enough horsepower to stay away for so long; and look at all the power still in the pack - Rob Konrad, Kenney Bellau, Mike Williams. They watched and waited for the impatient pack to surge through and gobble up the foolish riders up the road. But the rest of the pack would not take the chance today. This was the championship, and the best bet was to stick with the favorites. If they werenít chasing, how dangerous could it be?

But the leaders were cooperating - and not looking back. Smooth pulls and an even pace stretched the gap to 45 seconds in just a few laps. Keith, Todd, Norman and Robert provided steady power, and although there were a few riders in the pack who tried to bridge, but there was still no consensus; no paceline; nobody willing to sacrifice his legs to pull this pack up to the leaders. The promoter offered a cash prime to the chase group; they sprinted, then slowed, and the gap grew again. Mike Williams came to the front and towed the pack around for a lap, but still there was little help. Soon, the announcer stops reporting how far behind the pack is. The time needed for the break to lap the field is now more to the point. The leaders loom now just 30 seconds behind the pack as the group is warned theyíll be pulled if lapped. For a couple of circuits the chasers begin to recover some ground, but again the effort collapses, and with only 15 minutes left the break makes one final surge, closing 20 seconds in little more than a lap, and the overtaken pack is ordered off the course. The seven leaders spend the next few laps watching the clock tick down to zero, and the 2-lap card finally goes up. Everyone waits for the sprint, but they will be surprised again. Just after the bell, Robert Bart surges and opens a large gap on his suddenly hesitant companions. It worked once today - maybe again. Surely, itís too early, but his head drops down and he powers along the back straight. Joey comes to the front to pull the string half of the final lap as they disappear momentarily behind the trees at the far side of the circuit. Spectators strain to catch the first glimpse of the group as it rounds the last turn. Bart comes into sight first, his gap eroded, but still clear, and even as the sprint winds up for the number-two spot, he holds off his companions. Arriving in time to coast across the line, he punches the air with a broad smile. A noble ride - maybe a lucky one. Maybe not.

Final Results

Menís Louisiana State Championship Criterium

1. Robert Bart (Unattached - New Orleans)
2. Keith Breaux (GNO - New Orleans)
3. C. Norman Nolan (Red Stick - Baton Rouge)
4. Joey DíAntoni (NOBC - New Orleans)
5. Charles Davis (NOBC - New Orleans)
6. Robin Robert (NOBC - New Orleans)
7. Todd Herbet (GNO - Chalmette)


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