19 Mar World Cycling League Historic Launch Sets New Bar for Professional Cycling
by James Raia
CARSON, Calif. — Anita Yvonne Stenberg of Norway collected 32 points to pace the Pennsylvania Lightning to the team title Friday night as the World Cycling League debuted amid powerful legs, impressive strategy and colorful international pageantry.
With 42 riders competing from 11 countries circling the VELO Center Sports Center track in a constant blur of neon uniforms and flashing strobe lights, the Lightning collected 104 points in the opening session’s 12 races.
The California Wave, on the strength of Zachary Kovalcik’s win the men’s 3,000-meter endurosprint and his two second-place finishers, tallied 100 points. The Mexico Heat was third in the premiere session of two-day event with 89 points.
The Lightning’s opening night individual points tally doesn’t carry over to Saturday’s two sessions. But the Pennsylvania squad gained six team points, a one-point cushion over the California Wave. The Mexico Heat have four team points.
Stenberg, 23, the 38-time national track champion including new nine titles last month, won the women’s elimination race. She also finished second in 8,000-meter endurosprint, third in the kierin and fourth in the 500-meter sprint, the night’s opening event.
“It’s cycling for the future; it’s something totally new,” said Stenberg, who’s competing in the United States for the first time. “I think the audience also loves it. It’s quite tactical and team racing and you can play a little more and have fun.”
The Heat’s Ignacio Prado, 22, of Guadalajara, Mexico, capped the event with solo breakaway in the last third of the men’s 12,000-meter endurosprint. Prado scored 40 points, the most of an individual rider, including 15 points in the final race. He was named the night’s MVP.
“The racing strategy was great; I’ve never seen such tight races,” said Dave Chauner, CEO of the World Cycling League after the awards ceremony. “It was great to watch the teams go back and forth.”
The inaugural night of the three-session event featured six teams, each with seven riders — four men and three women. The new team format worked well in from the start of the split evening format, seven races prior to an intermission and five races, including the longest men’s and women’s races.
Kovalcik of Portland, Ore., and teammate Andreas Mueller of Vienna, Austria, exchanged 1-2 finishes in the men’s 3,000-meter endurosprint and 32-lap elimination race. Kovalcik also used a powerful sprint in the evening’s finale to solidify his team’s second-place.
“I saw Bones (Tyler Nothstein) was all in, so I decided to get a free ride,” said Kovalcik. “I moved right and hung in there at the front. We had a plan for the event, but it wasn’t the plan we had.”
In the 3,000-meter race, Kovalcik swung wide just after the start of the final lap, was passed by riders, then moved into the lead and held off the field. Mueller’s runner-up gave the Wave 18 points.
The strength of the Mexico Heat was apparent from the opening race. Daniela Maxilla, 22, of two sisters competing, claimed 500-meter sprint. Three races later, she claimed the women’s 2,000-meter keirin, quickly pushing her to total to 20 points for her team.
The home team, the California Wave, seems to enjoy particular fanfare as the new and bright uniforms by Champion System boosted the color and pageantry of the event.
“Man, that was a rush,” said Nate Koch, an American for the California Wave and veteran of the popular six-day races in Europe. “In Europe, as a sprinter, sometimes you have three hours between races. Here, it’s bang-bang. All action, all the time. No rest, just flat out.”
Andreas Mueller, a multiple World and European track champion from Germany, riding for the California Wave added: “This looks and feels like the future. Something completely different that the spectators could understand easily. The team points system and men and women mix is a good idea, I think.”
The second day of competition will include daytime and evening sessions. Doors open at noon for day session with competition beginning at 1:50 p.m. The evening session will start at 7:50 p.m., with doors opening at 6 p.m. The same 12 events will be held in day and evening sessions. Tickets are still available for both sessions.
The Pennsylvania Lightning will try to protect their team lead after winning the first match with two matches and a lot of points, money and pride at stake.