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Empire Skate Series Stage 2
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   Orchard Beach Bronx, NY
   Saturday, May 10, 2003

By Paul Di Julio, Coach, Mogema-Labeda Speed Team
 
As the early morning mist burned off at Orchard Beach in New York City this Mother's Day weekend, the skaters were ready to take the track for the second Empire race. It was a much better turnout than Race #1 which was held on a cold, wet, blustery April morning -- maybe the sunny forecast attracted a few more skaters.
 

Masters

 
In the Pro Masters Ladies Race, Empire's Barrie Hartman took off on the first lap and never looked back. She seemed in great shape after fighting off a knee injury from last season and appeared relaxed and confident as she skated away to an easy victory.
 
In the Pro Masters Men's Race, Empire clearly had the numerical advantage over EC Beast's Kevin Larson who was the sole representative for his team. Kevin counted the numbers and realized it was 6 against 1, so it seemed his strategy was to stay in the middle to the back of the pack, and cover every break by the Empire team. At one point during the race, Larson skated by the crowd and raised his index finger in a "Number 1" sign, seemingly predicting that he would be the winner in this race. As the race progressed however, it looked as though the sheer numbers of the Empire team would be too much for Larson to overcome. Dennis Humphries, Glenn Corso, Max Ivinetsky (to name but a few) were clearly controlling the pace and the tempo of the race. As the skaters went into the last lap, it seemed as though Kevin Larson was merely along for the ride. Coming out of the final turn to the home-stretch, Empire's Max Ivinetsky took off and began to sprint for the finish line. It appeared as though Larson ran into a little trouble trying to navigate his way around the Empire team, but he finally made it around the outside, passing the entire Empire team and picking up the win for EC Beast.
 

Pro Women

 
In the Pro Ladies half-marathon, again Empire clearly outnumbered everybody else. With Empire's Helen Havam coming off a win last month, along with teammates Bibiana Calle, Luisa Castillo, Elizabeth Drenkhahn, and Samantha Carr, it was 5 ladies vs. Kimberly Derrick and Erin Di Julio from Mogema -Labeda  and Kristen St. Nicholas, the lone representative from Verducci. The race started off at a pretty slow pace, when Samantha Carr attempted a flyer 4 laps into the 26 lap race. Mogema -Labeda 's Kimberly Derrick immediately gave chase and reeled in Carr right away. Just a few laps later, Luisa Castillo took off, this time it was Mogema -Labeda 's Erin Di Julio bringing the pack immediately back up and then countering with a break of her own.
 
This strategy keep playing out with Empire's Carr, Drenkhahn, and Castillo taking turns trying to pull gaps on the pack, and Derrick and Di Julio reeling them back in and often going on counters themselves. Verducci's Kristen St. Nicholas stayed in the middle of the pack and refused to be shaken loose. She looked very strong and was playing it smart; staying in the pack and not trying to cover every break, yet ensuring she was never too far off the leader. With Empire's flyers, came some good counter breaks by the Mogema -Labeda ladies. It became obvious after the first few counters that Havam was covering Di Julio, with Calle covering Derrick -- both Empire ladies covered their marks effectively and it seemed no one was going to get away today. Interestingly enough, the Mogema ladies would break away long enough to win both preem money laps; with Derrick winning the first, and Di Julio winning the second. Clearly, they were a presence throughout the race -- a race that was not clearly dominated by the sheer numbers of the Empire ladies. With about 4 laps to go, the race slowed down and it seemed the ladies would begin setting up for the field spirnt.
 
Coming across the finish line with one lap to go, no one wanted to make a move until halfway down the back straight-a-way when Empire's Bibiana Calle sprinted towards the front. Mogema -Labeda 's Erin Di Julio got caught in the back, but quickly moved in behind Calle. Calle showed her strength by continuing the sprint with Di Julio in tow about 1/4 of the way into the final turn. Suddenly, Calle looked over her right shoulder and saw her teammate Helen Havum coming on hard on the outside. Calle stood up and put on the brakes, standing up Di Julio for a moment, but that was long enough. Di Julio was forced to try and go to the inside at a much slower speed, and Castillo stepped in front of Derrick, forcing her to stand up momentarily and go very wide to the outside. In the end, Havam's team had picked a good strategy and gave her enough of a jump to hold off the charge of the Mogema -Labeda  girls. The Empire ladies worked very well together, keeping Havum fresh for the finish while making sure the Mogema -Labeda  and Verducci ladies had to work throughout the race. The finish belonged to Empire's Helen Havum who picked up the win, Mogema -Labeda 's Kimberly Derrick taking second, Empire's Luisa Castillo in third, Mogema -Labeda 's DiJulio in fourth and Verducci's Kristen St. Nicholas rounding out the top 5.
 

Pro Men

 
In the Pro Men's event, it appeared that the starting line was a sea of blue! Empire's numbers were clearly way ahead of everyone almost bordering on the ridiculous. With Verducci represented by just 2 of their top skaters, Jason Sepulveda and Steven Kruwalski, Empire seemed to have at least 20 skaters on the line stacked up against them. From the start of the gun, it seemed like Empire wanted to keep their "big blue machine" out in front of Verducci's "dynamic duo" of Sepulveda and Kruwalski. Early on, Empire's Juan Naula and Luis "Pipe" Botero took off on a breakaway with Verducci's Jason Sepulveda giving chase. Immediately, the hunted turned into the hunter with Sepulveda going to the front and hammering the pace hard. The three skaters stayed together for a few laps when 1st Naula began to fade and was absorbed into the pack, then Botero faded back into the pack. Interestingly, several times during the race, Empire had the option of letting Sepulveda and Botero get away, but the "big blue machine" seemed unhappy and unwilling to take their chances with Botero and Sepulveda in a field sprint for the finish, so they chased down every break. Sepulveda was an unwilling player in this game of cat and mouse and made "big blue" work hard and long.
 
Sepulveda was like a machine, hammering lap after lap and wearing down the massive numbers of Empire skaters. However, luriking stealthily within the "big blue machine" was Stage One winner Brett Whitman. Whitman sat in the pack, directing his team when to chase and who he wanted to bring the pack up to Sepulveda. With Sepulveda still out in front, the pack kept him in sight and never let him get too far ahead. Sepulveda clearly dominated most of the race, easily winning both preem money laps and doing most of the work for the entire race, while the Empire team had the distinct advantage of being able to split the workload about 10 different ways, not counting Whitman who was kept fresh for the finish. Crossing the finish line with one lap to go, the men were quickly setting up with Empire's Remy Chiat and David Morales hammering hard off the first turn. As they entered the final turn, somewhere, out of no where, came Verducci's Jason Sepulveda. He passed by the Empire duo in front like a bullet with Brett Whitman taking advantage of the leadout and close behind. Whitman was able to use the draft and just nipped Sepulveda at the line with a picture-perfect hawk that barely edged out Sepulveda. Empire certainly used their numerical superiority to their advantage, but Sepulveda and Kruwalski should hold their heads up high as they were inches from pulling off a major upset starting off the race down about 20 to 2.
 
In closing, there was an interesting point that came to light concerning announcing, which can be a factor at every race. One recommendation this writer has is to only give updates on the back side of a track like this where the skaters can't hear. Unfortunately, smart skaters can and often do use the announcer's remarks to let them know where other skaters are in the pack or how far ahead a breakaway has gotten. Several times, immediately after comments were made by the announcer, the Empire skaters appeared to react to what was said. No one believes this was done intentionally, but it was most likely done with the announcer not even thinking that the skaters might be listening. As the sport continues to grow, we should begin to note things like this and try to ensure the race is always left in the hands of the skaters -- and only the skaters.

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