Team Simmons arrived in force today in mosquito-clouded Portage, WI, and rolled away with the top three spots in the American Family Insurance-Badger Games Inline Marathon.
Simmons' Rob Bell won the 25.5-mile race in a time of 1 hour, 12 minutes and 16 seconds. Teammates Adam Miller and Ryan Crisler finished two seconds back to claim second and third.
The best that the out-gunned Luigino-Answer team could manage was fourth place with Norm Kirby finishing right behind Crisler in the field sprint.
"You have to give (Team Simmons) credit," Kirby said. "They have a very good team, and they skated a smart race."
In the women's race, Bont North America's Debbie Rice rolled to an easy win to claim her second NROC victory. She posted a time of 1 hour, 15 minutes and 27.3 seconds, five minutes ahead of the second-place woman, Minnesota speedster Kara Peterson of Adams Inline.
Rice, 40, stayed with the lead men's pack until the midpoint of the race. "But then, about at the halfway point, me, Hernan Diaz and Greg Major got dropped going up a steep hill," she said.
The three were swallowed up by the chase pack, where Rice remained until the end, finishing 15th overall.
The win gives Rice, who was skating on the new Bont G3 wheels, a narrow lead in NROC's master women's division with 120 points.
The Simmons Racing team arrived at the starting line this morning with six pro racers: Rob Bell, Ryan Crisler, Richard Cassube, Hernan Diaz, Alex Fedak and Adam Miller. The team's strategy was "to tire out (Luigino's) Jordan Nelson as much as possible and get our guys on the podium," Bell said in a phone interview after the race.
To tire Nelson out, the Simmons racers repeatedly initiated flyers that the two Luigino racers (Nelson and Norm Kirby) felt obliged to chase.
"With about six miles left to go, I took off," said Bell, 24, of Oklahoma City.
Nelson put in a hard pull and managed to catch Bell. But then Bell attacked again with two miles left in the race. This time he was able to stay in the lead for good and rolled across the finish line a few seconds ahead of the four-man field sprint.
It was Bell's first win in an inline marathon. "I'm enjoying it," he said. "We didn't really plan it this way. I just kind of got the lucky pull."
One who was not so lucky was 57-year-old Steve Larios, owner of the Asphalt Beach skate shop in Nashville.
He broke his nose when he fell a few miles from the finish line.
"I just put my foot in a hole and went down," he said. "I hit right squash on my nose."
Nonetheless, he picked himself up and finished the race, albeit at a slower pace.
Skaters and Floods
Conditions were near perfect for racing: overcast with a temperature of about 60 degrees.
Despite the flooding of the last few weeks, the racecourse was dry. But the floods had left behind a crop of mosquitos, which attacked the skaters as they arrived for the race.
Anticipating the problem, organizers handed out cans of bug spray. "The mosquitos were bad yesterday when we were setting up, so we thought the skaters would need it," said race director Jim White.
Despite concerns about flooding, which had caused some skaters to consider skipping the race, the number of Badger participants grew this year by 10 to 20 percent, White said. "And the level of competition was definitely higher. We had a lot of good skaters out here today."
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