The next stop on the NRC schedule was Charlotte for the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium. The women raced for 25 miles and the men 50 miles on a course that resembled a percentage symbol. The downtown course was 1.2 miles in length with a straight finishing stretch and on both ends a loop bringing the riders through the start/finish line twice in one lap. With a VIP grandstand, plenty of curb side restaurant seating and great racing, it’s easy to see why this is considered America’s best criterium.
The women were the first to take to the course. While there were no significant breaks the cash primes quickly separated the wheat from the chaff. The pack would separate and then reform leaving some women off the back scrambling for a draft. With two laps to go there was a small break, but on the bell lap it was all together and the expected field sprint started to form.
With the perfect leadout from her Colavita/Baci teammate Catherine Cheatley, Theresa Clif-Ryan blasted away from the field easily taking the win by at least four bike lengths. This former in-line world champion speed skater turned bike racer is no stranger to the top step of the podium with several victories going back to early this season at the Athens Twilight and the Roswell Criteriums.
The Colavita/Baci team had a straight forward race strategy for the Presbyterian Invitational.
“We wanted to win and we are also leading the individual NRC series so we wanted to make sure we protected those leads. It was a tall task but we have eight strong girls here and we did the perfect job as a team,” said Clif-Ryan.
When asked what is different about this year than previous years she gave credit to her squad.
“This is my first year on a big team so that definitely is a big step in winning. Also timing the sprint to perfection.”
With the daylight fading the men’s field lined up for 50 miles on the downtown Charlotte course. By this time the crowds had gotten thicker and restaurant seating was getting harder to find.
As expected the men’s field lit it up from the start. The pack stretched from the curb to the white fencing that separated North and South Tyron Street. It was only a matter of time before someone was squeezed into the barrier which separated the road. Sure enough with just a few laps completed a rider went into the fencing causing a domino effect of flipping bikes and riders effectively halting the race. Only a handful of riders were in front of the crash and those who were fortunate not to have their bike or wheel destroyed scrambled to the nearby pit to take a free lap. The majority of the riders were able to rejoin, however a few required minor medical attention.
Two riders took advantage of the chaos caused by the crash but were brought back. However they were able to scoop up some cash primes for their efforts and started the attacks for the remainder of the race.
With about a third of the race completed the race’s first strong breakaway went up the road. Twelve riders in total included big hitters from UnitedHealth Care, Fly V, Mountain Khakis, Bissell and Jamis-Sutter Home.
At one point the break had over a 50 second lead on the chasing peloton. However a thousand dollar prime split the break. Five riders left the break behind and went off on their own.
This move was doomed as the riders left behind had reorganized and the stronger domestic teams took over the front of the race determined to bring it back.
With ten laps remaining the leading group was caught and was now over 20 riders. The peloton was over 30 seconds behind. It was clear that the winner would be someone from this lead group.
On the last lap three Bissell pro riders were at the front leading it out for their teammate Pat Bevin. Fly V had other plans and Australian Jonathan Cantwell launched off the wheel after the final corner taking the 61st win for the team.
Cantwell said this was his seventh win in a row.
“I’m coming off of good form coming off of Super Week and with a win at (Tour of) Elk Grove.”
While the first major break of the race seemed significant, Cantwell said they were happy to see it go and gave praise to the Aerocat team which brought it back.
“They did a fantastic job pulling it back, so congratulations to those guys.”
The future looks good for the Fly V team as it seems that the squad is taking their racing program up a notch in 2011.
“It’s going to be an exciting year coming up. I think we are going to race across the pond in Europe.”
When pressed for details Cantwell wasn’t sure of the particulars.
“I haven’t been given the inside word yet. But we love to race in America and we’ll always have a squad here.”
Because race radios are no longer allowed in domestic races directors now pass on information using wipe-on/off boards much like the pit crews use in NASCAR. Bissell and Fly V directors were feverishly writing messages on the boards in the pit area.
At one point Bissell pro rider Andy Jacques-Maynes signaled to his mechanic that he was feeling “blocked” due to asthma. The mechanic grabbed Jacques-Maynes inhaler, but Andy waved him off as he raced by the pit. When asked if the Bissell pro could swing by the pits, snag the inhaler and then re-join the field the team mechanic replied, “Oh yeah – it’s no problem for him.”
Place to go for post-race food, beverages and free wifi – The Ri Ra Irish Pub on South Tyron Street.
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