Charlotte, North Carolina again welcomed big crowds for the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium, the seventh race in the USA Crit series with a prize list of over $100,000. In its eighth year, the Presbyterian has become one of the biggest criteriums on the East Coast attracting the best domestic racers. This year the six-rider per team restriction had been removed and squads had the option of pinning numbers on eight riders. Would the additional riders provoke a more attacking race as teams had more bullets to expend? Also the heat of the evening would be a factor as the temperature was 95 degrees at 7:00PM.
The women’s field was racing for 25 miles for a purse of $25,000. The recently crowned national road race champion Robin Farina (NOW and Novartis for MS) and defending Presbyterian champion Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita/Forno d’ Asolo p/b Cooking Light) were on the starting line.
The men faced 50 miles of racing and the field was stacked with criterium racing talent. Adam Myerson, a regular on the crit circuit, along with his Team Mountain Khakis p/b SmartStop, are always a threat in these fast races. RealCyclist.com had their criterium specialist, Frank Travieso, in Charlotte. Of course the United Healthcare squad brought their heavy hitters: Hilton Clarke and Karl Menzies.
The course 1.3 mile loop, located in the hear of downtown, is a barbell shape which mirrors itself on both ends. The eight 90 degree corners that the racers would have to negotiate would keep the riders on their toes.
To kick off the racing a first lap prime of $500 was announced and Anne Samplonius (NOW and Novartis for MS) was the fastest. The result was the field was immediately strung out through the downtown streets of Charlotte.
The promoters continued to keep the pressure on the racers by ringing the bell for another prime – this time for $250. The Colvita squad was showing its strength by clogging the front end of the peloton, but Samplonius continued to add to her team’s coffers by easily taking the prime again – further shredding the field.
A crash on the long straightaway sent several riders to the pits for their allowed free lap. While the unfortunate riders were straightening their bars Farina took the next cash prime. It was realized that the scope of the crash was bigger than realized and the race was neutralized while First Responders took care of the Emma Mackie (Team TIBCO/ To The Top) still lying on the road. To allow for an ambulance to enter the course and attend the women were stopped at the start line. After being assisted to, Mackie was able to remount her bike but did not re-enter the race due to the possibility of injury.
With 13 laps remaining the peloton was off one more time. When the ladies came through the start/finish line for the first time another $500 prime was announced. Once again the field was strung out and Farina took the prime in a bike throw.
A mid race points prime further splintered the group, but no one was taking the race by the throat and trying to break away. However a $250 prime was what it took to motivate Farina to surge off the from. However, it was Meredith Miller who overtook the national champion and continuing to chug along in front of the group.
Miller was reeled in by Farina with two others but that move was doomed as it didn’t contain a Colavita rider. Sure enough they were absorbed but not before Devon Gorry (NOW) took the prime.
With three laps to go Miller, once again, surged off the front with just a seven second gap. But with her hands in the drops Kelly Benjamin (Colavita) was leading a train of her teammates in hot pursuit. And as the group came through the finish showing two to go, the ladies were all together. In sixth position was defending Presbyterian Criterium champion Cliff-Ryan surrounded by her Colavita teammates. It was looking apparent that the team strategy was to launch her for a back to back victory.
On the bell lap it was a group of about 20 racers remaining in contention. Around the final corner the field was out of the saddle and was fanned out across the road. To no one’s surprise it was Theresa Cliff-Ryan going back to back.
“Today’s plan was to go back to back and get me the win,” explained Cliff-Ryan. “A lot of people say that is negative racing, but for us it’s racing to out forte.”
The men’s field faced 40 laps in downtown and on the first lap a thousand dollar prime was offered and defending Presbyterian champion Jonathon Cantwell (Fly V) took the money easily. Interestingly he was the solo Fly V rider as the rest of the squad was a scratch from the start list.
With 5 laps completed Heath Blackgrove (Elbowz Racing) jumped off the front to a ten second gap. That didn’t last long as the strong domestic teams were going to allow anyone up the road to steal the cash primes.
As race announcer Chad Andrews worked the VIP area for cash donations for primes the racing continued to be run at full speed. The 141 rider field was stretched out along the straightaway with the usual suspects of UnitedHealthCare monitoring the front. This didn’t stop the continual attacks and counter attacks, but with 30 laps remaining, no one was able to break completely free of the peloton.
The continuing flow of cash primes kept the pace fast with riders hands buried in the drops of their bars.
At the 28 laps to go point two riders carved out the best time gap of the evening: Yasvany Falcon (RealCyclist.com) and Chad Hartley (Kenda 5 Hour Energy p/b GrearGrinder). Working together they scooped up primes as the field hesitated. This allowed the duo to gain a 30 second advantage. While the peloton kept the pace steady it was becoming too much for some as the field looked to have been reduced to about 100 riders.
With 24 laps to go two riders were trying to bridge to Falcon and Hartley. However, with 21 laps to go the group was all together and battling for the midway prime.
At 19 laps Tom Soladay riding solo for Kelly Benefits Strategies sneaked off to a 20 second gap with the blue train of UnitedHealthCare at the front of the peloton. It was a suicide move but it was motivated by a $500 cash prime, which he took. But the prime bell rung again and this time it was for $1000 dollars. Soladay continued to suffer off the front, but the boys in blue were having none of it and were eating into his lead.
With still a 24 second gap Soladay took the big dollar prime with a playful bike throw putting on a show for the appreciative crowd.
With 14 laps remaining Soladay’s move was brought to heel, but not after a hefty cash payout due to his prime hunting. It had been worth the effort.
At eleven laps to go race announcer Andrew announced a $500 prime. This was enough for Dan Holt (Team Type 1 – Sanofi Aventis) to break free and take it without much worry. However, he cut the turbo and let the peloton catch him.
At nine laps to go the field started to string out again. UnitedHealthCare took to the front to ensure no one got away. The Blue Train squad was stacked heavy with sprinters, so it was in their best interest to have the winner come from a field sprint.
However, Blackgrove must not have gotten the memo as he jumped out to a 15 second lead with six laps remaining. UnitedHealthcare remained at the front not looking panicked-just keeping the pace steady.
At five laps a thousand dollar prime was announced. Was this enough to wake up the peloton and chase down Blackgrove?
The ELBOWZ rider barely hung on for the prime as he had a handful of seconds separating him from the front of the hard charging peloton. And with four laps to go the group was altogether with the boys in blue at the front. However, sitting behind the train was the solo Fly V rider Cantwell.
With a half-lap to go the field was shattered by the overwhelming horsepower of UnitedHealthCare.
Around the final corner the UnitedHeathCare train dropped off riders until it was Keough bursting through the shadows taking a convincing victory. Behind him was Cantwell with Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis Sutter Home) in third.
“This really was our race to lose from the start,” said Keough. “Everyone looks to us. That’s not a bad thing to any team and it is a compliment to us. It was a hard race and it wasn’t like we controlled it. There was a lot of attacking and it was a hard win and we earned this.”
1. Jacob Keough, UnitedHealthcare Professional, in 01:55:35.30
2. Jonathan Cantwell, Fly V Australia Pro Cycling Team, in 01:55:35.60
3. Alejandro Borrajo, Jamis Sutter Home, in 01:55:35.60
4. Demis Aleman, Jamis Sutter Home, in 01:55:35.70
5. Andrew Pinfold, UnitedHealthcare Professional, in 01:55:36.40
1. Theresa Cliff-Ryan, Colavita/forno D’asolo P/b Coo, in 01:01:04.70
2. Laura Van Gilder, Mellow Mushroom, in 01:01:04.80
3. Erica Allar, Rideclean P/b Patentit.com, in 01:01:04.80
4. Joelle Numainville, Team Tibco/to The Top, in 01:01:04.80
5. Lauren Tamayo, Peanut Butter & Co-Twenty12, in 01:01:05.10