If you were looking for a sentimental favorite for this year’s USPRO Criterium Championships, there were several good choices, but the two best candidates were probably Jonas Carney and Robbie Ventura. Postal’s Ventura has been going after the title in Downers Grove all his career, but has always fallen short, coming closest two years ago when he lost the USPRO title to Kevin Monahan in a photo finish. Carney does have a pro criterium title to his name, winning in Downers Grove in 1997, but having announced his retirement earlier this season, the Jelly Belly rider was shooting for one last big victory. In the end, after a day of playing it cool, Carney came away with the sentimental win, while Ventura pushed the envelope too far, ending up on the ground in the final turn of the day.
With all of the U.S. pro teams present, and many with full 10-man squads, the pace was fast as usual, and coming out most aggressively was the Health Net-Maxxis squad, with Mike Sayers in particular. Health Net was in nearly every move on the day, usually represented by Sayers, and it was again Sayers off the front as the race neared its finish, with less than 10 laps to go.
Sayers dangled off the front for four laps, hanging on to take the day’s $200 crowd prime, but was methodically reeled in by Floyd Landis, with teammate Ventura riding confidently in second position.
With four laps remaining, the jockeying for position began, with Jelly Belly, Health Net and Navigators all battling to get their troops to the front. But on the final lap, as Navigators, Postal and Health Net rolled through the start-finish one last time, Carney, who had not seen the front of the race all day long, was still playing it cool back farther back in line.
“Between turns 6 and 7, I was probably in 12th, which is usually way too far back in this race,” he said. “In the second to last corner, I knew I had to start my sprint right there.”
Fortunately for Carney, an opening presented itself on the right side of the road, and the veteran rider unleashed one last great effort.
“We all got caught flat footed when Jonas had this huge amount of momentum,” said Health Net’s Gord Fraser. “He came from behind with a huge amount of momentum and caught us all hesitating.”
That opening was all Carney needed, and while he sailed through the tight final turn perfectly, Ventura slid out just behind, causing just enough disarray to seal the deal for Carney. “We were all just in emergency 911 maneuvers trying to get around it,” said Fraser.
Carney took the win, while behind, Health Net’s young rising star Tyler Farrar took second, with Fraser third. Farrar continued a hot streak that saw him win the national under-23 time trial championship, the U23 criterium championship and the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix the week before Downers Grove. Farrar will be heading to the Tour de l’Avenir (Tour of the Future) this week, and then staying in Europe to contest the U23 world’s in Italy.
But while the future may belong to Farrar, Sunday belonged to Carney, who crafted a storybook ending. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to win this race,” he said. “I’m going to retire at the end of the season, and to walk away with USPRO is huge.
“This is the last big race I’m ever going to do,” he added, “so I want to dedicate this win to my parents, who got me started in this sport and supported me since I was eight years old. I’ve been racing since 1979. I literally have had a USCF or USPRO license since I was eight years old. I’m 33 now, and my parents were so supportive, and they still are.”
1. Jonas Carney, Jelly Belly-Aramark
2. Tyler Farrar, Health Net-Maxxis
3. Gord Fraser (Can), Health Net-Maxxis
4. Dave McCook, McGuire Cycling
5. Alex Candelario, Jelly Belly-Aramark
6. Chris Horner, Webcor Builders
7. Kirk O’Bee, Navigators
8. Pete Lopinto, Ofoto-Lombardi’s
9. Russell Hamby, Sierra Nevada
10. Erik Saunders, Ofoto-Lombardi’s
Pic goes for three
On Sunday in Downers Grove, Illinois, Tina Pic and Laura Van Gilder took first and second, respectively, in the U.S. national women’s criterium championship, adding to a memorable season for the Genesis Scuba squad and completing a hat trick of three successive national titles for Pic. In a field-sprint finish, Pic and Van Gilder went one-two, with Velo Bella’s Brenda Lyons taking third in the 31-lap race on the 1-mile, figure-eight circuit in Downers Grove.
Pic faced a much stiffer challenge in the championship event than she did in the prior evening’s warm-up event as the T-Mobile squad came out aggressively to try to shake up the race. The squad in pink-and-black was a constant presence in the front, sending Lara Kroepsch, Mari Holden and Amber Neben off the front at various time during the race.
Pic and Genesis weren’t content to just sit in though, and mixed things up all day as well. During one stretch mid-race, Pic took three primes (including one mid-course prize) in the span of two laps, which was then followed by Van Gilder going on the attack with Kroepsch and Kelly Benjamin (ABD) and taking the $500 mid-race bonus with 15 laps remaining.
After the Van Gilder group was reeled in, T-Mobile kept the pressure on, first with Neben attacking, and then with Holden putting in a big effort with 12 laps to go. Holden was chased down by Seehafer and Colavita’s Rebecca McClintock, and the pack was once again all together as the race went under 10 laps to go.
The fight for the front intensified as the race counted down, and with one lap to go, the major teams were spread across the road, with everyone trying to get in position for the final leadout. Neben and Kroepsch tried to set up the T-Mobile leadout, but were unable to connect with either Holden or Lynn Gaggioli. Instead, Pic got Neben’s wheel, and then jumped around between turns 7 and 8. She exited the final turn with Van Gilder on her wheel, and when Quark’s Sarah Uhl, a few spots back, broke a spoke and slowed up in the final corner, the few riders ahead of her sailed to the line to round out the podium.Elite women
1. Tina Pic, Genesis Scuba
2. Laura Van Gilder, Genesis Scuba
3. Brenda Lyons, Velo Bella
4. Kimberley Cunningham, Morgan Stanley-Specialized
5. Nicole Freedman, Basis
6. Sherri Stedje, BBC
7. Amber Neben, T-Mobile
8. Lara Kroepsch, T-Mobile
9. Kelly Benjamin, ABD
10. Suzanne Sonye, Helen’s-Trek-VW
Pipp holds ‘em off
In bicycle racing, one of the most heartbreaking sights is the longstanding breakaway that gets swept up just meters from the line, making a hard day’s effort all for naught. That looked to be the storyline in the men’s elite (amateur) national championship on Sunday in Downers Grove, but Endeavour’s Frank Pipp and Snow Valley’s Jon Wirsing hung on by the narrowest of margins to take the top two spots. Those two spent nearly 20 miles at the front of the race, joined at times by Ian Dille (Snow Valley), Billy Innes (Lombardi Sports) and Curtis Gunn (Velowerx), before holding off the hard charging pack in the sprint to the line.
Pipp attacked on one of the mid-course primes atop the course’s short hill with 20 laps remaining in the 50-mile race, and was joined by Snow Valley teammates Wirsing and Dille. They were soon joined by Innes, setting up a solid foursome that represented three of the strongest teams in the race.
The gap went up to 30 seconds, and Endeavour and Snow Valley tried to control the head of the main field, but with Innes sitting on and a slew of riders taking turns trying to bridge the gap, the lead yo-yo’ed between 15 and 20 seconds until Dille crashed out of the break with six laps to go.
“When Ian crashed, I thought that was going to be our downfall,” said Pipp, and indeed, the lead shrank to a miniscule eight seconds with three laps to go, and Innes drifted back to the pack.
But when Gunn — who earlier had been on a multi-lap solo break to secure the $500 mid-race prime — bridged across, he added the last bit of firepower needed to hold off the field. On the final lap, Pipp’s nerves began to get the best of him as the pack breathed down his neck, and the Endeavour rider went to the front on the downhill with four more turns still ahead of him. Wirsing shot past him heading into the final turn, but Pipp had enough left in the tank for one more surge to the line, earning him the win and the national title. Just behind, Chris Frederick (Aerospace Engineering) swept past Gunn for third, while 44-year-old Steve Tilford (Maclaren Racing) rounded out the podium in fifth place.
1. Frank Pipp, Endeavour
2. Jon Wirsing, Snow Valley
3. Chris Frederick, Aerospace Engineering
4. Curtis Gunn, Velowerx
5. Steve Tilford, Maclaren Racing