UnitedHealthcare showed its muscle Wednesday night, controlling the entire Saint Paul Downtown Criterium and sweeping the stage 2 podium at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. After defending overall leader Rory Sutherland’s leader’s jersey, Jake Keough, Hilton Clarke and Robert Förster went one-two-three at the end of the 75-minute race.
Sutherland played a key role in the UHC leadout and finished with the bunch to maintain his overall lead.
“The guys are unbelievably strong tonight. Everyone did their job perfectly,” said Keough. “We’re donating our prize money to the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation and we’re just happy to be able to help them.”
A four-rider breakaway established itself early in the technical, 40-lap second stage. Carlos Alzate (Exergy) was there and proved to be the beast in the group, attacking solo twice, but ultimately contributing to the group’s demise. Joining Alzate were Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth), Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly-Kenda) and Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutter Home).
“(Alzate) was the strongest in the break,” said Candelario, who represented his hometown sponsor OptumHealth in the move. “The three of us realized we weren’t really going anywhere and were just going through the motions.”
The break battled inconsistent headwinds throughout the night, making it hard to establish much of a gap, despite the technical course. The rain that drenched the women’s race earlier in the evening was gone and the roads dry, but the remnants of the storm played into the hands of the chasers.
Behind the leaders, UHC massed at the front of the chase with Sutherland protected and never more than 23 seconds from the breakaway. Wren said he knew the move would be caught midway through the race, but that his place up the road was his best opportunity to help his teammate Alejandro Borrajo in the finale.
“In a crit like this that’s technical, the only way for me to help the guys is to get up in the break,” he said. “Not everybody was putting everything into the move other than Alzate… We weren’t going all in.”
Sure enough, the move would be caught. Johnny Clarke directed the chase and did a load of work to reduce the gap to a dozen seconds with 10 laps to go and three laps later five Bissell riders swarmed the peloton and erased the gap. The red and white train couldn’t hold control, though, and seven UHC riders resumed the point.
“It was a solid move by them,” said Keough. “We were confident and really calm. We regrouped, reassessed and took the front again.”
Second overall Adrian Hegyvary took the train into the penultimate lap. Behind Keough lurked Borrajo and his teammate Luis Amaran, Alzate and Ken Hanson (Jelly Belly-Kenda). Hegyvary floored the pedals and peeled off just before the start/finish. Sutherland led the bunch through for the bell in his yellow jersey and did a half-lap, full-gas pull before coming off. From there it was former Nature Valley winner Karl Menzies, Förster, Clarke and Keough to finish.
“We’re super, super confident in what we’re doing right now,” said Keough. “We don’t take any chances and the three of us go as hard as we can to the line.”
Förster, the multiple Giro d’Italia stage winner, led the bunch through the final corner, nearly overcooking it, and ran for the finish. Clarke jumped and when Keough came around him, the sweep was on.
Alzate came through fourth, with Hanson fifth.
- 1. Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare)
- 2. Hilton Clarke (UnitedHealthcare)
- 3. Robert Förster (UnitedHealthcare)
- 4. Carlos Alzate (Exergy)
- 5. Ken Hanson (Jelly Belly-Kenda)
- 6. Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home)
- 8. Brad Huff (Jelly Belly-Kenda)
- 9. Frank Pipp (Bissell)
- 10. Eric Young (Bissell)
GC after Stage 2:
- 1. Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare)