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Univest closes NRC with long, hard day in Pennsylvania

If there is anything lacking in the U.S. racing calendar it’s hard one-day events. John Eustice is doing something about the lack of high quality, single-day races and hosts the 14th Univest Grand Prix this weekend.

The western Pennsylvania event opens Saturday with a challenging, 100-mile circuit race in and around Souderton. The UCI 1.2 event is the final race on the men’s National Racing Calendar for 2011 — the combined sanctioning is unique and Eustice said he feels it brings European-style racing with strong NRC-chasing fields.

“I’m big proponent of the UCI-NRC combination,” said Eustice. “I think that’s the future of high-level domestic American road racing: American racing with a European structure. It’s a fantastic combination.”

Univest is a stop on the UCI America Tour again in 2011 and the addition of the national calendar has a top collection of U.S.-based professionals and elites aiming for a showdown with a number of international squads. Those squads include Canadians Garneau Club Chaussures-Norton Rose.

The UCI points available at the race take on particular importance for race invitations in 2012, as Continental teams are now selected to major U.S. stage races based on those points.

Among the field are the Pro Continental Spidertech-C10, Team Type 1-Sanofi and UnitedHealthcare squads, as well as the strong domestics Bissell, Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth and Jamis-Sutter Home. Swiss Team Cyklecity of 2010 winner Jonas Ahlstrand is back, but without their previous champ. Russian Aleksei Shmidt will lead Team Type 1.

Jake Keough is closing out the second part of his marathon season, as he takes his breakthrough campaign on the road to Australia’s Sun Tour later this fall. He left the Interbike tradeshow in Las Vegas Thursday night to fly into Pennsyvlania. The Univest course is built well for the emerging sprinter.

“Half of our team is coming off the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado and the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, while the other half is flying back from three weeks of racing in Italy,” said UHC manager Mike Tamayo. “Univest will be a great way to cap off the season for these guys with good form. We’ve got speed and we have breakaway riders and are looking forward to a good race.”

Tour of Utah stage winner Jesse Anthony and strong Bissell all-rounder Frank Pipp will also be on-hand to animate the racing. Anthony, of Beverly, Massachusetts, said he was looking forward to racing in front of what is nearly a hometown crowd.

“After traveling to Asia and Europe this year, as well as racing in the biggest events in the U.S., it is exciting for me to have such a high-caliber event in the northeast,” said Anthony. “I do not get to race in this region of the country very often, so I really look forward to the opportunity to perform on a stage this big on the East Coast.”

With 12 laps over a 6.5-mile circuit, Univest is a spectator’s delight, particularly with five turns on a shorter 4.5-mile circuit. The cloverleaf course, nearly identical to the new route introduced in 2010, brings riders past the course’s center point over 50 times.

If fans can’t make it roadside this weekend, the race will stream live at http://wfmz.com and simulcast on WFMZ-TV, RTV channel 69.4 in Souderton.

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