UnitedHealthcare put on a clinic on “How To Control A Professional Criterium,” during Saturday night’s ninth annual Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium, the second stop on the National Criterium Calendar, and the third installment of the 2012 USA Crits Championship Series.
With less than 15 laps remaining in the 90-minute event, the UHC train slowly began to reel in a trio of long-standing escapees before setting up Hilton Clarke for his second win of the 2012 season. Clarke, however, maintained that the victory was not quite as textbook as it appeared.
“That was no clinic out there,” said Clarke. “There were only five of us and those three guys were so hard to catch out there, so it was all hands on deck. All of us were riding.”
Clarke and his teammates had spent most of the evening patiently watching the three-man break scoop up lap-prime-after-lap-prime before they made the decision to mass at the front of the field and begin to up the pace until the trio was within reach.
“Karl Menzies did the whole last lap, and it was just incredible. I’m just happy to be able to sit back and take the win for those guys,” said Clarke.
The trio of riders that Clarke’s teammates were chasing included Jamis-Sutter Home’s Kyle Wamsley. The 32-year-old Pennsylvania native got off the front of the 128-man field early on in the race and was able to scoop up a fair amount of prize money before Jared Barrilleaux (California Giant Berry Farms-Specialized) and 2009 Athens Twilight Criterium champion Heath Blackgrove (Elbowz Racing) joined him. The three men actually built up enough of a gap over the main field that at one point they could see the tail end of the pack pass them on the unique barbell-shaped course.
But with the riders maintaining a fast lap time of 2:45 over the approximately one-mile course, there was never any really danger of the leaders lapping the field despite their intense level of cooperation.
With just 11 laps left to go, the gap had come down to just 12 seconds, and Barrilleaux dropped out the break, leaving Blackgrove and Wamsley on their own. The pair were tenacious in their bid to stay away, and actually picked up a couple of seconds over the next two spins around the course. But with just a little more than five laps to go, Wamsley called it a night and watched Blackgrove attack and briefly go solo up the road.
Behind him, Chad Hartley (Kenda-5-hour Energy) gave it a go out of the field, but that was when UnitedHealthcare truly asserted its strength. Menzies, who hadn’t missed a turn in his team’s five-man rotation over the final 20 laps, took to the front of the race with 2011 Presbyterian winner Jake Keough and Clarke behind him. No one could challenge the big Tazmanian and he took his teammates into the final corner before Keough launched his lead-out with Clarke just behind him. With 75 meters to go, Clarke did the remainder of the work to cross the line for the $12,500 payday that came with the win.
Keough was strong enough to hold on to second place in front Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis), but following the Argentine sprinter’s protest, the officials relegated Keough to third for not holding his line to the finish.
Wangsgard wins it
If the outcome of the men’s race was somewhat predictable, the women’s event earlier in the evening was anything but. At 39, Nicky Wangsgard (Primal-MapMyRide) surprised a field of heavy hitters to out-sprint U.S. criterium champion Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Exergy Twenty12) and USA Crits leader Erica Allar (RideClean-PatentIt.com) for the win in Charlotte.
“I knew (the other teams) would not let anything go,” said Wangsgard following her win. “I just sat on the sprinters and let their teammates be good teammates (to them) and do the job for them. And while they were doing that job for them they were also doing the job for me, too.”
Throughout the women’s event, the fight for race primes changed hands all night long. Alison Powers (NOW-Novartis for MS), Jade Wilcoxson (Optum Pro Cycling-Kelly Benefit Strategies) and veteran Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom) all cashed checks. Wilcoxson’s teammate Courtney Lowe made a bid for glory by setting off an attack on the final lap but the field reabsorbed her as it closed in on the finish.
Wangsgard, who came to Charlotte with no support this year, bided her time and attached herself to Allar’s wheel with approximately 150 meters to go. Fifty meters later, Wangsgard realized that Allar had gotten a bit too anxious and perhaps had launched her sprint a little too early. That’s when the Primal rider came around Allar for the win. Cliff-Ryan also got past Allar for second place, but the series leader hung on long enough to secure the final place on the podium.
Following the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium, Allar holds onto first place in the 2012 USA Crits Championship Series, just ahead of lap leader Debbie Milne (Absolute Racing-MSMOC). Colleen Gulick (Pure Energy Cycling-ProAirHFA)
sits in third overall and is the current U25 leader as well.
On the men’s side of the series, Oscar Clark (United Healthcare-GA/706 P) moves into first place overall, followed by Colin Jaskiewicz(Champion System-Stan’s NoTubes) and Luke Keough (Mountain Khakis-SmartStop).
The next stop on the 2012 USA Crits calendar is the Terrapin Twilight Criterium in Athens, Georgia, on April 28.