Despite a recently diagnosed injury that has kept him in near-constant pain, Rock Racing’s Rahsaan Bahati roared across the line at the Athens Twilight Criterium to capture his first major victory of the 2008 season. In a race that featured a relentless pace throughout in front of thousands in downtown Athens, Georgia, Bahati was able to beat a charging field to the line with enough time to lift his arms to the sky in tribute to a fallen friend.

By Joe Silva

Despite a recently diagnosed injury that has kept him in near-constant pain, Rock Racing’s Rahsaan Bahati roared across the line at the Athens Twilight Criterium to capture his first major victory of the 2008 season.

In a race that featured a relentless pace throughout in front of thousands in downtown Athens, Georgia, Bahati was able to beat a charging field to the line with enough time to lift his arms to the sky in tribute to a fallen friend.

“I lost a very good friend out in Los Angeles to violence in the streets. He was only 18 years old, and I dedicated this year to him. This is my first big win of the season and this is for him.”

With three laps of 80 remaining, Bahati was clearly visible in his neon green accented kit sitting comfortably in about seventh wheel. With a series of crashes dealing body blows to the chances of stalwarts like John Murphy (Health Net), and local favorite Toshiba-Santo’s Frank Travieso, Bahati was well positioned to strike, despite to Rock’s small three-man squad.

One of those teammates, Rock Racing’s 26-year old track veteran Peter Dawson, had done his work on Bahati’s behalf by being one of three to form a getaway group 22 laps into the 80 lap race. Dawson was joined by the tenacious Kyle Wamsley (Colavita/Sutter Home) and Kelly Benefits rider Ben King.

The three men held off the field for more than 40 laps, holding a steady 25- second gap in front of what remained of the field. Wamsley, who was absorbed with the rest, fought hard to launch another counter-attack but a combination of efforts from the Kelly Benefits squad and Toshiba-Santo ensured that a field sprint would eventually determine the outcome.

Kelly Benefits’ Alex Candelario had said before the race that the team would be working hard for a victory in honor of team director Jonas Carney, who was unable to win in Athens throughout his long professional career. Candelario tried to deliver Keven Lacombe out of the last corner but final melee proved to be too much.

Bahati, however, played it cool throughout, and while being mindful of a career threatening medical condition, the 26-year old rider played his cards just right in the finale.

“The last four or five weeks have been really tough on me, because of this injury with my right leg. The ball in my thigh bone is too big for the socket, so on the pedal upstroke it’s basically bone on bone. It’s one of the most painful things you can imagine.”

An MRI revealed that Bahati’s right thigh bone had overgrown and that the pain he’d experienced over the past three years or so has forced him to depend largely on his left leg to do the majority of his racing for him.

“So coming in today, I didn’t think I was going to win. But after the first 20 minutes I knew I felt good, and I had my teammate Peter Dawson in the break taking all the pressure off me. So towards the end I just had it in my mind that I knew I was going to win.”

Larson takes the women’s race
In the women’s race Aaron’s rider Rebecca Larson took her team’s second consecutive Athens Twilight, ahead of Cheerwine’s Catherine Cheatley and Vanderkitten’s Jennifer Wilson.

All three had been part of a five woman break that stayed off the front of the bike race for just for about half of the 40 laps that run through the heart of the college town. Along with the trio were Jacquelyn Crowell (Kenda Tire), and Tiffany Cromwell (Colavita/Sutter Home).

With the field motivated by a mid-race prime to bring back a momentary break, the Larson group counter-attacked. When they had 15 seconds on the field, Larson got the word from her team director Carmen D’Aluisio to do what she could to make the well-represented getaway stick.

“Everybody was riding together nice and smooth.” Larson said “Catharine Cheatley and I worked well together and it was awesome.

As the laps ticked down, it was clear that they would not be brought back and Larson, racing in front of her adopted hometown, nailed the win with apparent ease.

“This is absolutely amazing. I’m on cloud nine.”

Pro Men
1 Rahsaan Bahati, Rock Racing
2 Sebastian Haedo, Colavita/Sutter Home
3 Kenneth Hanson, California Giant Berry
4 Keven Lacombe, Kelly Benefit Strategie
5 Jeff Hopkins, Inferno Racing
6 Kyle Wamsley, Colavita/Sutter Home
7 Jake Keough, CRCA
8 Dave Guttenplan, Time Pro Cycling
9 Mike Stoop, Time Pro Cycling
10 Devon Vigus, California Giant Berry

Pro Women
1 Rebecca Larson, Aaron’s
2 Catherine Cheatley, Cheerwine
3 Jennifer Wilson, Vanderkitten
4 Jacquelyn Crowell, Team Kenda Tire
5 Tiffany Cromwell, Colavita/Sutter Home
6 Kele Murdin, Vanderkitten
7 Tina Pic, Colavita/Sutter Home
8 Kelly Benjamin, Cheerwine
9 Anna Lang (USA) Aaron’s Professional Women’s Cycling
10 Laura Van Gilder (USA) Cheerwine

Results

Pro Men
1 Rahsaan Bahati, Rock Racing
2 Sebastian Haedo, Colavita/Sutter Home
3 Kenneth Hanson, California Giant Berry
4 Keven Lacombe, Kelly Benefit Strategie
5 Jeff Hopkins, Inferno Racing
6 Kyle Wamsley, Colavita/Sutter Home
7 Jake Keough, CRCA
8 Dave Guttenplan, Time Pro Cycling
9 Mike Stoop, Time Pro Cycling
10 Devon Vigus, California Giant Berry

Pro Women
1 Rebecca Larson, Aaron’s
2 Catherine Cheatley, Cheerwine
3 Jennifer Wilson, Vanderkitten
4 Jacquelyn Crowell, Team Kenda Tire
5 Tiffany Cromwell, Colavita/Sutter Home
6 Kele Murdin, Vanderkitten
7 Tina Pic, Colavita/Sutter Home
8 Kelly Benjamin, Cheerwine
9 Anna Lang (USA) Aaron’s Professional Women’s Cycling
10 Laura Van Gilder (USA) Cheerwine