By Luke Seemann
Michael Ball’s fashion designers will be busy this week after Rock Racing’s Rahsaan Bahati on Sunday earned his latest stars-and-stripes jersey, winning the Saab USA Cycling Pro Criterium Championship on the course in Downers Grove, Illinois, on which he last triumphed in 2000 as an amateur.
It’s the first time in three years that an American has earned the championship by winning the 100km race outright. And while Rock Racing betrayed a certain confidence by kitting up in red, white and blue, it also fulfilled a seasonlong goal for Bahati, who is still battling a bum leg.
“I’m happy I’m able to race right now,” he said. “If my career were to end now, [or] if my season were to end now, I’d be happy.”
Bahati was third to exit the precarious eighth turn and appeared to be boxed in against the right barrier, with Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast) in front and Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo) on his left. He somehow found a hole and surged past Candelario on the line.
“I’ve been in worse positions,” Bahati said. “It’s a lot of luck, too. I have some skills. Luckily the other two guys had skill. It was three skilled guys going into the last corner.”
Brad Huff (Jelly Belly), the 2005 national champion, briefly led as the sprint barreled toward the final corner, but he unclipped a pedal, causing a hesitation in the riders behind him, including Tony Cruz (BMC), who finished fourth.
“I was to the right of him and I couldn’t figure out what had happened, and then I saw him looking down, trying to catch the pedal back in,” Cruz said, “Then I swung in on the inside, and by that time Bahati had momentum on all of us.”
Bahati credited younger teammates for monitoring the front early in the race, and he then leaned on teammates Sterling Magnell and 2006 elite champ Kayle Leogrande in the final laps.
“They pretty much kept me up there,” he said. “I was bouncing from wheel to wheel. We would lose each other and meet up again. But it wasn’t fast enough to just have three guys lined up. We all had to fight for position.”
Bahati has never been one to shy from contact in an all-out sprint. “When guys chop me and fight for wheels, it makes me more excited, and I get even more crazy. I just do what I have to do to win. I try to keep it all fair, keep my hands on the handlebars, and I go for the win.”
Kelly Benefits suffered a blow early in the race when 20-year-old David Veilleux crashed in turn two, hitting his head hard enough to force him out of the race. He’s shown good form lately, winning the overall at the Tour of Elk Grove earlier this month.
“That took away 35 percent of our leadout,” said team director Jonas Carney. “He’s been one of our strongest, fastest guys all year.”
Knowing that everyone would be expecting his team to organize another one of its large leadout trains, Carney mixed things up by sending time trial-specialist Reid Mumford on a flyer with five laps to go. He was caught two laps later, but it sapped some strength from BMC and Colavita, which each threw riders toward the chase.
Only 80 racers started Sunday on a hot, sunny day that was a marked contrast to last year’s rain-soaked crash fest.
Many teams had sent their major firepower to the Tour of Utah. Toyota-United was represented only by 2006 winner Hilton Clarke, and Health Net had a limited squad riding to defend Kirk O’Bee’s national championship. O’Bee would finish 24th.
The makeup altered the complexion of the race, according to Carney, with moves kept on tight leashes.
“There were four teams that had a full team: Colavita, us, Jelly Belly and Rock,” Carney said. “We’re the only guys who raced. We attacked. Everyone else was chasing and riding negatively because they all wanted a sprint. The small teams were attacking, but when you get three of the four big teams not doing anything but riding negatively, it just turns into a goofy race.”
Cruz also criticized the negative racing, saying the event suffered without the stage-race and time-trial specialists.
“With the guys who could set a good tempo on the last lap gone, it just made it a lot more chaotic,” he said. “It was just battling bars left and right through every turn, and getting swarmed and trying to come back. It was crazy.”
Indeed, the most exciting move to develop was a solo flier by Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Chipotle). The local product and Tour de France fifth-place finisher was still suffering jet lag after returning from Beijing on Monday, and his only teammate was stagiare Dan Holloway.
Vande Velde set off by himself with 14 laps to go to scoop up a $400 prime, then stayed off in full time-trial mode for six laps, building a 16-second lead. The crowd roared with every pass.
“That was just fun,” he said. “There were a lot of people out there to see me, and the race was pretty boring and negative. I tried to mix it up. I’m glad I did it. It hurt, man!”
“I was so excited he was off the front,” said Bahati, who said he never gave the move much of a chance. “It made other teams react and we could sit back and wait.”
Vand Velde couldn’t remember his last criterium, and he had no intentions of mixing it up in the sprint.
“I was pretty tentative coming out, in all honestly, but it was fun. It was good training,” he said. “It’s better than training!”
Cruz said the peloton was at first unimpressed with the Olympian in their midst.
“A lot of these were like, ‘Whoo, hoo, Christian Vande Velde, Tour de France, big deal.’ And then when he hit it, you hear some guys talking trash. Then two laps later we’re strung out and nobody’s talking, and Christian is gaining ground.
“It actually really pisses me off. There are a lot of disrespectful guys. They need to go to Europe and see what it’s like before they talk.”
Last corner, last chance
Two weeks after winning the road race national championship, Team Tibco’s Brooke Miller again outmaneuvered Tina Pic (Colavita-Sutter Home) to add another jersey to her closet.
When Pic jumped heading out of the penultimate corner, Miller jumped too, figuring the race was now a race to turn eight. She beat Pic to the corner, took a wide turn that had many convinced she was bound for the hay bales, and then held the lead all the way to the line.
“I went up the left so I could take the inside of the [final] corner and so [Pic] would have to take the longer line and couldn’t take it as well,” Miller said. “She slowed into the corner, and I barreled into it. I felt pretty confident when I was first out of the corner that I would be first to the line.”
Miller counted on Saturday pro-am winner Lauren Franges to lead her through the final laps. “I’m always completely relaxed when I’m on her wheel because she knows exactly where to go. She just weaves in and out of riders. I feel like I’m on a little trailer dragged behind her.”
Defending champion Pic, who finished sixth, said she hesitated heading into that crucial turn because of the memory of a last-lap crash here.
“I had visions of 2006,” she said. “I braked. There was just nowhere to go. I thought she was going to crash into the barrier, so I just backed it up and three or four people came on the inside.
“I guess it’s just crit racing, isn’t it?”
California Giant makes the train run on time
Grand Performance and Texas Roadhouse both assembled sizable trains in the final laps of the 156-rider elite national championship, but it was California Giant’s train that came together when it mattered most, dropping Ken Hanson off before the last corner and giving him a clear runway on which to land a national championship.
“We weren’t in a great position on the last lap,” Hanson said. “Texas Roadhouse had a great leadout. We wanted to make sure we came around at the right time.
“Coming down the backside after the hill, I had Steve Reaney ahead of me, and that was our game plan. I yelled at him, “Go as hard as you can!” and he took it through the second-to-last corner and then I started my sprint. The win goes to my team. They made it easy for me. I just had to sit in and relax.”
Hanson is no stranger to this course, having won out of a four-man break in the 2007 pro-am while riding for BMC.
With 17 laps to go, Andy Jacques-Mayne (California Giant) and Adam Bergman (Texas Roadhouse) went off the front together and had as much as a 22-second lead until a Grand Performance-led chase caught them with five to go. Afterward, Jacques-Mayne was frustrated that Bergman didn’t work more to stay away.
“All he did was sit on,” Jacques-Mayne said. “He thought his team had the best sprinter. I knew otherwise. If he had actually rolled with me, we could have gone to the line together.”
Team Inferno claimed second and fifth spots on the day, on top of $600 in primes, when Matt Winstead was off the front alone for about 10 laps, including the profitable midpoint of the 50-lap race.
2008 U.S. Criterium Championships
1. Rahsaan Bahati, Rock Rocking, 100km in 2:21:21
2. Alex Candelario, Kelly Benefit Strategies
3. Mark Hekman, Toshiba-Santo
4. Antonio Cruz, BMC
5. Kyle Wamsley, Colavita
6. Kayle Leogrande, Rock Racing
7. Jonathan Cantwell, Jittery Joe’s
8. Hilton Clarke, Toyota-United
9. Jake Keough, Kelly Benefit Strategies
10. Stephan Kincaid, Rite Aid
11. Daniel Holloway, Garmin-Chipotle
12. Maxime Vives, Calyon
13. Adam Myerson, Time
14. Owen Nielsen, Dlp
15. Robbie King, Rite Aid
16. Tommy Nankervis, Dlp
17. Stewart Jackson, BMC
18. Matty Rice, Jelly Belly
19. Chad Hartley, Jittery Joe’s
20. Timothy Henry, Jittery Joe’s
21. Brad Huff, Jelly Belly
22. Scott Zwizanski, Bissell
23. Nick Frey, Time
24. Kirk O’Bee, Health Net-Maxxis
25. Joshua England, Team Inferno Pro Racing
26. Davide Frattini, Colavita
27. Morgan Schmitt, Bissell
28. Jake Rytlewski, Rite Aid
29. Michael Sayers, BMC
30. John Murphy, Health Net-Maxxis
31. Shawn Milne, Team Type 1
32. Luis Romero Amaran, Colavita
33. Evan Elken, Jittery Joe’s
34. Alejandro Borrajo, Colavita
35. Keven Lacombe, Kelly Benefit Strategies
36. William Elliston, Rite Aid
37. Hayden Godfrey, Team Inferno Pro Racing
38. Ben King, Kelly Benefit Strategies
39. Bernard Ulden Van, Jelly Belly
40. Nick Reistad, Jelly Belly
41. Jeremy Powers, Jelly Belly
42. Steven Howard, Bissell
43. Sterling Magnell, Rock Racing
44. Scott Jackson, Dlp
45. Gustavo Artacho, Colavita
46. Karl Menzies, Health Net-Maxxis
47. Sergio Hernandez, Rock Racing
48. Jonathan Erdelyi
49. Daniel Holt, Team Type 1
50. Kyle Gritters, Health Net-Maxxis
51. Emile Abraham, Team Type 1
52. Graham Howard, Bissell
53. Reid Mumford, Kelly Benefit Strategies
54. Christian Velde Vande, Garmin-Chipotle
55. Lucas Haedo, Colavita
56. Daniel Bowman, Kelly Benefit Strategies
57. Johnny Sundt, Kelly Benefit Strategies, all same time