Eric Marcotte (Team SmartStop) shot through the final corner first to win the men’s USA Cycling Pro Criterium National Championship on Saturday.
He’ll be easy to pick out at any of the other races he starts for a while, save time trials — having already won the U.S. road race title, Marcotte will sport stars-and-stripes kit for both road races and crits.
“It’s pretty special,” he said. “The field wasn’t super deep but it was really really talented. The strongest riders and teams were out front. You just had to catch them off guard and that’s what I did.”
Just 39 riders started the two-hour men’s crit, run in warm weather in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, on a rectangular 1-mile course with a hairy final corner followed by a downhill fight to the finish.
Defending champion John Murphy (UnitedHealthcare) made it into an early move that was quickly snuffed by a frenetic pace. Optum-Kelly Benefits, Hincapie Racing Team, SmartStop and Lupus Racing Team all combined to keep the pedal to the metal.
With 60 laps to go Brad White (UHC) led a charge that pried about eight riders off the front, quickly building a seven-second lead. The move cracked the field into four segments with 57 laps remaining, and the first two groups — once they combined into a lead move of 15 — had some real horsepower.
Among those in the group were White, Murphy, Luke Keough and Adrian Hegyvary (UHC); Scott Zwizanski, Tom Soladay, Eric Young and Tom Zirbel (Optum); Oscar Clark and Ty Magner (Hincapie); U.S. road champion Marcotte and Travis McCabe (SmartStop); Hogan Sills (Astellas Cycling Team); and Isaac Howe (Champion Systems).
With 50 laps to go Optum’s Soladay led a push that took Clark, White and McCabe off the front of the group, but it didn’t stick. Still, the acceleration helped take the lead group out of sight of the main field.
Magner, Soladay, Murphy and Marcotte were next to go, chased by Howe. They got about a half minute’s worth of daylight with 42 laps to go, but it was not a harmonious move; twice it nearly came to a halt, and finally the escapees sat up and drifted back to the others.
There was something of a cease-fire then before riders tried to escape the lead group two or three at a time. Nothing stuck, and with 30 to go the chase — led by Optum — was suddenly in in the picture, 25 seconds behind.
With just over 24 to go Hegyvary punched it, and his move presaged yet another split that seemed uncommitted to the cause — this time six riders who shot away only to sit up a couple of laps further on down the road.
Fifteen laps out UnitedHealthcare massed on the front of the lead group, just in time to see Soladay jump away, hoping to avoid going head to head with even a reduced edition of the Blue Train.
The Optum rider opened up a respectable gap with a dozen laps remaining. There was no panic behind, but perhaps there should have been, because Soladay wasn’t fooling, and a light rain was beginning to fall.
UHC was leading the pursuit, four strong, with three Optums lined up behind just in case Soladay faltered. But with eight laps to go the gap was still hovering around 12 seconds, with White on point for the Blue Train.
Just outside five to go the gap shrank dramatically and Hincapie’s Clark jumped away, trying to ride up to Soladay. Again, no panic among the UHC riders, who stayed parked on the front of the chase.
A lap later all the players could see one another — and Zirbel jumped, sailing past Clark and racing up to his fading teammate. This time UHC reacted swiftly — White and Murphy followed, along with Marcotte, and just like that it was all back together with three laps to go.
UHC took charge once again with two laps to go, with SmartStop right behind. Clark tried another attack, but it didn’t work, and as the bell rang UHC began setting up to deliver Keough to the line.
Or so they thought. Until SmartStop’s Marcotte rocketed up the side of the road and into the final corner in the lead, and he held on to add the national crit title to his trophy case.
Magner took second with Keough third.
Marcotte said all the late attacks “mixed up the typical script that UHC usually does” and gave him the chance he needed.
He added that his victory might take a little time to absorb: “This is the second crit I’ve raced since June of last year.”