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Hilton Clarke, Jackie Crowell win 2013 Delray Twilight Criterium

Clarke and defending USA Crits champ Erica Allar take the lead in the 2013 series

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DELRAY BEACH, Florida (VN) — UnitedHealthcare has once again proved how unstoppable it is at this point in the 2013 professional criterium scene. Not only did veteran sprinter Hilton Clarke take his second consecutive victory at the 2013 Delray Twilight Criterium, but the team nearly swept the podium on Saturday, with teammate Carlos Alzate taking third place.

Shane Kline (SmartStop-Mountain Khakis) took second place in the second event of the USA Crits Series.

“We’ve had a good winning streak,” said Clarke following his victory. “But every one of these races isn’t easy.”

Losing at least one rider over the 70-lap event, UnitedHealthcare was unsuccessful in establishing a presence in any of the evening’s brief breakaway attempts, so as the race wound down the “Blue Train’s” tactics shifted somewhat.

“We slowed the field down a bit,” said Clarke of their plan B. “But then we really sped up during the last four laps. With about 30 laps to go, we all had a chat and we all said we were going to ride for a sprint.”

From there it was textbook racing for UnitedHealthcare. They controlled the buildup to the sprint and the remaining members of the team brought Clarke within 100 meters of victory before letting him put the race to bed with an unmatchable final burst of speed.

Following wins at both the Old Pueblo Grand Prix and last week’s Cigar City Brewing Criterium in Tampa, Florida, UnitedHealthcare not only has the National Criterium Calendar (NCC) team standings locked up for the moment, but Clarke’s triumph in Tampa and Delray also keeps him atop the NCC individual rankings. Due to the absence of teammate Luke Keough in Delray, Clarke will now also hold the USA Crits orange leader’s jersey for the time being.

On the women’s side of the event, Exergy Twenty16 rider Jackie Crowell decided to give everyone watching a mini-coronary when she posted her victory salute a lap too early.

“I couldn’t hear a thing out there,” Crowell said. “The crowds were so loud. I really wanted time gaps and I wasn’t even sure if the announcer was giving them. All I could hear was this roaring noise.”

The Florida native rider had been out in front of the field for the majority of the 40km raced after snatching some cash at the line.

“I didn’t want to get away solo,” she said of her winning move. “That wasn’t my intention. There was a preme and I went for it and I just kept going.”

Crowell maintained a steady 16-plus seconds on the field for the remainder of the race despite efforts behind her from Colavita-Fine Cooking and 2012 USA Crits champion Erica Allar (Care4Cycling).

“That’s something I learned from European racing,” Crowell said of her sustained effort. “You don’t really sit up, you just keep attacking. I came to this race after doing Het Nieuwsblad and a few other races there, and it obviously made a difference out there.”

After her initial error, Crowell lost most of whatever gap she’d had on the chasers, but was able to hang onto just enough to secure the final victory.

“It was close,” Crowell said of the 50 meters she still held at the finale. “I wouldn’t have been able to live that down [losing after an early celebration], but it’s nice to win on your home turf.”

Allar, who has now notched back-to-back second places in the series, moved into the orange USA Crits leaders jersey at the end of the evening.