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Issac Howe was simply not willing to let Kenda-5-hour Energy lose the Athlete Octane Old Pueblo Grand Prix. With his teammate Jim Stemper holding onto the thinnest of solo leads over the peloton, the 25-year-old realized in the closing laps of the Tucson criterium that there was still a chance all their efforts could come to nothing.
“There was that one moment when I realized if we didn’t take over (the chase), we might lose. When the other teams started crowding us… we just knew that at some point we’d have to go.”
Kenda was already massed at the front of the field, policing the slight advantage that Stemper had managed to hold onto from the mid-point of the race.
“You’re always hopeful (of getting the win) when you commit that much.” Stemper said of his long solo flight. “But with less than 10 seconds going into the final lap of the race I was just hoping to see that it was my teammates catching me and that’s exactly what was happening.”
With only one lap remaining at what was also the second stop on the 2012 USA Crits Championship Series, Howe’s teammates launched themselves, swallowed up Stemper in the process, and got in position for the final bunch gallop.
“I was a little nervous going into the race because it’s a long sprint.” Howe said. “It’s like 300 meters or something, so I was concerned that even with the best lead out we’d still be giving the other teams a free ride to the finish line.”
An appreciable tailwind coming out of the final corner alleviated some of Howe’s concern, and having been shepherded around the final half-lap by teammate Luca Damiani, Howe held his own out of the final corner and pounded home the victory. Still showing great speed behind Howe was Rahsaan Bahati (Bahati Foundation) and 2011 USA Crits champ Luke Keough (Team Mountain Khakis-SmartStop).
For Howe, who spent much of 2011 coping with a knee injury, the win in Tucson was nothing short of liberating.
“I was in great shape going into the California races like San Dimas last year, but knee problems forced me to take three weeks off in April and that just sucked out all the base miles I had built up coming into the season. It wasn’t really until September and crit nationals when I started to get back to my original form and then I basically just ran out of races to use it.”
Earlier in the evening Optum’s Canadian sprinter Leah Kirchmann took the wind out of Erica Allar’s (RideClean-Patentit.com) domination of the USA Crits series, getting the better of the Tucson local in women’s event. Colleen Gulick (Pure Energy Cycling-ProAirHFA) rounded out the podium in third.
Having now completed two of the 11 events on the 2012 USA Crits Championship Series calendar, Allar retained the orange jersey of the overall series leader with 500 points. Fourteen points behind her is Absolute Racing’s Debbie Milne, while Gulick sits in third place with 440 points. Gulick also holds the top position in the Maxxis Best Young Rider competition.
In the men’s field, Stemper’s work off the front of the race moved him into the lead of the BikeReg.com Lap Leader competition, while Luke Keough sits atop the overall and the Best Young Rider competitions with a six-point lead over Oscar Clark (United Healthcare of Georgia). Colin Jaskiewicz (Champion System) is currently in third place.
The USA Crits Championship Series continues on April 14th with the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium in Charlotte, North Carolina.