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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
After a day of intermittent rain showers, which at times drenched the early races, the sun finally shown down on Downers Grove, Illinois, for the main event on Sunday, the USPRO Criterium Championship. And on the gorgeous late-afternoon in the suburb of Chicago, a pair of riders shared the day in the sun, with Saturn’s Dutchman Harm Jansen taking the win and Navigator’s Kirk O’Bee sprinting into the national champion’s jersey.
With both the prestige of the overall win and the prize of the stars-and-stripes jersey at stake, Saturn and Navigators took different approaches to the race, and it worked out perfectly for each team.
For Saturn, objective No. 1 was the win, and the team went a long way toward that goal late in the 62-lap, 62-mile race, when it put four of its riders — Jansen, Trent Klasna, Tim Johnson and Frank McCormack — into a 14-rider breakaway. “We’re not here to wait till the end,” said Jansen of the team’s aggressive tactic. “It’s always a bit of a gamble with such a short sprint. We came here to race today, and that’s what we did.”
Along with the four Saturns, some heavy hitters from the other strong teams made the breakaway look like a likely candidate to stay away. Joining in were Mercury’s Derek Bouchard-Hall and Chris Wherry; Jelly Belly’s Kirk Albers; Zaxby’s Dirk Friel; Navigators’ Vassili Davidenko and Glen Mitchell; NetZero’s Jamie Paolinetti; 7UP-Colorado Cyclist’s Clark Sheehan and John Lieswyn; and Prime Alliance’s Danny Pate.
There were some missing ingredients however, but those were added when U.S. Postal’s Julian Dean and O’Bee bridged the gap with seven laps remaining.
According to defending champion Bouchard-Hall, a slow pace to the break allowed the two to bridge, opening up the opportunity for O’Bee. “I still can’t believe what happened with that break,” said the Mercury rider. “Nobody was willing to go with it, when it was good for so many people.”
The cat-and-mouse games continued, though, and Jansen took advantage with four laps to go, breaking clear of the group, and leaving the battle for the jersey behind.
O’Bee and the Navigators were content to let him go. “We talked last night about the importance of the jersey,” said team director Ed Beamon, “and it really was Vassili’s call at that point, and he felt that we could put Kirk across the line. It was his choice not to go with Harm at that point. And from then, it was just set up the jersey … but don’t get caught.”
There would be no getting caught for Jansen, who held on for a solo win with time to soak it all in, 12 seconds ahead of the sprint for the jersey. “I won the Tour de ’Toona last week, but winning in front of a crowd like this, with the best riders of the United States, it’s my biggest win,” he said.
Behind, Saturn had added additional numbers to the break, as Mark McCormack and Michael Barry bridged up along with Dave McCook (7UP-Colorado Cyclist) and Jelly Belly’s Jason Waddell.
On the final lap, as the tail of the breakaway was just being caught, Mark McCormack led into the last turn, with Bouchard-Hall and O’Bee on his wheel with only 150 meters to go to the line.
McCormack slowed going through the turn, holding up Bouchard-Hall, and allowing O’Bee to blow past and take a clear shot to the line, and the USPRO title. After his many hard efforts throughout the course of the day, O’Bee wasn’t sure on the last lap if he would have enough for that final push. “I didn’t know,” he said. “You never know. You make so many efforts during the day I really wasn’t sure if I had it in me, but you’ve got to go, you’ve got to try.”
After breaking his collarbone in Athens in the spring, O’Bee has seen things look better and better ever since, and he put his exclamation point on the season in Downers Grove. “Ever since I broke my collarbone, it’s been nothing but good. Great way to end the year.”
USPRO Criterium Championship, Downers Grove, IL.;
1. Harm Jansen (Nl), Saturn; 2. Kirk O’Bee, Navigators, at 0:12; 3. Derek Bouchard-Hall, Mercury; 4. Dave McCook, 7UP-Colorado Cyclist; 5. Mark McCormack, Saturn; 6. Jamie Paolinetti, NetZero; 7. Michael Barry (Can), Saturn; 8. Dirk Friel, Zaxby’s; 9. Julian Dean (NZ), U.S. Postal Service; 10. Jason Waddell, Jelly Belly; 11. John Lieswyn, 7UP-Colorado Cyclist; 12. Trent Klasna, Saturn; 13. Frank McCormack, Saturn; 14. Danny Pate, Prime Alliance; 15. Chris Wherry, Mercury; 16. Tim Johnson, Saturn; 17. Glen Mitchell (NZ), Navigators; 18. Kirk Albers, Jelly Belly; 19. Jeff Hopkins (Aus), Composite; 20. Robbie Ventura, U.S. Postal Service, all s.t.