By Jason Sumner, VeloNews Associate Editor
It was closer to midnight than twilight when racing finally ended, but that didn’t stifle the celebration of the NetZero squad. The newly formed gray-and-red clad team picked up its second win in as many days when Graeme Miller rolled across the line first to win the Twilight Criterium on the streets of Athens, Georgia.
A day earlier it was teammate Jamie Paolinetti getting the win at the First Charter Criterium three-and-a-half hours to the north in Shelby, North Carolina.
In Athens, the 40-year-old Miller was part of an eight-rider break that slipped away from the field early in the 60-lap race. Others in on the key move were Miller’s teammate, Michael Johnson, Saturn’s Trent Klasna and Eric Wohlberg, John Lieswyn and Kevin Monahan of 7Up-Colorado Cyclist, Mercury-Viatel’s Derek Bouchard-Hall, and the Navigators Glen Mitchell.
Once away the pace got quicker and quicker, until the breakaway came all the way around to lap the field with 28 laps to go. From then on things stayed together, attacks being quickly snuffed out by the lead teams. On the final lap it was the NetZero squad that was able to get organized, providing a perfect lead out to shoot Miller across the line first. Klasna was next, followed by Monahan.
“Everybody underestimated us this weekend,” said Miller a native of New Zealand. “There were lots of attacks but my team was looking after me the whole way.”
Klasna had been the first to go at the end, but lacking sprinter’s speed or any real assistance from his team, the Saturn rider had little chance of making the effort stick. “I took off first and had a gap on Graeme,” Klasna said. “But NetZero put together a great lead out and Graeme chased me down and beat me at the line.”
The race, which didn’t start until 10 p.m., was marred by a slew of crashes that whittled the field from 156 at the start to 53 by the end. Numerous riders complained about water on turn 4 as well as the tight nature of the four-turn course, which was narrower than in year’s past.
In the women’s race it was the gang from Saturn once again reigning over the rest of the field. The women in yellow and red controlled the 35-lap affair from beginning to end, before sending current World Cup points leader Anna Millward across the line for the victory. Teammate Ina Teutenberg was next, followed by Laura Van Gilder (Verizon Wireless).
“I thought somebody would win it in a breakaway but everyone is getting so much fitter,” an always-humble Millward said afterward. “On the last lap Suzy [Pryde] attacked on the back straightaway, but Suzanne [Sonye] and I caught her, then Suzanne led it out and I just went from there.”
Pryde’s AutoTrader.com team did what they could against the dominant Saturn squad, launching numerous attacks throughout the race. But each time Saturn had little trouble reeling them back in.
“They’re just a powerhouse right now,” said AutoTrader’s Tina Mayolo-Pic.
For both races, and the several smaller events that separated them, the streets of Athens were teeming with partying spectators that stood four and five deep on some parts of the course. “I love this race,” said men’s winner Miller. “To me this race is the criterium national championships because it’s the best race in America.”
XCELERATE TWILIGHT CRITERIUM, Athens, GA, April 28.
1. Anna Millward (Aus), Saturn; 2. Ina Teutenberg (G), Saturn; 3. Laura Van Gilder, Verizon Wireless; 4. Tina Mayolo-Pic, AutoTrader.com; 5. Jenny Eyerman; 6. Christina Underwood; 7. Caren Spore, Jane Cosmetics; 8. Andrea Smessaert, Trek-Volkswagen; 9. Sarah Ulmer (NZ), AutoTrader.com; 10. Andrea Hannos; 11. Becky Conzelman, TalgoAmerica.com; 12. Kristy Scrymgeour (Aus); 13. Charmian Breon, TalgoAmerica.com; 14. Sherri Stedje, BBC Schwinn; 15. Ashley Kimmet, Saturn.
1. Graeme Miller (NZ), NetZero; 2. Trent Klasna, Saturn; 3. Kevin Monahan, 7UP-Colorado Cyclist; 4. John Lieswyn, 7UP-Colorado Cyclist; 5. Glen Mitchell (NZ), Navigators; 6. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Saturn; 7. Michael Johnson, NetZero; 8. Charles Dionne (Can), 7UP-Colorado Cyclist; 9. Matt Yates, NetZero; 10. Chris Frederick, Jamis; 11. Alex Candelario, THF Racing; 12. Franky Van Haesbroucke (B), Navigators; 13. Rusty Miller, Zaxby’s; 14. Jamie Paolinetti, NetZero; 15. Jason Waddell, MathisBrothers.com; 16. Daniel Schmatz, THF Racing; 17. Dale Suttle, Mercy Cycling; 18. Dean Laberge, Marathin Racing; 19. Frank Pipp, CZ Velo; 20. Victor Laza, DeFeet/LeMond.