By Mark Zalewski
The Saturday evening before the national criterium championships in Downers Grove, Illinois, is traditionally reserved for pro-am races for the men and women, half of the distances of the main events on Sunday.
But with money on the line the racing is an odd combination of sprinting for dollars while saving something for Sunday’s big event ? or doing one’s best to avoid disaster the night before the title match.
For the men’s defending champion Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing) the wiser choice was pulling out of the race well before the finish, and for the women it was Brook Miller (TIBCO) easing off on the gas on the final lap. But for others it was an early pay-day, as Frank Pipp (Bissell) and Kat Carrol (TIBCO) took the wins, both out of breakaways.
In the men’s race the 50km was run on ever-darkening streets, making the later laps a challenge on the darker corners. This could have contributed to the large number of breakaways rolling off the front, in groups of two and three. In the final laps there was a pair of two riders, Frank Pipp and Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly), with a big gap and no organization in the small groups behind, or the field far behind.
“Each of us on the team wanted to hit the front and open up the legs for tomorrow, but not take any big chances ? if it was a field sprint I don’t think we would have contested it,” said Pipp about the team strategy. “Our whole team is riding great and I happened to be the lucky one to get in the group that went to the line.”
But out of the small groups behind came a forceful bridge from Pipp’s former teammate Karl Menzies (OUCH-Maxxis), looking to spoil the party as the race entered the final lap.
“I knew he was coming up to us so I attacked Jeremy [Powers] over the top but I didn’t get much of a gap. Then Karl got to his wheel but I was just dangling off the front, so I shut it down. They caught me on turn four and then Jeremy went and I looked at Karl ? he ended up going but didn’t quite get across to Jeremy and then I jumped across to him going into the last turn and ended up passing him.”
Rahsan Bahati was not showing any of his cards, riding on the front only early in the race and then floating to the back, a normal place for him mid-race, then finally shutting it down before the business end of the race.
The women’s race saw a breakaway finish as well, but the solo variety with Kat Carroll taking it to the line, not at all worried about needing to save some for Sunday.
“This race is always a great opener and if you can’t go hard for two days in a row you probably shouldn’t be a professional!” she laughed.
“I’m coming off some great racing in Europe, Cascade and nationals, so I have some good form right now. It was great to get a chance to open it up before tomorrow. I seem to be in a break here every odd year on this night, but usually with a couple of people ? this was the first time solo and my first win of the year.”
With Carroll up the road her teammate and defending national champion Brooke Miller was able to sit back on the final laps, out of danger. But she opened the racing up early taking a flyer on the first lap and getting in a three-rider break that lasted a few laps ? signaling to the rest of the field that while she may of had a slow start to the season she will be ready to go for the stars and stripes tomorrow.
“I feel fantastic!” said Miller. “I am very excited and I feel great. I am just coming onto form because I had a sick winter so I never really got early season training in. I never really felt like I have gotten into stride this season and never felt like myself. So now I just feel really good for this part of the season.”
Miller also said that even if the race came down to a field sprint that she was not likely to contest it, as that would be giving away the secret on how to win in the final turn of the technical figure-eight course ? something that Tina Pic (Colavita-Sutter Home) did for her last year.