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Racing without teammates, Ama Nsek (L39ion of Los Angeles) sailed off the wheel of Automatic’s Tom Gibbons in the final meters to notch his first D1 victory at the USA CRITS finale in Winston-Salem. In the final laps, the duo had caught a late solo escape by Michael Hernandez (Best Buddies), who held on for third in the best young rider jersey.
In the women’s race, a number of teams fought to control the race from the gun. DNA Pro Cycling and Colavita were battling for the overall team competition, while Team Wolfpack led the early attacks to overtake the blue lap leader jersey from Sky Schneider (L39ion). Erica Clevenger escaped with 12 laps to go, staying away to take DNA’s first race win in the USA CRITS 10-race series. Her teammate Maggie Coles-Lyster finished second to secure the overall team competition and the best young rider title.
Both Rachel Langdon (Instafund Racing) and Gibbons remained attentive in their respective races, staying out of trouble to secure their 2021 overall series titles.
DNA Caps Series With 1-2
DNA was on a mission for the finale, leading the best young rider competition with Coles-Lyster and closing in on the HelloFresh team competition just behind Colavita-Hellofresh. Finishing the series strong was a big goal for the Utah-based squad. Colavita-HelloFresh had led the team competition but lost it in the end after Christina Gokey-Smith crashed out in El Paso, losing an integral part of the team for the finale.
The day’s break took a while to establish itself, due to a battle with Team Wolfpack and L39ion’s lead in the lap leader’s jersey. The Wolfpack fought to earn laps for Julie Kuliecza who needed only six laps to overtake the jersey from Schneider, who was a no-show. Kuliecza was tied for the lead and was running out of steam fast, as the peloton brought her back and a break of six riders escaped.
Colavita fought hard but did not have the legs to match the power from DNA. Coles-Lyster was next to attack at 15 to go before she was caught and gave a quick nod for a counter by her teammate, Erica Clevenger. DNA would control the peloton, with the gap growing to 58 seconds with 2 to go. Clevenger would post for victory, before Coles-Lyster crossed for second to secure the team competition. Katie Agnew (Team Wolfpack) finished third.
“Today we knew we had a pretty strong team going into it and wanted to make sure the race was hard,” Clevenger told VeloNews. “I looked back at Maggie and she gave me the nod, so I went after it. Nobody had the legs to chase me. I looked up the road and saw 11 to go. I said, ‘OK, 11 times up this hill, let’s see if we can do it.’
“We definitely went in really wanting that win. We managed to do that, with Maggie getting second. It was an amazing day, and everything that we had definitely hoped for and worked hard all season, to culminate in a fantastic win at the finish of the season.”
Langdon (Instafund) would cross the line in seventh to secure her USA CRITS series title. Langdon had remained consistent throughout the season, moving into the lead after her teammate Harriet Owen had crashed out midway through the season.
“I might be the one finishing it off solo but it took an army to win this jersey,” Langdon told VeloNews. “Unfortunately, injuries prevented riders from joining the celebrations. So, this win is for Harriet who played a key role and who deserved this more than anyone, and to my other teammates who couldn’t be here. Thank you to all my friends and family who believed in me, through a tough year when at times I didn’t believe in myself. It’s nice that consistency has finally paid off.”
Nsek takes lucky #7 for L39ion
Although Nsek has won a few USA CRITS and while L39ion had dominated most of the events it attended with a full train, Winston-Salem was different for two reasons: Nsek’s previous wins had come in the Cat 1/2 races, and in Winston-Salem Nsek was without a single teammate.
He found a way to win anyway.
In the men’s race, Butcherbox kicked off the attacks shortly after the race began. A 9-rider break was established including the Hernandez and U.S. crit champion Daniel Estevez (Best Buddies), Nsek, Connor Sallee (Butcherbox) and overall leader Gibbons. Nearing a dozen laps to go, Ben Wolfe (Best Buddies) bridged the gap from the field, while Sallee tried his hand with a solo break after a similar move in El Paso earned him a fourth place finish.
Sallee was brought back with 5 to go, and Hernandez countered, with his teammates Estevez and Wolfe not far behind. Gibbons bridged up to Hernandez with Nsek on his wheel. And when Gibbons opened his sprint, Nsek launched from behind to take the win.
“There wasn’t much I had left from six to go so I knew I needed to surf the best wheels and recover for the remaining laps,” Nsek said. “Birmingham was the last race I did D1s, but we were working for Ty [Williams]. Coming here, I was working for myself so it was a little bit different. I’ve been super excited for the challenge, biding my time and making sure I’ve been developing right and stepping up when I’m ready.”
The victory marked the seventh race out of 10 that L39ion won in its first season as a UCI Continental squad, dominating the USA CRITS Series. Much of the men’s and women’s teams were unable to attend the final races in El Paso and Winston-Salem, which slid them down in the standings. The men’s team finished third behind Butcherbox in second and Best Buddies Racing taking the Hellofresh team competition.
Best Buddies also took the best young rider competition with Hernandez and the BikeReg lap leader competition with Danny Summerhill. After finishing second in the finale, Gibbons secured his second overall series title after winning in 2019.