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Top crit’ riders head to Downers Grove

Looking ahead to Sunday’s USPRO Criterium Championship in Downers Grove, Illinois, the phrase “the usual suspects” springs to mind, as the majority of the top domestic criterium racers will be on hand gunning for the race win and the stars-and-stripes champion’s jersey that’s up for grabs to the first American to cross the line. Several of the men have been there before, as the race will feature at least six former race winners and U.S. champions. That list of past winners includes 2002 winner Henk Vogels (Navigators Insurance), 2001 U.S. champion Kirk O’Bee (Navigators), 1999 winner Gord

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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews managing editor

Looking ahead to Sunday’s USPRO Criterium Championship in Downers Grove, Illinois, the phrase “the usual suspects” springs to mind, as the majority of the top domestic criterium racers will be on hand gunning for the race win and the stars-and-stripes champion’s jersey that’s up for grabs to the first American to cross the line. Several of the men have been there before, as the race will feature at least six former race winners and U.S. champions.

That list of past winners includes 2002 winner Henk Vogels (Navigators Insurance), 2001 U.S. champion Kirk O’Bee (Navigators), 1999 winner Gord Fraser (Health Net-Maxxis), 1999 U.S. champion Tony Cruz (U.S. Postal Service), 1997 winner and U.S. champion Jonas Carney (Jelly Belly-Aramark), and 1994 U.S. champion Dave McCook (McGuire Cycling).

If Fraser had his usual Health Net-Maxxis leadout train in place, it would be a good bet to look for the Canadian’s team to try to hold things together to set him up for a sprint finish, however, with both Hayden Godfrey and Greg Henderson competing on the track for New Zealand at the Olympic Games, the dynamics might be a little different. Another missing factor will be Navigators Insurance’s Marty Nothstein, who will be in Athens competing in the keirin.

On the other side of the ledger, adding a bit of star power to the race will be this year’s Tour de France breakout rider, Floyd Landis of U.S. Postal. Landis will be making a rare U.S. criterium appearance, joining Cruz, who recently scored his first European victory, a stage win at the Tour de l’Ain. Former USPRO Champion Cruz could contend for the win, or Postal may work to set-up long-time crowd favorite Robbie Ventura for a title he has sought for years.

Another team to watch for will be Colavita Olive Oil, which has made its mark in its second season in the Division 3 pro ranks, most recently with Ivan Dominguez’s win at the inaugural Bank of America Invitational in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he beat out Fraser and Navigators’ Vogels.

With two-time USPRO winner Frank McCormack now at the Colavita helm as team director, the squad may be looking to put McCormack’s brother Mark, the 2003 USPRO road champion, on top of the podium at the USPRO crit.

For a dark horse candidate, last weekend’s racing results may have given an indication of how on-form 20-year-old Tyler Farrar is at the moment. The Health Net rider won both the time-trial and the criterium at the under-23 national championships in Utah, and in between flew out to Southern California where he beat Carney in the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. The biggest question mark surrounding Farrar, though, is whether he’s ready to step it up and be competitive in the challenging 100km Downers Grove race, against the best in the country.

In the men’s race, the only thing that’s certain is that there will be a new USPRO champion, as two-time defending champion Kevin Monahan retired at the end of last season. That won’t be the case for the women, though, as 2002-2003 national criterium champion Tina Pic will be looking to three-peat in the midst of what has been her strongest season.

Most recently, Pic won Manhattan Beach on the heels of three stage wins at the Tour de ’Toona. Prior to that, she won three stages, the overall and the sprint competition at Superweek in Wisconsin, and two stages at the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic in Massachusetts. Adding to her status as favorite is her strong Genesis Scuba-FFCC team, which also includes 2000 national criterium champion Laura Van Gilder.

Among those looking to dethrone Pic will be another former champion, Nicole Freedman (Basis), and Quark’s Sarah Uhl, hoping to breakthrough for her first senior criterium title.

The 50km women’s championship gets underway at 10 a.m. (MST) Sunday, followed by the elite (amateur) men’s national championship at 11:30 a.m. The main event, the USPRO Criterium Championship, takes place at 3:45.

Look for complete coverage right here on VeloNews.com.