By Ryan Newill
Riding his first race with UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis after leaving the embattled Bahati Foundation squad last week, Hilton Clarke delivered his new employer a win in one of the nation’s toughest criteriums – the USAF Clarendon Cup.
Clarke was part of a six-man escape that lapped the field with 33km remaining, and with teammate Brad White also in the move, Clarke only had to worry about finishing in front of four other men to notch the win.
But the 30-year-old Australian left nothing to chance in the sprint finale, taking advantage of a perfect leadout and crossing the line more than a bike length ahead of the nearest competitor.
“Last week I watched Philadelphia on TV with my bottom lip out,” said Clarke. “Today, I wanted to make an impact on this team straight away and not only did I, but the team made a big impact on me, because they delivered me to the line so easily.”
In the women’s contest earlier in the day, Tibco’s Brooke Miller took advantage of her strong team and avoided a crash in the final 100 meters to take a field-sprint win over Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom). Defending champion Erica Allar (Vera Bradley) finished third.
The first half of the 100-lap, 100km men’s race was littered with attacks that sent a number of moves with four to 10 riders clear, but never clear enough. A tentative field allowed only a short leash while the breaks’ compositions were assessed – a slower process with the elimination of race radios this year – and few moves lasted more than a handful of laps before being reeled in or becoming bloated with bridging riders.
It wasn’t until the halfway point that a move with the right distribution of riders from the powerhouse criterium teams emerged, and it proved to be the move of the day: Clarke and White (UHC); Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefits Strategies); Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home); Dan Holt (Team Type 1); and Volodymyr Starchyk (Amore & Vita).
The group of six hovered around 15 seconds ahead of a Kenda-led chase before the leash finally snapped, quickly sending the gap north of 30 seconds. After over an hour of relentless attacks, the right break was finally away and working smoothly, and the peloton was content to settle in and take advantage of the officials’ decision to allow feeding due to the searing 95-degree temperatures. As a result, just 17 laps after they set out, the six leaders drew up to the back of the field and reintegrated the group.
Of the men in a position to win, Clarke was clearly the most fancied of the group. A sprint specialist with plenty of notches in his belt already, Clarke’s move to UnitedHealthcare had also provided him with one of the most capable setup crews on the circuit.
Like Clarke, Zwizanski boasted a strong team and ample motivation — sponsor Kelly Benefit Strategies is located in nearby Baltimore — but the Pennsylvanian is more known as a time trialist and stage racer than a criterium sprinter.
NRC leader Amaran is a more-than-capable sprinter with a well-drilled criterium team behind him, but was looking somewhat the worse for wear after an early fall.
Clarke’s most likely challenger was Starchyk, the young Ukrainian national champion who shares leadership duties with Yuri Metlushenko at Amore & Vita.
With Clarke seemingly in the driver’s seat, nobody was surprised when UHC took to the front of the field, occupying the first seven spots at the head of a single-file line. Ahead, the only thing on the road was a fragmented collection of riders led by local standout Chuck Hutchinson of Battley Harley Davidson, an amateur team from the Washington, D.C., area.
Hutchinson had escaped alone just before the Clarke group rejoined the field, and had been joined by Luca Damiani (Kenda) and Sergey Greshkin (Amore & Vita). For the next 20 laps, Hutchinson’s saga would capture most of the crowd’s attention as the group sought to lap the field and all but secure a top-10 finish among some of the country’s best criterium riders. But just as the group’s chances looked best, Hutchinson slid out in the course’s final left-hander.
“I just tapped my brakes, and they clamped shut,” said Hutchinson, a member of the Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps who also races for the U.S. Armed Forces squad. “My equipment’s like four years old. I guess that comes with being the only amateur left out there.”
From the pit, Hutchinson re-entered the race with Grechin — Damiani had fallen back — but after the crash and more mechanical problems on the following lap, his hopes of a top-10 finish evaporated.
With the drama of Hutchinson’s escape over, attention returned to the front of the race, where the UHC-led peloton was mopping up remaining escapees as the pace ramped up. Not content to give Clarke an easy ride to the line, the Kelly team twice stormed the front of the race, with Zwizanski attacking several times in the finale.
“We just had to look for an opportunity to get away from (Clarke), but his team’s so strong,” Zwizanski said. “They probably have the best leadout train, so we were just trying to get the opportunity to get a gap on them, make them work a little bit harder so they don’t have as strong a train at the end.”
It was a valiant attempt, but Zwizanski couldn’t quite get away, which was just what Clarke was counting on.
“To tell you the truth, with my leadout I wasn’t worried,” he said. “If someone got 50 meters, well, I have Johnny Clarke, (Andrew) Pinfold, and (Karl) Menzies. Who can hold them off over a lap? No one can. It was a matter of the leadout being calm, which they were. Perfectly.”
In the final few laps, it was all United, with Karl Menzies providing a final leadout so strong he rolled across the line just behind Clarke. Amore’s Starchyk secured second place by getting the best of fellow breakaway Holt, with Amaran fourth and Zwizanski fifth.
Stifling women’s race ends with a bang
Like the men’s race, the 50-lap, 50km women’s race was dominated by a handful of strong teams, with five-rider squads from Tibco and Colavita-Baci controlling most of the action.
On hand to play the spoiler was a strong but shorthanded three-woman squad from Vera Bradley, which featured 2009 Clarendon champion Erica Allar. Also in the mix was another former Clarendon winner, perennial criterium threat Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom), who was riding solo but certainly is capable of free-lancing her way to a win if need be.
Those players would all have a hand in the only significant break of the day, which featured Allar, Van Gilder, Colavita sprinter Theresa Cliff-Ryan and Emma Mackie of Tibco among others. The group carved out a handful of seconds, but was soon back in the fold.
Subsequent aggression yielded attrition from the back rather than selection at the front, winnowing the lead group to less than 20 riders, with Colavita and Tibco still largely intact. With 10 laps to go, the peloton bunched up, took a breath, and prepared itself for the field sprint.
Tibco took control of the front with five laps remaining, but was overhauled by the Colavita train with three laps remaining. Working for Cliff-Ryan, the Colavita train looked to have the winning strategy, dropping their sprinter off just after the final corner.
But with 100 meters remaining, Cliff-Ryan appeared to hit a bump in the road and crashed violently on the far right-hand side of the road. Miller, just to Cliff-Ryan’s left, managed to make it clear and stayed on the gas for the win.
“We were just getting into the really mean, meaty part of the sprint where it really starts hurting and you’ll see who really has that top-end power,” said Miller after the finish. “Then she just hit a bump and came into me and the next thing I know she’s on the ground and I ran over her arm.
“That’s not the way to win a race; that doesn’t make me feel good. What does make me feel good is how well my teammates raced to put me in a position to go for the win.”
Van Gilder — who had spent the waning laps waiting just behind the big teams — made a quick adjustment to avoid the crash and secured second ahead of Allar.
- 1. Hilton Clarke, UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis
- 2. Jaroslav Dareowsky, Amore-Vita
- 3. Dan Holt, Team Type I
- 4. Luis Amaran, Jamis-Sutter Home
- 5. Scott Zwizanski, Kelly Benefits