By Ryan Newill
A day after netting the Clarendon Cup win with new recruit Hilton Clarke, UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis showed just how deep its talent runs, sweeping the podium at the U.S. Air Force Cycling Classic in Arlington, Virginia.
A wide-open course and the presence of a number of strong teams stifled any lasting escapes in the men’s race, leading to a field sprint showdown that saw UHC’s Jake Keough take the win ahead of teammates Clarke and Karl Menzies. The women’s race proved more amenable to breakaways, with Robin Farina (Vera Bradley Foundation) winning a three-up sprint over break companions Cath Cheatley (Colavita-Baci) and Erin Sillman (Fruit 66).
Held over 90 minutes on a two-kilometer, seven-turn circuit in Arlington’s Crystal City — a mixed use area of tall office buildings, apartments, hotels, and restaurants just across the river from Washington, DC — the men’s race was a tightly controlled affair. With the Nature Valley Grand Prix starting on Wednesday, a number of teams arrived in Arlington with fully tuned lineups, looking to get one last high-speed workout in before heading west.
As it did in Saturday’s Clarendon Cup, the Kenda-Geargrinder squad was on the attack from the start, sending riders in many of the countless short-lived moves that marked the early portion of the race. At 40 minutes in, though, Jake Rytlewski finally tore away, drawing out Evan Fader of the regional Kelly Benefit Strategies-LSV team and forming what would prove to be the race’s most enduring move off the front. The pair carved out an 18-second advantage over the field before attacks and counters behind upped the pace again, reeling in Rytlewski and Fader and capping the day’s long move at just three laps’ duration.
Though attacks would continue to go throughout the day, the course’s flat, wide open front and back stretches left little opportunity for the opportunists, and the large squads focused on resting their sprinters and key leadout men before the final shootout. But regardless of how rested other team’s sprinters were, there was no getting around UHC, which put all eight of its men on the front, with Menzies, Clarke and Keough lined up at the back.
For Keough, who worked the closing laps to ensure Clarke’s victory on Saturday, it was nice to be back in the caboose.
“It was actually kind of cool yesterday, I got to ride at the front of the leadout with about five to go and was taking turns at the front. It was cool to see it yesterday from that point of view,” he said, adding, “But then today, sitting last wheel is where I want to be and that’s where I like to be, so it worked out.”
Though it was Keough in the armchair seat, the team hadn’t necessarily picked a designated hitter coming into the final 200 meters.
“In the leadout it was just a matter of who came across the line first,” said Menzies, who spent his second straight day piloting the race winner into the home stretch, “We don’t care about the order as long as it’s UnitedHealthcare winning.”
For the squad, the win was encouraging as it prepares to defend its Nature Valley Grand Prix title in Minnesota this week.
“A win is one thing, but sweeping the podium first, second, third — that’s definitely a confidence booster going into Nature Valley,” said director Mike Tamayo. “We’ve got Rory Sutherland joining us there, so that’s just adding more horsepower and experience to the team. We’re going for a three-peat.”
The one that got away
In marked contrast to the men’s race, the hour-long women’s race featured only a pair of strong, national-level squads, producing a far different race despite the same wide, fast course. With the departure of the Tibco squad that carried off Saturday’s Clarendon Cup win, the Colavita-Baci and Vera Bradley Foundation squads were left as the race’s sole heavy hitters among a largely regional field. So when Cheatley (Colavita-Baci) jumped just before the race’s halfway point, Farina knew she had to get on terms quickly or risk missing the move of the day. Also on her toes was local rider Sillman, who followed Farina up to Cheatley to form what would prove to be the winning move.
“We knew that Colavita would come out pretty aggressively and we thought we’d go ahead and do the same thing and let it kind of dwindle down in the heat,” said Farina. “With (Cheatley) I know that she’s going to work, and she’s a strong finisher, so we basically split the work half and half.”
With its sprinter Theresa Cliff-Ryan still banged up from Saturday’s field sprint crash, Colavita was happy with Cheatley’s chances from the move, and effectively quashed bridge attempts and any concerted chase efforts for the remainder of the race. With the chase off and Farina and Cheatley digging in, the threesome quickly built a gap of over a minute, a lead that fell only when the last-lap maneuvering for the sprint began. The course’s seemingly endless finishing straight produced a prolonged drag race, with Farina taking the win just ahead of Cheatley and a celebrating Sillman, who was just happy to have hung on to take the podium.
“We’d talked to her and she said she was just happy to be on the podium so she came along for the ride,” said Cheatley when asked why she and Farina seemed unconcerned about Sillman’s presence on the tail of the break. “I think this is one of the bigger races she’s done so she rode really well — it was really impressive.”
- 1. Jake Keough, UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis
- 2. Hilton Clarke, UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis
- 3. Karl Menzies, Unitedhealthcare-Maxxis
- 4. Ben Kersten, Fly V-Australia
- 5. Alexey Schmidt, Team Type 1
- 6. Rashaan Bahati, Bahati Foundation
- 7. Isaac Howe, Mountain Khakis-Jittery Joes
- 8. Yuri Metlushenko, Amore&Vita
- 9. Ivan Dominguez, Jamis-Sutter Home
- 10. Alessandro Bazzana, Fly V-Australia