Ben King (Trek-Livestrong) put a disappointing time trial to bed Friday, winning the Men’s U23 criterium at the USA Cycling road national championships in Bend, Oregon. Eighteen years King’s elder, Steve Reaney continued the Cal Giant-Specialized streak in the Men’s Elite criterium, winning a bunch sprint as darkness set in on downtown Bend.
In the espoirs race, King and Oscar Clark (Mountain Khakis-Jittery Joe’s) escaped the waning peloton with three laps remaining in the 46-lap race, building a maximum lead of 10 seconds. King came around Clark in the finish straight, the chase breathing down their necks, to win the stars and stripes jersey by less than five seconds. King’s teammate Justin Williams led the field home for third.
Friday’s races took place on the four-corner, 1.3km downtown Bend course familiar to riders from the Cascade Classic. The mostly flat track featured a very slight rise on the backside of the course and a downhill right-hand corner onto the finish straight, which descended slightly before flattening 400 meters from the line.
The racing was active from the gun Friday afternoon. Trek and the Holowesko Partners team of 2009 criterium champ Alex Howes were the two most loaded squads in the race and they acted the part early, throwing riders into nearly every attack. Howes and teammates Peter Salon and Max Durtschi, and Trek’s Justin Williams were all over the early moves, none of which sprung for more than a five-second lead and two-to-three laps.
“I burned a few candles early on making sure we had someone in those early moves,” said King.
The pace remained frantic for much of the 46-lap race, attacks jumping away nearly every lap. By the time 30 laps had rolled by, the pace had the field reduced to approximately 50 of the more than 100 riders that started the day.
“Toward the finish I think everyone that was hoping for it to come down to a breakaway finish was, you know, starting to get a little tired,” said King. “And I think that was our goal was to make it hard enough to have guys getting tired toward the finish and maybe give us a better chance to control it because we were saving guys all race just to be ready for the finale.”
As the lap counter struck ten-to-go, disorganization took over on the front of the peloton, with riders from an assortment of teams spread across the first ten spots on the road. Peter Carey (Bahati Foundation) was the first rider to try his luck amidst the reshuffling, attacking with eight laps remaining. Carey was able to shake the field for two laps, but he and two riders that bridged across were reabsorbed with six-to-go.
As the field came through with four laps on the ticker, it was grupo compacto, but not for long. In a bid to set up sprinter Justin Williams, King jumped on the backside of the course, bringing Clark out with him. By the time the duo came through the start/finish, their advantage was eight seconds. A lap later it was 10.
“I was absolutely not thinking about myself,” said King. “I mean, it was totally a team effort today. We have three of the fastest sprinters in the race, so our goal was just to set something up for them and draw out the other teams early. So, I saw an opportunity and just went for it and before I knew it we had a pretty large gap and at that point, I was like, ‘Shoot, I better keep going.’”
With Trek disinterested in chasing, and Holowesko missing from the front of the field, Bikereg.com-Cannondale took up the chase, lining four riders out in the penultimate lap. Even so, King and Clark held to an eight second lead when they came through for the bell lap. On the backside of the course, Trek found themselves on the front of the peloton, and a moment of hesitation allowed the leaders’ gap to stay out.
“Really there’s plenty of strong guys in the race, but really just a handful of teams with the power to control,” said King. “As one of those team’s it was kind of our responsibility to either be in the break or pull the break back.”
In the break is where King found himself and when he hit the gas 400 meters from the line, Clark could not match his pace, and the memories of a disappointing TT were erased.
Behind them, the field was motoring and Williams closed ten bike lengths in the final 200 meters to take third, nipping at Clark’s heels.
The win is King’s third national title and completes a trifecta along with a junior TT and road race crown. “It was really aggressive,” said King. “It’s not really my specialty, but after racing a bunch of crits at Nature Valley, my first of the year actually, I guess I’ve got my crit legs going on.”
Holowesko swept the U23 events at nationals a year ago. After two of three races in 2010, they have yet to earn a medal. “It was weird,” said Daniel Summerhill, who finished seventh. “It was kind of just, I don’t even know what to say. I don’t want to say it wasn’t our day; it was just a weird one.
“Towards the end, I think we all just started waiting around for some other teams to do something, because I think it was us doing everything the whole time, and I think we just got a little complacent just a little too close to the finish.
“There were a few of us up near the front, but we just weren’t in the right position or anything.”
“I figured I was in for a medal, but I guess not.”
Reaney makes it rain
The 62-lap Men’s Elite event capped the evening and provided a fitting close to an extremely active day of racing. Just as in the Men’s U23 race, attacks came nearly from the gun. As riders from Team Hotel San Jose-Mellow Johnny’s, U.S. Military and Hagens Berman took flyers, riders chipped off the back of the field.
With four wide corners and little topography, though, no moves stuck for more than a half-dozen laps. When the peloton arrived to the start/finish with 15 laps remaining, it was all-together, but strung out single-file. Dave Wenger (Super Squadra) gave a solo bid that lasted two laps and with nine-to-go, Mat Stephens (FCS-Metro Volkswagen) and Jared Barrilleaux (Cal Giant) jumped away, but again, the peloton, intent on the bunch gallop, said nothing doing.
Yahoo! put four riders on the front for the final ten laps and when Stephens and Barrilleaux were caught, Reaney sat in the slipstream of Yahoo!’s Ryan Parnes. “We just sort of started riding tempo and people let us take control,” said Yahoo! rider Philip Mooney.
While they controlled the pace over the closing kilometers, Parnes’ leadout man, Brian Bosch, was out after an earlier crash in the final corner. Mooney took Parnes to the final corner, but without Bosch’s top-end speed guiding him, the Yahoo! sprinter was forced to jump onto the Cal Giant riders as they exited the corner.
Reaney, who led Ken Hanson out to the 2008 elite win, rode away from Hotel Sand Jose’s Carlos Vargas and delivered on the line, putting an exclamation point on what he had expected to be his last season. The win, however, would have him reconsider his retirement.
“We learned a couple of years ago that the best thing to do is to take two strong guys – we took Hanson and me two years ago, jumped everyone with 800 meters to go – and that seems to be the way to go,” said Reaney. “Jared (Barrilleaux) did the same thing for me today. Excellent teamwork.”
At 39, Reaney was close to hanging up his cleats and had all but closed the book on his hopes at nationals. “It’s definitely sweet,” he said. “I honestly had given up on it.”
He said he would reconsider with the stars and stripes jersey on his back. “You know, if it wasn’t for this jersey, I have to say I might not have,” said Reaney. “But I might stick it out another year, but that’s something to talk over with the wife.”