The streets of Glencoe, Illinois, bled maple red Saturday night as Canadian champion David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit Strategies) won the USA Cycling National Professional Criterium Championships ahead of Bernie Sulzberger (Fly V Australia). In arguably the most exciting crit nationals in years, first-year pro Daniel Holloway (Bissell) turned around what he called a lackluster season to finish fourth and secure the stars-and-stripes jersey ahead of Ken Hanson (Team Type 1).
Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita-Baci) took the women’s win, outsprinting Meredith Miller (Tibco-To The Top) and Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom) from a five-rider move that went away late in the 60-minute race. The Vera Bradley Foundation duo of Cari Cash-Wooten and Lauren Hall rounded out the break and the top five in the non-championship event.
New course proves challenging
After a 24-year run across Chicago in Downers Grove, the professional criterium championships ran in conjunction with the Glencoe Grand Prix Saturday. The new downtown course was a challenging variation on the track previously used for the regional event, which this year enjoyed its fourth appearance.
The first two-thirds of the 2.1km, 10-corner loop was fast and technical, leading into a steep, one-block climb and a long false flat ahead of the finish straight. Following a six-block descent, at the far end of the circuit riders faced a series of 90-degree corners before the climb. A number of crashes occurred in the lead-in to the ramp, which was the fastest and most important section of the course.
“That bottom corner was death,” said Holloway at the finish. “You can go down there and see the road. It has skid marks and chainrings and paint.”
It was vital all day to ride at the front of the race, not necessarily to manage the non-stop breakaways, but to make it through the corners with a full outer layer of skin. A number of riders, including Sulzberger and Kyle Wamsley (Bissell), went down early.
Despite the danger, the consensus from the top crit guns was that the new Glencoe course was a keeper.
“I thought the course was worthy of a national championship,” said seventh-placed Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies). “I thought it was harder than Downers Grove.”
Anthony’s aggression springs the move
A number of early moves went clear on the backside of the course. Candelario’s teammate Jesse Anthony was present in an eight-rider group that pulled ahead 20 minutes into the race.
When his companions went back to the peloton after a handful of laps, Anthony went on a 25-minute solo venture, building a lead of nearly a minute at one point. The challenging circuit and a motivated chase that split the peloton were too much for the rider from Beverly, Massachusetts, and an hour into the race he was on the tail end of a new 30-rider group.
From that selection came what would be the decisive move. With 25 laps remaining, Veilleux, Mike Friedman (Jelly Belly-Kenda) and Matt Crane (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) broke free of the thinning lead group.
“When it finally went, I could see guys were getting tired,” said Holloway. “Brad White (of UnitedHealthcare) was going backwards and if that happens, it’s really hard.”
Ten riders, including Holloway, Sulzberger and teammates Alessandro Bazzana and Jonathan Cantwell, Ken Hanson (Team Type 1), Candelario and Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly) gave chase. A 13-rider lead group emerged when the catch was made and KBS and Fly V Australia were the obvious benefactors, each with three riders in the break.
“We had a great situation up there,” said Veilleux, who put in a series of huge pulls as the group established its advantage.
Likely unhappy with Crane’s chances against Cantwell and crew, UnitedHealthcare drove the chase, but the gap continued to rise. Former national champ Rahsaan Bahati (Bahati Foundation) lost two laps when he stopped for what officials at first ruled a non-complying service in the pit. Bahati was back in the race immediately, and officials reinserted the rider, a local fan favorite, onto the lead lap 10 minutes later.
While Bahati was back in the race, 2009 Downers Grove winner Ben Kersten (Fly V Australia) was out, suffering from the effects of a thrown back suffered in Charlotte one week earlier. When the Aussie pulled off the course in the pit, he could barely sit atop his saddle and was in substantial pain, his shoulders slumped over, as he attempted to stand up.
New life for the break
As the race rolled into the final 15 laps, the peloton, nearly cut in half to about 40 riders, began to draw the break in, reducing its advantage from almost one minute to 25 seconds. A number of the riders up front, including Bazzana and Zwizanski, who were working for their sprinters, tried to pump life into the group. When those two struck out to a gap of 15 seconds with under 10 laps remaining, Friedman was forced to chase, sending Van Ulden out the back of the group.
The resulting acceleration sent the break’s advantage back out to 50 seconds, and UHC came off the front of the field with eight laps remaining, pushing Jamis-Sutter Home into the role of workhorse. Jelly Bellies Jeremy Powers and Brad Huff sat behind the Jamis riders, led by Ivan Dominguez, ready to hit lead-out mode if a catch was made.
With seven to go, Veilleux followed when Sulzberger countered the catch of Bazzana and Zwizanski at the end of the finish straight. Directors Ed Beamon and Henk Vogels quickly instructed the Tasmanian to sit on his Canuck companion and Veilleux buried himself on the front. The pair had a 10-second advantage at the end of the lap and took their lead north of 30 seconds three laps later.
“We had Johnny and Baz there and David was going really well at Elk Grove, so I didn’t really have to do anything,” said Sulzberger, a former Australian criterium champion. “I did two turns and he did the rest.”
The Americans in the break were unmotivated to chase the international riders and resigned themselves to fighting for the jersey. Veilleux took advantage.
“I think they let us go because we weren’t Americans,” said Veilleux. “Sulzberger didn’t work because he wanted us to come back to the break for Cantwell.”
“From 10 to go, I started to think about the finish,” said Holloway. “We were really focused on the jersey and the guys going up the road didn’t affect the race.”
The chase group’s motivation was obvious when Bazzana jumped away again with two to go and quickly went clear. The move — and a rapidly closing peloton — did spark Friedman and Candelario to up the pace eventually, again splitting the group and catching Hanson and Holloway out.
The battle for the title
What was now the jersey group, and the second chase on the road, came together again on the bell lap as they descended to the far end of the course. At this point, the battle for the national title was between former elite champions Hanson and Holloway, multiple-time national track champion Friedman and 2008 crit nationals runner-up Candelario. Anthony bridged across from the field as the group reformed and went straight to the front to lead out Candelario, whose dirt-stained cheeks showed the pain of a long, hot day in the saddle.
As the group crested the climb for the last time, 30 seconds in arrears, Veilleux jumped into the final corner and led the sprint over Sulzberger down the finish straight. The multiple-time Canadian champion held off his companion and posted up for the win, Sulzberger hanging desperately on his wheel. Veilleux, in his red maple leaf skinsuit, topped the best crit riders in the country, and arguably the world, on their biggest stage.
With Bazzana still in no man’s land, Hanson and Holloway came around Candelario when Anthony clipped a pedal and fell off the pace ahead of the final corner. The neo-pro stood and ran the cranks up into the right-hand bend, gapping Hanson, and held the Santa Barbara-based sprinter off with a bike throw to take fourth overall and first among the Americans. Candelario followed pre-race favorite Cantwell in to secure third on the U.S. podium and his fourth top-five at criterium nationals.
Veilleux admitted at the finish that the win was a boon, but said the team was disappointed to leave Glencoe without its second criterium jersey of the year.
“It’s really bittersweet because we wanted to win the jersey for Candelario, but I’m happy to win the race and I’m feeling good,” he said.
A few feet away, Holloway fought off tears, his body hunched over the bars of his Pinarello. “It hit hard,” he said. “My dad’s been the biggest supporter my whole career and this one’s for him.”
The solemn moment didn’t last long, however, as the rider nicknamed “Hollywood” turned quickly to his confidence ahead of his rookie pro championships.
“It’s huge,” he said. “Not to sound cocky, but I had it coming. I think. If you look at my progression and my development, the people I’ve put around me really thought this could happen, so I think it was just about time, you know?”
The championship comes near the end of a season in which Bissell hoped to target more of the criteriums and one-day events on the national schedule. Holloway was part of that plan and he admitted that the result came after some growing pains earlier in the season, particularly with Frank Pipp and Kyle Wamsley out with injuries.
“I came in with a real positive attitude and the team had a lot of faith in me,” he said. “It just took me a while to hit my stride.”
For his part, Veilleux hoped to build on the overall win as his team leaves Sunday for its third European campaign of the season.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I hope I have good legs and try to do some results and get ready for potential selection for the ProTour races in Montreal and Quebec.”
Cliff-Ryan jumps off the break
The final move in the women’s race came after 50 minutes of aggressive riding on the challenging Glencoe circuit. Hall attacked the peloton, which had thinned to about 20 riders, on the backside of the course. Cliff-Ryan and Miller bridged quickly.
“When I saw Theresa go, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get on that,’” said Miller. The threesome was joined soon by Cash-Wooten and Van Gilder.
With the race’s three biggest teams represented in the move, Colavita, Tibco and Vera Bradley patrolled the front of the bunch, dropping the pace to a crawl with five laps to go. Up the road, the break was moving no faster, as Hall did the lion’s share of the work.
“Lauren was doing a lot of the work,” said Cliff-Ryan. “Laura jumped on the front on a couple times. I wanted to stay off the front because I was in an earlier move and every time I went to the front and pulled off, someone would attack and I didn’t want to put myself in that position again.”
Miller likened the break’s final laps to a match sprint on the track.
“Lauren did a lot of work on the front and then if she would pull off, everyone would just sit up and look at each other,” she said. “That last lap I think we almost came to a track stand at one point.”
Cliff-Ryan was the first to jump out of the final corner and got a quick gap. The former Downers Grove champion, who has been on a tear in 2010, held off Miller for the win.
“I just wanted to stay on Theresa’s wheel,” said Miller. “I maybe should have tried to jump first, but I’m always afraid of jumping first and then everyone coming around me. I was thinking that somebody would probably jump into that last corner and I thought I would be pretty safe if the sprint started at that last corner and it did so, I don’t know, it was the right length for me, I guess.”
- The 2010 race may be the last USA Cycling pro criterium championship to allow non-U.S. riders, said Micah Rice, the USAC’s managing director of events. “We’re getting more elite racers, we’re getting more pros … There are probably enough Americans to do this all-American. I think you’re going to see this race, the USA Cycling Professional Criterium Championships, if not next year the year after, it’s going to be all American. It’s going to happen, it’s just a matter of when. We have enough American crit riders that we don’t need to stop gap with all the foreigners.”