CHARLOTTE, N.C. (VN) — The Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium is the seventh race in the USA Crit series with a prize list of over $100,000. In its eighth year, the Presbyterian has become one of the biggest criteriums on the East Coast attracting the best domestic racers. This year the six-rider per team restriction had been removed and squads had the option of pinning numbers on eight riders. Would the additional riders provoke more attacking in the race as teams had more bullets to expend? Also the heat of the evening would be a factor as the temperature was 95 degrees at 7:00 pm.
The women’s field was racing for 25 miles for a purse of $25,000. The recently crowned national road race champion Robin Farina (NOW and Novartis for MS) and defending Presbyterian champion Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita-Forno d’ Asolo-Cooking Light) were on the starting line.
The men faced 50 miles of racing and the field was stacked with criterium racing talent. Adam Myerson, a regular on the crit circuit, along with his Team Mountain Khakis-SmartStop are always a threat in these fast races. RealCyclist.com had their criterium specialist, Frank Travieso, in Charlotte. Of course the United Healthcare squad brought their heavy hitters: Hilton Clarke and Karl Menzies.
The course’s 1.3-mile loop, located in the heart of downtown, is a barbell shape that mirrors itself on both ends. The eight 90-degree corners that the racers have to negotiate would keep the riders on their toes.
A parade of primes in the women’s race
The women’s racing was heavily stacked with multiple cash primes scattered throughout the race ranging from $250 to $500.
With the prime bell seeming to continuously ring, the racing was assured to be fast. Just before the midway point a crash on the straightaway cut the field in half and necessitated a restart as to allow first responders onto the course to care for a rider slow to get off the road. After some assistance Emma Mackie (Team Tibco/To The Top) remounted her bike but was lead off the course for further medical evaluation.
With the riders restarted the parade of primes stared up again, but it was not enough to allow anyone to sneak off the front. In the closing laps Meredith Miller (Team TIBCO) dangled solo off the front but the Colavita ladies weren’t going to allow that to happen. With two laps remaining Miller was swallowed up and Colavita was all over the front of the field.
On the bell lap it was a group of about 20 racers remaining in contention. Around the final corner the field was out of the saddle and was fanned out across the road. To no one’s surprise it was Theresa Cliff-Ryan going back to back in victories.
“Today’s plan was to go back-to-back and get me the win,” explained Cliff-Ryan. “A lot of people say that is negative racing, but for us it’s racing to our forte.”
‘Our race to lose’
The men’s field was also thrown multiple cash primes throughout the race. As race announcer Chad Andrews worked the VIP area for cash donations for primes as the racing continued to be run at full speed. The 141-rider field was stretched out along the straightaway with the usual suspects of UnitedHealthcare monitoring the front. This didn’t stop the continual attacks and counter attacks, but with 30 laps remaining, no one was able to break completely free of the peloton.
At the 28 laps to go point two riders carved out the best time gap of the evening: Yasvany Falcon (RealCyclist.com) and Chad Hartley (Kenda 5 Hour Energy-GearGrinder). Working together they scooped up primes as the field hesitated. This allowed the duo to gain a 30-second advantage. While the peloton kept the pace steady, it was becoming too much for some as the field looked to have been reduced to about 100 riders.
At 19 laps Tom Soladay riding solo for Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth sneaked off to a 20-second gap with the blue train of UnitedHealthcare at the front of the peloton. It was a suicide move but it was motivated by a $500 cash prime, which he took. The prime bell rung again and this time it was for $1,000. Soladay continued to suffer off the front, but the boys in blue were having none of it and were eating into his lead.
With still a 24-second gap Soladay took the big dollar prime with a playful bike throw, putting on a show for the appreciative crowd.
With 14 laps remaining Soladay’s move was brought to heel, but not until after a hefty cash payout due to his prime hunting. It had been worth the effort.
As the field entered single-digit territory it was the UnitedHealthcare squad all over the front. While a solo move by Heath Blackwell earned him $1,000, he was brought back with four laps remaining.
With a half-lap to go the field was shattered by the overwhelming horsepower of UnitedHealthcare.
Around the final corner the UnitedHeathcare train dropped off riders until it was Jacob Keough bursting through the shadows taking a convincing victory. Behind him was Cantwell with Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis Sutter Home) in third.
“This really was our race to lose from the start,” said Keough. “Everyone looks to us. That’s not a bad thing to any team and it is a compliment to us. It was a hard race and it wasn’t like we controlled it. There was a lot of attacking and it was a hard win and we earned this.”