In one of the most open-ended Athens Terrapin Twilights in recent years, Luke Keough (Mountain Khakis-SmartStop) edged out John Murphy (Kenda-5-hour Energy) to win the fourth stop of the 2012 USA CRITS Championship Series and one of the most coveted prizes of the American criterium circuit.
“The team rode perfectly and I feel awesome.” An out-of-breath Keough said after being mobbed by his teammates at the start/finish line. “We wanted to control it and be super aggressive and attacking. They knew I was there in the field and that they could count on me for the sprint.”
Murphy had crushed the competition in the previous day’s CompuTrainer qualifiers, and as a one-time Athens, Georgia resident clearly had the support of the crowd behind him. The 27-year-old rider sent out a tweet following the race that the loss was a “heartbreaker” but maintained that his team was “amazing.”
“They made sure that we were in every (move), and anything that was dangerous they brought back. They set me up perfectly for the finish.”
That finish saw an amazing last minute surge from veteran Cuban sprinter Ivan Dominguez on the backstretch of the course that set off alarm bells for all of the favorites.
“Dominguez went up the hill and was riding super fast.” Keough said of the race’s final moments. “He wanted to take it from far out because he has a big, long sprint, but I got right on him during the last turn. I just rolled my momentum through there. Everyone was fighting for position and I just went early and held it to the line.”
Throughout the evening, neither Keough’s squad nor any of the other larger teams found themselves entirely in control of the flow of racing. Short-lived attacks from David Williams (Competitive Cyclist), Jordan Heimer (Loco’s Grill & Pub), Frank Travieso (Coco’s) and Keough’s teammate Thomas Brown kept the evening animated.
But the most significant escape came with about 26 laps remaining. Jackie Simes (Jamis-Sutter Home) and Cole House (Competitive Cyclist) managed to break the stranglehold of the field and build up a gap of about 21 seconds. But when House dropped out of the move there was little that Simes could do to stay away on his own.
“It was a tough day out there.” a clearly exhausted Simes said following the event. “We were just taking hard half lap pulls and going full-out and trying to stay away. But the odds were against us, because none of the squads that had full teams here made it into the break. But once we were out there we just went for it anyway.”
Once Simes was reabsorbed and the laps were counting down, Olympian Bobby Lea made a last-minute solo effort that looked like it had a small chance of success. He was eventually pursued by Ryan Sullivan (UnitedHealthcare) and David Williams, but neither their chase nor Lea’s escape would hold until the end.
Veteran criterium specialist Emile Abraham, who was celebrating his 38th birthday, characterized the final few corners of the race following Dominguez’s attack as somewhat chaotic.
“It was a lot of switching (around) and fighting for position,” he said. “John Murphy made a move on the right with Ty Magner (BMC-Hincapie Development) and I just followed their wheels. I managed to come around the guys in about fourth position until the last turn and followed Murphy.”
Abraham hung on for third behind Murphy, but Keough’s sprint was strong enough that he was able to salute the crowd with a fist in the air as he narrowly beat Murphy.
Earlier in the evening, the women’s race saw a dominant Mellow Mushroom-Rose Bandit Racing squad captained by Laura Van Gilder control the majority of the evening’s proceedings.
“I thought [Team] Rideclean might contribute a little bit, but they had their race to race and we had ours.” Van Gilder said. “We felt pretty confident to have it go to a field sprint unless there was a right mix in a break. But when those two riders [got away], we really couldn’t afford to sit on our haunches and wait. We really needed to chase that down.”
It fell to Kristen LaSasso of Mellow Mushroom to help neutralize a last-minute getaway by Sarah Tussey (VeloShine) and Whitney Schultz (Paceline Projects-Veloforma). Both women had been aggressive all night knowing full well that a breakaway was probably their best hope for a win in Athens. But once caught, the anticipated showdown between Van Gilder and current National Criterium Calendar leader Erica Allar (Rideclean-Patentit.com) was clearly in play. A crash between turns three and four on the last lap of racing helped to cinch that eventuality, but Allar was completely unaware that it had happened.
“I didn’t even know [about the crash]. Typically when it comes to races like this I like to put myself in the top 10 so I don’t get stuck behind crashes if they do happen. Kristen LaSasso did a great job reeling it in nice and steady. Jackie Crowell (Exergy) jumped on the back straight and I just got on her wheel. I knew that if I was patient enough and timed my sprint right, I could very well win but it was tight.”
Allar knew that Van Gilder was on her tail but once she decided to commit to her sprint, she was able to maintain her effort all the way to the finish.
“I was probably a little too far out,” Allar said in retrospect, “maybe 200 meters or so. I probably could have waited a little bit longer but I kept going to the line and luckily I [held] Laura off.”
Allar’s win further helped to secure her hold on the Orange Jersey of the USA CRITS overall leader ahead of Debbie Milne (Absolute Racing) and Colleen Gullick (Pure Energy-ProAirHFA).
Local Athens, Georgia rider Oscar Clark (UnitedHealthcare) retains his lead in the men’s USA CRITS competition over Colin Jaskiewicz (Champion System-Stan’s NoTubes) and Keough, who holds onto the third position. For Keough, however, it’s the win in Athens that will probably concern him most for the time being.
“It’s huge!” Keough said of the team’s Athens victory. The entire Mountain Khakis-SmartStop team will now head into a long week of racing throughout the Southeast during USA CRITS Speed Week, the next installment of the National Criterium Calendar.
“[We’re going to] keep it rolling, ride fast and hopefully get another win.”