Luke Keough (Mountain Khakis-SmartStop) and Erica Allar (RideClean-PatentIt.com) won the men’s and women’s installments of the inaugural Tour of Vail criterium, respectively, on Sunday, securing their USA Crits series overall titles. Having entered the final event of the series with considerable leads, their orange leader’s jerseys weren’t in tremendous jeopardy, but for Keough, recapturing the title was further confirmation that the 21-year-old rider’s career is on track.
“Last year (winning the series) was really big for me,” said Keough. “It wasn’t a goal going into this season, where I was (going) more for race wins. But winning it again shows consistency, especially since the series is more seriously contested now and more dynamic.”
Keough put the capper on the series when he bolted into the final turn of the 1km, cobbled course in the heart of the well-known ski destination, overtaking current national criterium champion Ken Hanson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) in the final moments of a race that saw no dangerous escapes throughout its 75 minutes.
Initially there was speculation that either rain or the tricky and unfamiliar course would favor a breakaway, but instead the conditions were dry during the entire afternoon of competition. This, coupled with hesitation amongst some of the riders to over-extend themselves at altitude, prompted high but consistent speeds from the start. The only move of any substance came with 35 laps to go when Andrew Bajadali (Optum), Robin Eckmann (California Giant-Specialized), Kevin Mullervy (Exergy), Jake Wells (Stan’s NoTubes) and Colby Pearce (Horizon Organic) went clear. And while that break was not to last, Bajadali’s day was far from over.
With the laps counting down, Bajadali and the rest of his Optum teammates mounted a full-on assault at the front of the field in order to ensure that Hanson had his leadout in place. The team, however, was closely shadowed by Keough’s Mountain Khakis squad and Issac Howe of Kenda-5-hour Energy.
“We saw Optum attacking really early on and we knew they were going to be dangerous,” said Keough. “We knew it would be really risky to be too aggressive at altitude; once we saw how they were racing we had to match their efforts.”
Into the final lap, Hanson emerged from his final lead-out man, but Keough jumped hard for the last corner. The effort was so dramatic in fact that the young Massachusetts native nearly tasted a bit of the barriers. Hanson couldn’t hold on in the end and, slamming his fist onto the handlebars, had to settle for second. Rafael Meran (CRCA-Foundation) came out of the crowded field to assume the final podium spot.
The narrative of the women’s race, which took place earlier in the evening, was entirely different. There, Allar, Alison Powers (NOW-Novartis for MS) and Whitney Shultz (Paceline Projects-Veloforma) struck out early on, building up a tremendous advantage over the field just 24 of 60 laps into the race. They would eventually lap the field and ultimately lock in the podium.
With 10 laps to go, Amity Elliot (Kenda-Geargrinder), left the main field behind in an effort to also get around the backside of the race and join in the podium fight, but the most she could manage was a 30-second gap that she held onto until the race’s conclusion.
Allar and the rest of her RideClean squad remained attentive, however, to Powers and her NOW team. The series leader came into the final turn with a clear advantage and escaped a last minute pile-up in the closing meters to take the win and put the cherry on top of an outstanding criterium season. Powers and Shultz would finish in second and third, respectively.
USA Crits 2012 Championship Series Final Results
Champion System Men’s Overall: Luke Keough, Mountain Khakis-SmartStop
Champion System Women’s Overall: Erica Allar, RideClean-PatentIt.com
VeloNews Men’s Lap Leader: Jim Stemper, Kenda-5-hour Energy
VeloNews Women’s Lap Leader: Debbie Milne, Absolute Racing
Maxxis Tires Best Young Men’s Rider: Luke Keough
Maxxis Tires Best Young Women’s Rider: Colleen Gulick
USA Crits Men’s Team: Mountain Khakis-SmartStop
USA Crits Women’s Team: RideClean-PatentIt.com