By Mark Zalewski in Downers Grove, Illinois
The US Pro crit champs are crowned. Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing) won the men's event ahead of Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefits Strategies-Medifast) and Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo). Brooke Miller took the women's race. In the men's elite event Ken Hanson (California Giant Berry Farms) prevailed.
Back in June during Philly week Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing) told Cyclingnews that his main goal for the season was to win the professional criterium nationals in Downers Grove, despite suffering from an injury that caused him to consider pausing his career for surgery. While the races he targeted to lead-up to nationals did not all go his way, he was on top when it counted, making it to the final turn safely near the front and blowing past everyone for the stars and stripes today.
"I have one more goal which is to win the first stage of the Tour of Britain, but if my career were to stop now it would be perfect," he said. "The last lap was from good position to bad position, being behind Kayle to being behind Menzies. It was pretty tough fighting for positions but I've done this course since 2000 and I know the places where I can move up."
As is the case most years in the 22-year history of this race, the downhill second-half of the figure eight course was a fight to turn seven, in order to set-up for the final turn just 150 meters from the finish. Off the top of the hill and into the second of two right turns, turn five, it was Kelly Benefits Strategies-Medifast in control with Kevin Lacombe and Jake Keough trying to put Alex Candelario into position. "Kevin hit it with half-lap to go with me and Jake on his wheel," said Candelario. "Menzies got in between me and Jake and caused some disruption going into the last corner."
Heading into turns seven and eight former criterium champion Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) jumped the Kelly Benefits train on the outside. Unluckily he unclipped and lost all his speed, while the disrupted field shuffled past him. "Huff jumped on the outside of us but then came unclipped which caused some chaos into the last corner," Candelario said. "I went through but didn't have as much speed as Rahsaan coming behind me."
Bahati's momentum advantage was all he needed to finish off the race. "Second-to-last turn I was far back," he said. "I was like seventh and I just started sprinting, weaving in between guys. Then going into the last turn we were three deep with Candelario and Hekman. We didn't crash and I said thank you. I was in the middle and just told myself to make it through. I knew if I could stay up I could out-sprint them."
Miller doubles national titles with crit win
Brooke Miller's TIBCO team clothing will have a distinctive look for the next 364 days.. that is unless she is racing a time trial. The recent elite road national champion decided she liked the look of stars and stripes and out-sprinted the fastest American women to add the elite national criterium title to her palmarès in one of the fastest editions of the race in recent years.
"My hat is off to the peloton today," said Miller. "I've done this race when it has been negative and slow, but people raced their bikes and it was fast!"
Unlike the pro men's race, only American nationals were allowed to race, leaving some teams more shorthanded than others – and for TIBCO that meant only Amber Rais and Lauren Franges helping Miller. "On the late laps Amber was in charge of picking up the attacks so she wasn't able to help with the lead-out. It was up to Lauren and me going into the last laps. Pretty much from eight to go I found her wheel and having someone like her, who can sprint and navigate through the peloton like she can, kept me just completely relaxed."
As Miller mentioned, the racing was fast from the gun, with the announcers ringing a $50 prime before the gun even fired! Aaron's Corporate Furnishings and Cheerwine both put riders up the road in dangerous moves – including one with Kat Carroll (Aaron's) and the always dangerous Laura Van Gilder (Cheerwine).
"We wanted the race to be aggressive and not a repeat of road nationals," said Carroll. "The more we attack the more we could keep things strung out. But there were more people in it in the end than we wanted." Still, Carroll easily won the mid-race prime with clean wheels behind her.
But teams like Colavita-Sutter Home were interested in a field sprint for the most-winning rider in this event, defending champion Tina Pic. Meredith Miller (Aaron's) tried to spoil the fun for everyone by putting in a solo move that had a lot of potential. But a combined effort across teams brought her back. Down to the business-end of the race it was all together but still moving fast. Entering the last lap it was a hodge-podge on the front.