By Kirsten Robbins in Charlotte, North Carolina
The richest single day criterium in America will return to the streets of Charlotte, North Carolina on Sunday, August 2 for the 2008 Presbyterian Hospital Invitational. The pro men will compete for US$50,000 and the women for $25,000 plus a series of lucrative lap primes for a prize purse totaling $100,000.
Money is not the only attraction to the event. The race is also a component of three prominent cycling series including the National Racing Calendar, the USA Crit series and the Women's Prestige series.
The defending champion from 2006 and 2007, Tina Pic (Colavita/Sutter Home) will be looking to add a third consecutive victory to her palmarès. In addition, Katharine Carroll (Aaron's Pro Cycling Team) will pursue her lead in the Women's Prestige series.
Other notable riders include NRC leader Laura Van Gilder (Cheerwine), Lara Kroepsch (Value Act Capital), Jen McRae (Advil-ChapStick) and Laura McCaughey (Juice Plus).
After the women's 36km event is complete, the elite men will line up at sun down for an 80km twilight speed fest. The men's peloton includes the defending champion Frank Pipp (Health Net-Maxxis). He will test his legs against some of the fastest men on American soil. Also in attendance will be the 2006 winner, Shawn Milne (Team Type 1), who will no doubt want to add a second victory to his resume.
But the peloton is packed full of other notable sprinters that include the current US national criterium champion Kirk O'Bee (Health Net-Maxxis), Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing), Kyle Wamsley (Colavita-Sutter Home), Jeff Hopkins (Inferno), Ricardo Escuela (Successful Living), Mark Hekman (Toshiba) and Dave Fuentes (Battley-Harley Davidson).
The showcased criteriums are expected to attract more than 35,000 fans onto the Charlotte's city streets. The two-kilometre circuit has kept its traditional dumbbell shape, through the city centre, with some slight changes for the 2008 edition.
According to Thad Fischer, event director, the bi-directional finish area is on the main drag. "However, the two boxed ends of the course have tighter turns and are expected to create more opportunities for breakaways this year," he said.
The Brain Tumor Fund for the Carolinas (BTFC) has sponsored the event for four years. BTFC is a non-profit group founded in 2003. It funds cancer research and is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the impact of brain tumors.
"In our past four years of this event we have raised over 1 million dollars for this cause," said Fischer. "We feel our event serves both our community and the sport of cycling We are proud of that."