Kevin Mullervy's rollercoaster ride with elite cycling hit its highest point so far Saturday night when the former Team Exergy rider won the Terrapin Twilight Criterium in Athens, Georgia, the first of seven races that make up the USA Crits Speed Week.
Riding for the Champion Systems-Stans No Tube domestic elite team, the 24-year-old is the first rider this season to derail the dominant UnitedHealthcare "Blue Train" that had taken every national calendar criterium up to that point.
"A lot of people are reaching out and congratulating me, so it feels really good," Mullervy told Cyclingnews Sunday while preparing for the Roswell Critetium later in the day. "But it hasn't really sunk in yet."
It's a long way from the disappointment Mullervy endured when Team Exergy fell apart over the offseason. Mullervy and his identical twin brother, Conor, had ridden for Escalera Racing's Team Exergy since it was an amateur squad in 2010. Mullervy signed his first pro contract with the UCI Continental outfit in June of 2011 after graduating from Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado. He raced for the Boise-based pro squad throughout 2011 and 2012, working mostly as a domestique in criteriums across the country.
The brothers planned to continue with the team for 2013 until Exergy Development Group CEO James Carkulis abruptly pulled the plug on the program. Like many of their teammates, the Mullervy bothers found out about the team's demise when they read the news online.
"We kind of knew something was coming," Kevin Mullervy told Cyclingnews at the time. "The management said keep tight, and then we found out that night. Management got in contact right after the news was released and said the story wasn't supposed to be released for two days after that, so they could contact us. The story went out early, I guess."
Kevin Mullervy and his brother started a "RallyMe" campaign to keep their pro cycling dreams alive and then signed with Champion Systems' domestic elite team for 2013 in the hopes that they could bring in the results that would earn another pro contract.
Mullervy specifically targeted results at the "big money" criteriums as a way get back on a professional team, but he's also hoping to build his stage racing prowess as well. To that end, he'll race the Roswell Criterium Sunday evening and then skip the remainder of the Speed Week races in favor of racing the 27th Tour of the Gila May 1-5 in Silver City, New Mexico.
"It's a big win, and Speed Week is still going on, but my main goal is to try and do some stage races," he said. "[Gila] will be my first UCI [stage] race, so I think it will be good to go and get some stage racing legs, hopefully."
Breaking the Blue Train
In five tries so far this season, no team or rider had been able to break the stranglehold UnitedHealthcare had put on the domestic peloton. Multiple finishing options combined with a dedicated and well-oiled lead-out train made winning criteriums look almost easy for the third-year UCI Pro Continental team. But a combination of cunning and luck put Mullervy in the perfect position to end UnitedHealthcare's streak at one of the most prestigious criteriums on the calendar.
About two-thirds of the way through the 80-lap event, Mullervy escaped the bunch with SmartStop-Mountain Khakis' Frank Travieso and UnitedHealthcare's Carlos Alzate, a former Exergy teammate of Mullervy's and the recent winner of the Sunny King Criterium in Alabama.
Mullervy hoped making it into a promising breakaway with two strong sprinters from the peloton's two most prolific criterium teams would ensure him at least a spot on the podium in third. But Alzate's initial lack of commitment to the move put that podium spot in doubt.
"Carlos wasn't really working at first; he was kind of sitting on, I noticed," Mullervy said. "He would pull through, but not as long or as hard as Frank and I. I figured either he's going to sit on and he's going to beat us in a sprint, or they're going to bring us back, and UnitedHealthcare is going to win either way."
But with just 17 laps remaining the trio's advantage had ballooned to 33 seconds. By then Alzate was firmly committed and Mullervy was once again thinking of the podium. When Travesio started easing up with about 10 laps remaining, Mullervy said, Alzate picked up the slack.
"I knew he wanted to bring it to the line," Mullervy said. "I was like, 'Alright, here we go.'"
Alzate's increased efforts put the group within reach of nearly lapping the field with eight to go, and the trio's lead looked like it would remain intact to the finish line. That's when the two sprinters started a little too much cat-and-mouse for Mullervy's liking, so he put his head down and dug deep, hoping to catch the other two off guard but not yet thinking about the win.
"I thought maybe they'd catch me in a few laps and I could hop on and stay for third," he said. "I don't know, but they just kept looking at each other, and tactically they screwed up. I played my right cards and put my head down and kept it to the line."
After picking his way through a final-lap crash in the main field, an exuberant Mullervy crossed the line arms aloft for the biggest win of his career.
"Hopefully I'll catch the eyes of a few managers," he said of the win. "My goal is to get back on a pro team, obviously, and hopefully this will open a few doors."