US-based Continental teams are gearing up for the next National Racing Calendar (NRC) stop at the Sunny King Criterium held on April 17 in Anniston, Alabama, with race organisers anticipating a showdown between the top sprinters in the nation.
"We are glad to again host the best criterium specialists in the country to Sunny King," said the event's technical director, Curtis Cupp. "With the past three winners in the Pro 1 men's field and another top women's field, the competition should be fierce. We hope the world will watch all the action live on our web site."
Hundreds of competitors will line up at the top of a gradual incline to start the racing. The one-kilometre, four-corner course is notorious for being fast, with an uphill drag to the finish line followed by a long descent on the back side of the circuit.
UnitedHealthcare will return with defending champion Karl Menzies (pictured above) and a six-man support crew that includes Eric Barlevav, Matt Crane, Jonny Clarke, Jacob Keough, Andrew Pinfold and Adrian Hegyvary.
"It will be a great race this year," said Menzies. "It's a good race and extremely well organised. I've been racing there for four years, every time the race has been great. It receives good coverage with video, and it's all very professional. They put on a great show.
"It looks like it could be a smaller field but quality over quantity. All the fastest guys in the country at the moment will be there, by the looks of the startlist, so it should be a hard race."
Menzies explained that UnitedHealthcare's participation in the event, "started out with Jonny Clarke, who wanted to do a race and we originally weren't sending a full squad but everyone jumped on board and we ended up having a pretty good team going.
"We have a strong team heading there so it gives us a lot of options to have numbers in a break. Also if it's a bunch kick we have great sprinters for the finish as well," he added.
Other UCI Continental outfits competing include the 2009 NRC winning team Jamis-Sutter Home p/b Colavita with its sprinter Ivan Dominguez and 2007 race winner Frank Travieso. The Bahati Foundation will field 2008 race winner Hilton Clarke. Other notable teams and riders include Team Type 1's Alexey Shmidt, Fly V Australia's Ben Kersten, Mountain Khaki's David Guttenplant and Kenda Pro Cycling.
On the women's side, Team Vera Bradley Foundation's Erica Allar will no doubt want to capture her first NRC victory of the season. Colavita-Baci will field a competitive sprint duo Kate Bates and Theresa Cliff-Ryan. Notable outfits participating include Team Type 1, TIBCO and BMW-Bianchi.
Former winners of the women's race include defending champion Brooke Miller, Tina Pic is a two-time winner in 2008 and 2006 and Laura van Gilder won the criterium in 2007.
The event is one of the most spectator-friendly criteriums, with a Red Diamond Jumbotron located at the finish line near the expo area along with an annual Red Diamond Restaurant Tour and festival held throughout the day. The races will be shown live online via the Sunny King Criterium website: http://www.sunnykingcriterium.com/