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Clarke and Cliff-Ryan return to defend overall titles
National Racing Calendar's (NRC) USA CRITS Speed Week seven-round omnium is set to kick off at the Terrapin Twilight Criterium held on April 30 in Athens, Georgia. Last year's omnium winners Hilton Clark (UnitedHealthcare) and Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita Forno D'Asolo) will return to defend their respective titles against the quality competition registered to race.
"I'm really excited to get back to criterium racing again because I love them," said Cliff-Ryan. "I'm trying to break into road racingm but I started with crits so I'm excited about that. I will only be able to do half of them because I'm going to the Pan American Championships in Colombia. But, we will have riders doing the whole thing. Winning the overall depends on how everything turns out. I think Colavita Forno D'Asolo will want to go for the overall title again, whether it's me again or one of my teammates, we will be very happy to win it again."
The series will start at the Terrapin Twilight Criterium and move on to the Historical Roswell Criterium held on May 1 in Georgia. Round three will take place at the Beaufort Memorial Classic held on May 3 in South Carolina. The high-speed racing will continue at round four's Downtown Walterboro Criterium held on May 4 in South Carolina and round five's Spartanburg Regional Classic held on May 6 in South Carolina. The last two rounds will include the Dilworth Criterium held on May 7 in North Carolina and the Global Imports Sandy Springs Cycling Challenge held on May 8 in Georgia. The Terrapin Twilight Criterium is also the first race on the USA CRITS Championship Series.
The two US-based UCI Professional Continental Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis and UnitedHealthcare will field riders to contest all seven rounds of criteriums. The teams are eligible to compete in NRC criteriums, which were added to the UCI Criterium Calendar, according to code 2.7.005. UnitedHealthcare looks to have the strongest team on paper with eight riders that include last year's overall standings winner Hilton Clarke, second placed Jake Keough and third placed Karl Menzies along with Clarke's younger brother Jonny and the young Dutch sprinter Boy Van Poppel. Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis will field five riders including sprinters Olaf Kerkhof, Alexey Shmidt along with Alex Bowden, Joe Eldridge and Ben King.
"This in particular group of guys on our team is coming to the criteriums fresh off of a stint of racing in Belgium and we are bring the first, second and third placed riders from last year's overall standings," said Jonny Clarke. "All the guys are super enthusiastic to compete in the US because it is the first time we've been back here this year."
The two teams will face some fierce opposition from strong US-based UCI Continental teams RealCyclist.com and its sprinters, 2007 and 2008 USA CRITS Championships Series overall winners Frank Travieso and Yosvan Falcon. Also in the mix are Kenda/5-hour Energy's 2010 USA CRITS Championship Series winner Isaac Howe and CSC Invitational Criterium winner Luca Damiani, Team Exergy's Carlos Alzate, Chipotle Development Team's Raymond Kreder and Bissell's David Williams.
Mountain Khakis p/b SmartShop will return with its sprinter Luke Keough. The team won the 2009 Speed Week team title along with the 2009 and 2010 USA CRITS Championship Series best team competition. Other strong sprinters include former US Pro Criterium Champion Rahssan Bahati (SKLZ-Pista Palace), Ricardo Escuela (Full Circle Racing), Emile Abraham (Aerocat) and Jamey Carney (Ride Clean).
The women's field is full of talent with UCI teams Colavita Forno D'Asolo fielding five riders that includes Theresa Cliff-Ryan and Kelly Benjamin, TIBCO-To the Top with five riders including Samantha Schneider and Jennifer Wheeler.
Strong sprint contenders include 2010 USA CRITS Championship Series winner Erica Allar and her teammate Laura McCaughey (Ride Clean). Tiffany Pezzulo (Primal/Map My Ride) took second place in the championship series last year and will return. Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom) won the championship series in 2009 and will line up to try and win the overall title again. The young New Zealand sprinter, Emily Collins (Vanderkitten-Focus) will contest her first criterium series.
The USA CRITS Speed Week evolved from a series of races on the Heritage Tour through South Carolina. It became USA CRITS Southeast Series however, in 2008 it was re-branded to USA CRITS Speed Week.
"We attribute the community participation to the series' success," said Ashley Travieso of USA CRITS Speed Week. "All the events on Speed Week are run by separate local promoters that are on the ground in each city, raising funds and awareness. Each community, government, businesses and citizens, has bought in to making their event and Speed Week successful. It's also of good value for the teams and riders on all levels with good crowds, good prize money, good racing, and a fun bonding experience-type road trip."