The National Racing Calendar (NRC) and the USA Crit Series will make a combined stop at the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational held on Saturday night in Charlotte, North Carolina, featuring top level races for both men and women. The following day the NRC continues at the nearby Hanes Park Classic.
The Charlotte criterium will give the fastest sprinters in the nation, including defending champions Alejandro Borrajo (Colavita-Sutter Home) and Katharine Carroll (TIBCO), a chance to duke it out against their respective fields for prizes upwards of $75,000.
"Yes, I feel good," said Borrajo. "In the last couple of races before this I have felt very good and so has my team. We are confident that we can make a good race again."
Money is not the only attraction to the event. The criterium draws in the top cyclists who are searching to accumulate points toward the NRC series and the USA Crit series.
NRC series runner up Sebastian Haedo (Colavita-Sutter Home) will be looking to move closer to the top spot in the rankings, currently held by time trial specialist Tom Zirbel. Though Zirbel will not be in attendance, Haedo can expect a battle from third placed Rory Sutherland (OUCH p/b Maxxis).
"It's important for Sebastian to win too," Borrajo admitted. "We are close in the individual points so it's important for us to move up. We want to win the overall team and try for the individual -- We need as many points as possible."
Last year the criterium fell in conflict with the Tour of Elk Grove, which resulted in teams splitting their squads in two directions. According to Borrajo, now that the races are on different weekends he does not think this will make Saturday night's criterium any harder.
"No, I think it will be the same last year," Borrajo said. "There were very fast riders last year. The best crit riders always come to this race so the level is the same. The problem is the race is only six riders per team instead of eight, so we need to be more attentive to the breakaways."
The men will compete over 80-kilometres around a technical circuit held on Charlotte's downtown city streets. The event is expected to attract more than 35,000 spectators who will watch in anticipation of which team will win the men's $50,000 purse. The US National Criterium Champion Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing) will be in attendance and will no doubt have his eyes set on the top prize.
Other notable riders include the recent Tour of Elk Grove winner Karl Menzies (OUCH p/b Maxxis), Ken Hanson (Team Type 1), Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefits Strategies), Brad Huff (Jelly Belly), USA Crits series leader Thomas Soladay (Mountain Khakis), Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling), Jonathan Cantwell (Fly V. Australia), Kevin Lacombe (Planet Energy) and Emile Abraham (Aero Cat Cycling).
On the women's side, a prize list of $25,000 is up for grabs. Current US Criterium Champion Brooke Miller and her teammate, US National Road Champion Meredith Miller (TIBCO) will team up with Carroll to nab a second consecutive victory.
"I love this race and I'd like to get the win again, but as long as one of us gets on the top step that's all that matters," said Carroll. "I think that we've got a great team who can participate in breaks, cover moves or sprint for the win and race any kind of race it ends up being. We'll try to race aggressive and put pressure on other teams."
TIBCO will field a team of six riders to defend the title. However, another important goal is to collect NRC points toward the overall team competition of which they sit in second place behind the leaders Team Type 1.
"The team NRC is a competition is something that we want to win and since there are all criteriums left this season, we have a good shot at getting some solid points."
Other criterium specialists ready to race include 2007 race winner Tina Pic (Colavita-Sutter Home) and USA CRITS points leader Laura Van Gilder (Mellow-Mushroom), Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Verducci-Breakaway), Erica Allar (BMW-Bianchi), Jen McRae (Team Type 1), Joelle Numainville (Team Kenda), Rebecca Larsen (Value Act Capital) and Laura Bowles (Vanderkitten).
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 tumours.