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'World's richest criterium' draws strong field to Charlotte

By:
Neil Browne

Race moves to April from traditional August calendar slot

Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team) wins the 2011 Charlotte Presbyterian Criterium.

Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team) wins the 2011 Charlotte Presbyterian Criterium.

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Billed as the world’s richest criterium, The Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium returns to downtown Charlotte, North Carolina on April 14th. The elite men are battling for a $50,000 cash prize list while the elite women vie for $25,000 on the 1.3 mile circuit. In addition to the prize list, there is almost a constant bell ringing for cash prime laps in both elite races. The elite men will be racing for 50 miles and the elite women for 25.

The course is barbell shaped – a long straightaway that completes with a square at each end, which brings the racers back through the start/finish area in an opposing direction each lap – making for repeated spectator viewing.

Traditionally the race has been held during the summer with accompanying high temperatures and humidity. This year the race’s date has been changed to take advantage of cooler spring time weather. Regardless of the previous sweltering weather conditions it was estimated that 35,000 people have lined the course during the race. With the change in the date race organizers expect more spectators.

The Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium is part of USA Cycling’s National Criterium Calendar (NCC) as well as USA CRITS national series. That, in addition to the lucrative prize purse, makes the Charlotte race an important event for many domestic squads.

Last year Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare) won the men's race in a tight sprint against Jonathan Cantwell (V Australia, now racing for Saxo Bank) with Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home) crossing the line in third. This year Keough returns to Charlotte after a successful campaign at the Tour of Langkawi with four top-10 placings and a 23rd in the Belgian mid-week Scheldeprijs race. He’ll be backed by criterium specialist teammates Hilton Clarke and Karl Menzies.

A spoiler could be Keough’s own brother, Luke, who rides for Team Mountain Khakis presented by SmartStop. According to his team manager Adam Myerson, Luke hasn’t lost a field sprint this season.

While last year’s women’s champion Theresa Cliff-Ryan (racing for Exergy Twenty 12) isn’t on the start list, 2011’s second place finisher Laura Van Gilder of Mellow Mushroom/Rose Bandit Racing will be in attendance and without Cliff-Ryan she is considered a top threat.

Team NOW and Novartis for MS has reigning national road race champion Robin Farina taking the line in Charlotte. Her teammate and former Canadian national criterium champion Anne Samplonius is also part of the squad.

The Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies team is bringing a squad that has plenty of strength such as Jade Wilcoxson and Courteney Lowe.

The night’s other attractions include fixed-gear racing on the Red Bull Mini Drome – the world’s smallest velodrome.

For the fifth year the Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium is raising funds and awareness for the Brain Tumor Fund for the Carolinas, a local not for profit organization.