- Pat Malach
Chicago-area stage race UCI-rated for first time
A five-rider Garmin-Sharp squad featuring Grand Tour veteran and hometown rider Christian Vande Velde will headline the UCI 2.1 Alexian Brothers Tour of Elk Grove, taking place August 3-5 in suburban Chicago.
This year marks the first time the race has achieved UCI status, and the field of 104 riders representing 14 teams reflects the upgrade. Garmin-Sharp's participation will be the first time a UCI ProTeam has competed in the event.
"Raising the bar to UCI 2.1 has been well worth the effort," said Tour of Elk Grove Executive Director Steve Hansen. "It's been hard work, but the field of competitors is the very best we've ever had. It will be a very exciting duel of the sprinters."
The race starts Friday with the 7.3 km time trial around Elk Grove Village to set the pecking order for Saturday's stage 2 road race, a 155km test in the same Elk Grove suburb. Sunday's stage 3 circuit race throws another 115 km at the riders before the finish.
Jamis-Sutter Home's Luis Amaran won the overall competition last year when the race was a USA Cycling National Race Calendar event. Elk Grove will continue as a three-stage NRC race this year for the women. Leah Kirchman, riding for Colavita Forno d'Asolo, won the women's overall last year and will return this year with the Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies team.
Garmin's Peter Stetina, Nathan Haas and Jacob Rathe, all of whom are scheduled to start the Tour of Utah just two days after Elk Grove, will join Vande Velde at this year's race, along with development team rider Tom Scully. They'll compete against riders from four UCI Pro Continental teams and nine Continental teams.
The relatively flat stages mean teams will be focusing on their sprint trains, and Pro Continental team UnitedHealthcare, which took two stages last year with Karl Menzies and Hilton Clarke, will return with those two riders plus Jake Keogh, who finished second to Clarke on the final stage in 2011. Robert Forster, Brad White, Jay Thomson, Jonny Clarke and Adrian Hegyvary complete UHC's roster.
Three other Pro Continental teams will be making their first appearance at Elk Grove. Chinese-based Champion System will be hoping Estonian fast man Jan Kirsipuu can bring home a stage win, while Kiwi Clinton Avery and six other teammates will be on hand to back him up. Team Type 1-Sanofi's eight-rider squad has a decidedly European flavor, but US rider Kiel Reijnen will be at the helm. Canada's Spidertech-C10 is bringing a full squad, including Discovery veteran Pat McCarty, who is looking for some late-season results after a slow start following a bout with mononucleosis.
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies leads the charge of Continental teams with an eight-rider squad led by newly minted US criterium champion Ken Hanson. Hanson will have the train that ushered him to the national championship leading the way at Elk Grove. The team will also have time trial specialist Tom Zirbel to take a crack at the stage 1 race against the clock.
Last year's winner, Amaran, who recently won the time trial stage of the Cascade Cycling Classic and wore yellow for one day, will return again with a full Jamis-Sutter Home team that includes the sprinting Borrajo brothers, Anibal and Alejandro. Bobby Sweeting, a 2011 stage winner who finished second overall after losing his lead to Amaran on the last day, will be back with Kenda/5-Hour Energy, which will have John Murphy, Isaac Howe and Shawn Milne on hand to finish off the road races. San Dimas Stage Race overall winner Andy Jacques-Maynes and Redlands Bicycle Classic champ Phil Gaimon could also figure into the overall.
Bissell Pro Cycling will have multiple riders who can finish fast after a long day on the road, starting with 2011 US criterium champion Eric Young. Frank Pipp and Paddy Bevin, recent winner of the Tour de Nez, could also pull off a result for the Continental team. Jelly Belly-Kenda will field an eight-rider team for the race, with fast men Brad Huff and Christian Kriek getting a hand from Jeremy Powers and others.
Team Exergy will bring a full line-up that includes Logan Loader, recent Cascade criterium winner Carlos Alzate and Canadian national criterium champion Ben Chaddock. Continental team EKO-Gaspesian from Canada will also field a full eight-rider team. SmartStop-Mt. Khakis will bring its National Criterium Calendar experience to the race, with Luke Keogh and Adam Myerson leading a seven-rider squad. Sterling Magnell's Wonderful Pistachios team has just five riders, including Higuma Yusuke from Japan.
UCI Pro Continental Teams:
Team Type 1-Sanofi
UCI Continental Teams:
Bissell Pro Cycling
Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies
Smart Shop-Mt. Khakis
EKOI/Gaspesien Pro Cycling Team