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As Australian track specialist Ben Kersten (Fly V Australia) celebrated winning a bunch kick on the streets of Downers Grove, years of promise came to fruition for John Murphy (OUCH p/b Maxxis), who captured his first US national criterium championship. The first American to cross the line beat countryman Tony Cruz (BMC) for second, consequently taking the stars and stripes.
"It's the first time I've won the national championships and I've been waiting a long time for this," said Murphy. "My preparations went really well and I was waiting for my peak to come around this year. I'm really happy to have this. It's a big success for our team and for me."
The winner of the US Pro Championships criterium is not always crowned the national champion and the open-style event offers two races; one for Americans vying for the title and the other for foreign riders aiming at capturing a win for their domestic trade teams. Kersten is known as a kilo expert, being the current Commonwealth Games champion. His palmares makes him one of the most experienced and fastest sprinters in the field, despite a lack of teammates at Downers Grove.
"I've got a good track background but not enough of a road background," said Kersten. "I knew the bigger teams would want a sprint finish and that worked out. I didn't have a race radio so I had no idea how far ahead any of the breaks got. I just trusted the professionalism of teams like OUCH and Kelly. [Rashaan] Bahati came through the last corner about 100 miles an hour and I knew I couldn't follow that, it was too risky. He crashed and I ended up first out of that corner and went for it."
The only rider in the field that can top Kersten's race experience is America's own Tony Cruz (BMC). Also riding without teammates, Cruz came to the championships in hopes of capturing a second national title on the 10th anniversary of his first win in 1999.
"I wanted to celebrate my 10-year anniversary by winning it again and it was close," said Cruz. "I love this race so I'll come back and try again next year. It's the bragging rights of having the national championships jersey. For me, this is kind of the race that launched my career as a professional. It put me on the map in the US and it was the platform for my career. I have a lot of good memories here."
Like Cruz's example, Downers Grove is romanticised as a career-building criterium that solidifies bigger and better contracts the following year and a place for American talents to get noticed. Defending Champion, Rashaan Bahati is one of those riders who concluded a successful 2008 season by winning the national title and shot up into criterium stardom.
Bahati raced impeccably despite the rain, the crashes and the threatening breakaway. He moved to the front of the field before the final turn with Kersten, Murphy and Cruz on his wheel, in perfect position to defend his title. His speeds proved too fast under slick and wet conditions and he slid out of the final corner.
"I was in the midst of all of those crashes," said Cruz. "I stayed out of the way because you can tell the guys who can and can't ride in the rain and there's a lot of guys who can't ride in the rain. I've been doing it for the last 10 years and I was very comfortable. I saw Bahati take that corner so fast and I knew he was going to crash. He went for it, all or nothing and he pretty much got nothing. My whole thing was timing because I knew he was going down and that there were guys coming through. Murphy was able to squeeze ahead and I couldn't come around."
Kelly Benefit Strategies also came up short, placing Jake Keough in fourth, but not for a lack of trying. The squad initiated several of the day's breakaways and went on to display an organised lead-out train that began with seven laps to go for sprinter Alex Candelario. The train disjoined on the penultimate lap and three of its riders, including Candelario and Keough, continued forward while the other three sat up.
"My teammates did a really good job controlling the front and we all just wanted to stay out of trouble," said Candelario. "David Veilleux attacked and we had a bit of a gap so we tried to go as hard as possible to minimise the field sprint. A crash caused the front group to slow down and reorganise. I lead it out into the second to last corner but Rashaan crashed in the last corner and that caused my foot to unclip and the sprint was over."
Karl Menzies (OUCH p/b Maxxis) found himself between the chaos and latched onto the back of the three leaders waiting for his teammate Murphy to regain contact. The front group of some 15 riders came back together to include Kersten, Cruz, Bahati, Candelario, Sebastian Haedo and Alejandro Borrajo (Colavita-Sutter Home), Adam Myerson (Mountain Khakis) and Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), among others.
Menzies crashed with half a lap to go, causing a second split in the front group. That didn't effect Murphy's position in the front, however. "It was such a crazy finish," said Murphy. "With the rain the roads were wet and it was all about keeping it up right. I scooted through a lot of crashes and had a good sprint. All my teammates rode spectacular today. We wanted a bunch kick and the plan was to work for me in the sprint. We used Bobby [Lea] and Roman [Kilun] to keep all the early moves in check and saved Andrew [Pinfold] and Karl for the lead-out."
Rain causes criterium championship chaos
Thunderstorms delayed the start of the men's championship criterium by one hour. Announcers quickly rolled through the list of rider call ups and sent the peloton on their way to start the 100km criterium. The winds died down but intermittent rain kept the roads slick however, causing several big crashes throughout the day.
Luis Amaran (Colavita-Sutter Home) highlighted the criterium with a solo breakaway lasting almost 70km. Thomas Soladay (Mountain Khakis) followed Amaran early in an attempt to bridge across but never made it the full distance. Amaran continued on alone and came within a mere 30 seconds of lapping the field mid-race.
The peloton was hard pressed to put together any kind of organised chase but the gap to Amaran was reduced primarily by those riders desperate to bridge across. Michael Creed (Team Type 1) and Dan Bowman (Kelly Benefit Strategies) successfully made it across with 20 laps to go. Ouch p/b Maxxis took the responsibility to bring close down the move, setting up Coalvita-Sutter Home for another round of attacks.
"We had a great race today, with Luis in the first move for more than half the race and the Borrajos in the second move to go for the win," said Sebastian Alexandre, Colavita-Sutter Home directeur. "They were in the break all day and that is what we wanted to see. Of course we wanted to win but in the end our sprinters were stuck behind the crash and that is bad luck... but the team raced awesome today."
This time it was brothers Alejandro and Anibal Borrajo, plus Ryan Anderson (Kelly Benefit Strategies) who escaped from the field. The pair of brothers worked together to gain distance while Anderson sat in, absolved of responsibility to work because his team formed a chase from the field. Kelly Benefit Strategies closed the deal, in midst of setting up an early lead-out.
"It's always disappointing not to win a race," said Candelario. "Our team has been riding really well lately and Keough and I had a really good shot at the win. But Rashaan fell down and that's just the way it goes."
As the racing heated up with seven laps to go, the slick conditions caused crash upon crash and the field dwindled to a mere 25 riders. Many key sprinters still represented their teams in the front group but only several of them had enough firepower to support a lead-out.
Kelly Benefit Strategies continued a tight hold over the pace setting to ensure the speeds were high enough to deter attacking. The front group separated several time en route to the finish line because of crashes however the top three on the day managed to weaver their way through the chaotic finish to contest the final sprint for the overall win and the national title.
|1||Ben Kersten (Fly-V Australia)||2:24:29|
|2||John Murphy (Ouch Presented by Maxxis)|
|3||Tony Cruz (BMC)|
|4||Jake Keough (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|5||Adam Myerson (Mountain Khakis p/b EPNO)|
|6||Jacob Rytlewski (Kenda Pro Cyling p/b Spinergy)|
|7||Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|8||Andy Jacques-Maynes (BISSELL)|
|9||David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|10||Ken Hanson (Team Type 1)|
|11||Reid Mumford (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|12||Ryan Anderson (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|13||Alejandro Borrajo (Colavita Sutter Home)|
|14||Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Colavita Sutter Home)|
|15||Luis Amaran (Colavita Sutter Home)|
|16||Chad Burdzilauskas (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|17||Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly)|
|18||Valeriy Kobzarenko (Team Type 1)|
|19||Roman Kilun (Ouch Presented by Maxxis)|
|20||Isaac Howe (Mountain Khakis p/b EPNO)|
|21||Mike Creed (Team Type 1)|
|22||Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing)|
|23||Luca Damiani (Colavita Sutter Home)|
|24||Davide Frattini (Colavita Sutter Home)|
|25||Brad Huff (Jelly Belly)|
|26||Aldo Ilesic (Team Type 1)|
For more about this week's racing see Cycling News HD