Eric Young (Optum Pro Cycling) claimed the second US Pro Criterium title of his nascent career with a perfectly timed sprint on a new course in High Point, North Carolina, beating his teammate and defending champion Ken Hanson, with UnitedHealthcare's Jake Keough in third.
Young told Cyclingnews that winning the stars and stripes jersey was different this time around when compared with his victory in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "When I won in 2011, it was my first year as a pro and I didn't really understand what was happening. Now I know what it means to wear this jersey, so it's that much sweeter, and I am honored to be able to wear it for another year. I can't say how excited I am."
The 24-year-old attributed the victory to his team, which fought elbow-to-elbow with the dominant force in the US criterium scene, UnitedHealthcare, especially naming Alex Candelario for bringing him and Hanson into position for the critical final turn.
"The team did great," Young said. "UHC had the lead going into the last two corners, but Candelario brought Hanson and I perfectly into the last corner, and I had the momentum out of the turn and was able to hold everybody off."
Hanson agreed, happy that the team's strategy played out exactly as planned. "We got a little disorganized the last couple laps, because it was such a fight with UHC." Once in position for the fast, wide open final two turns, Hanson said, "Eric timed it perfectly out of the last corner with two bike lengths on us immediately. He timed it perfectly. He was incredible - I was happy to get second place.
"I told him before the race that as long as one of us gets the jersey, it doesn't matter who. We both had good days, and the way the timing and positioning worked out was in Young's favor. He had incredible legs and definitely earned the jersey. To get 1-2 was perfect."
One person not happy with the outcome was Jake Keough who, fresh off a stage win at the Tour of Qinghai Lake and part of the National Criterium Calendar leaders, UHC, had high expectations for himself and his team.
"I'm not happy. Not happy at all. We had a strong team here, I feel really good," Keough told Cyclingnews. "I just came from China and had a good week at home. We just wanted to win. It was a crazy last lap, and we didn't go fast enough and Optum did a good job passing us."
Keough found himself too far back coming out of the last turn and had to sprint from eight riders back in order to make the podium. "[Optum] did a good job, hats off to them - they are good riders, but we wanted to win. We don't have our real criterium team here, we're missing (Australians) Hilton Clarke, Karl Menzies and (Colombian) Carlos Alzate, and it shows."
Small field on a big venue
The town of High Point rolled out the red carpet for its first national championships, setting up an impressive venue for the figure-8 course with the Mendenhall station's awning covering a start/finish straight replete with bleachers and food and beer vendors. The spectators showed up, but unfortunately the majority of the pro peloton did not. Only 42 riders took to the start, with all but five members of either UHC, Optum, SmartStop/Mountain Khakis or Jelly Belly.
The first breakaway was initiated by Bissell's Frank Pipp, and he was joined by Chris Uberti (SmartStop), Kiel Reijnen (UHC), Mike Friedman (Optum) and Sean Mazich (Jelly Belly). It looked like a perfect combination to be let free to lap the field, but Reijnen started sitting on, and doomed the move's chances.
Uberti saw what was happening and launched a solo move that would stay away until inside the last 10 laps. "I never thought it would work, but when I saw I had 45 seconds with 10 laps to go, I started to think maybe," said the 26-year-old who quit a prime engineering job with General Electric to pursue full time bike racing. "I was just working for the team, following the early moves, but when I was out there solo the crowds were cheering so loud, it helped to keep me going."
Uberti was caught a few laps later when UHC put its workers Chris Jones and Lucas Euser on the front, but soon Optum threw a wrench in the plans when Scott Zwizanski went solo off the front with 7 to go. He built up 15 seconds before Jelly Belly came to the fore and helped to close it down.
UHC and Optum battled side by side for control heading out for the last lap, but luck, timing and momentum were on Optum's side, and the rivalry finally swung toward the orange and black team in the final meters.
Yet one can't help but wonder if things might have been different had a normal-sized criterium peloton actually showed up to race.
"The venue is great, the course is great, but I hope we get a bigger participation from the Americans next year," Hanson said. "It was the smallest field ever, and that was kind of disappointing. I don't know if it's timing with other races, but I think if we get more riders, and have a more competitive field it will be better for cycling. The course is great, the venue is great, the crowds were great, we just need more of us.
"We want it to be competitive, and it certainly was in the end. The last few laps were just insanely fast because it wasn't that fast early on. It was about as gnarly and fast and chaotic as it can get in the last two corners. It's a good thing nobody went down - we were going bar to bar through the corners. But it was good and we're happy - 1-2 can't be better."
Young speculated that many teams have riders training at altitude for the Tours in Utah and Colorado. "It was a bit of a weird dynamic today. I think everyone knew it was going to be a bunch sprint in the end, so we waited until the last lap and a half to hit out really hard. There's always a bit of luck involved, I felt good, but you have to have the right position, momentum and you never know what's going to happen."
|1||Eric Young (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|2||Kenneth Hanson (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|3||Jacob Keough (UnitedHealthcare)|
|4||John Murphy (UnitedHealthcare)|
|5||Charles Huff (Jelly Belly Cycling)|
|6||Andrew Dahlheim (Bissell Cycling)|
|7||Shane Kline (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|8||Sean Mazich (Jelly Belly Cycling)|
|9||Frank Travieso (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|10||Freddie Rodriguez (Jelly Belly Cycling)|
|11||Isaac Howe (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|12||Alexander Candelario (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|13||Luke Keough (UnitedHealthcare)|
|14||Thomas Brown (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|15||K Frank Pipp (Bissell Cycling)|
|16||Adam Myerson (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|17||Mac Brennan (Bissell Cycling)|
|18||Branden Russell (Team Novo Nordisk)|
|19||Bradley White (UnitedHealthcare)|
|20||Jeremy Powers (Jelly Belly Cycling)|
|21||Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare)|
|22||Jonathan Hamblen (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|23||Michael Friedman (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|24||Adrian Hegyvary (UnitedHealthcare)|
|25||Curtis Winsor (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|26||Christopher Monteleone (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|27||John (Jackie) Simes (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|28||Christopher Jones (UnitedHealthcare)|
|29||Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare)|
|30||Alexander Hagman (Jelly Belly Cycling)|
|31||Daniel Summerhill (UnitedHealthcare)|
|DNS||Edison Turner (Hincapie Sportswear Development Team)|
|DNF||Scott Zwizanski (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|DNF||Michael Sherer (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|DNF||Thomas Soladay (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|DNF||Jeremy Durrin (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|DNF||Christopher Uberti (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|DNF||Bobby Lea (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis)|
|DNF||Jeff Louder (UnitedHealthcare)|
|DNF||Thomas Wrona (Hincapie Sportswear Development Team)|
|DNF||Emerson Oronte (Jelly Belly Cycling)|
|DNF||Benjamin Wolfe (Jelly Belly Cycling)|