New course expected to shake up the 2015 Athens Twilight

For a race as storied as the annual Athens Twilight Criterium, the 35th anniversary of the event has a few tweaks thrown into the mix that are sure to add a new dimension to the occasion, including a new course. Dan Holloway (Alto Velo-SeaSucker) and Tina Pic (Pepper Palace Pro Cycling) are set to return with the hopes of defending their respective titles in the elite categories this Saturday in Athens, Georgia.

Cyclingnews will host live streaming coverage of the 2015 Athens Twilight Criterium on Saturday, April 25th.

“We had to significantly alter the course for this year,” said Athens Twilight founder Gene Dixon. “Because of some construction the city will be undertaking, we’ll be racing on some different streets for 2015.”

The traditional Athens Twilight course, which featured a fairly tough climb on the back stretch that riders had to tackle throughout the race, has been extended by a couple of city blocks.

There will be plenty of veteran racers in both the men’s and women’s fields, but those who are returning to Athens, Georgia this weekend are bound to find the that race dynamics have shifted.

“No two ways about it… this is a huge deal,” says race announcer Chad Andrews.

Andrews has called the past 10 editions of the Twilight and has witnessed almost every facet of competition that the race can throw at a pro bike rider – except for a change in the course.

“You can be strong, but the added distance on the hill is going to break some of these people, and I think we’re almost certainly looking at a breakaway happening this year. And with the distance being just .6 miles (.96km) this time around, riders will have to be on the lookout for the field being potentially lapped.”

Another unexpected twist to this year’s proceedings will be the inclusion of the Maloja Pushbikers squad. Hailing from Irschenberg, Bavaria, the Pushbikers are normally found on the track, where they are a recognized force in the Euro speed and stamina circuit. The team includes Christian Grassman, a German champion/medallist in the Madison discipline and an ace Six-Day rider.

Grassman, who also won the Harlem Skyscraper Cycling Classic criterium in 2010, will have the added firepower of American track racer Bobby Lea going into Twilight.

“In the right breakaway, he’s straight up dangerous,” Andrews said. “And when it comes to the finish, he can go from a long ways away because he’s an established endurance track racer. He could attack solo with two or three to go.”

Another factor for 2015 race may be the weather. Rain is forecast for Saturday’s main event and it will be the first time in several years that Twilight riders could face the streets of Athens in the rain. If that’s the case, Andrews said the list of favourites should now include local rider Frank Travieso (Team UnitedHealthcare of Georgia / The 706 Project) and Canadian rider Ryan Aitcheson (Astellas Cycling Team).

“Aitcheson was in a break during the Novant Health crit in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago with Mac Brennan of the Hincapie squad and three UnitedHealthcare riders, and he was able to hang on and take third. And they were trying hard to drop him and just couldn’t. He’s just really strong.”

The same could be said for Dan Holloway (Alto Velo-SeaSucker), who took the top step of last year’s podium.

“Getting the best of these changes is going to come down in many ways to bike handling and Holloway is just excellent when it comes to that.”

On the woman’s side of the event, the race is setting up to be a classic showdown between veterans and young talent. There was a time, not too long ago, when Tina Pic and Laura Van Gilder dominated the circuit, extending to Pic's win last year, but every year there are new riders fighting to establish themselves, as was shown in the US criterium championships last weekend.

Athens Twilight is followed by the USA CRITS Speed Week Series – four additional criteriums that take the pro peloton through the Southeast over the following six days.

Races included in the 2015 edition include the Historic Roswell Criterium, the Park Circle Criterium in North Charleston, SC, the Downtown Walterboro Criterium, and the Spartanburg Regional Classic. Apart from the general fatigue of so much racing over the following week, Andrews feels that the varying characteristics of these events forces riders to recalibrate on several levels.

“They start off with such a big race like Athens, and then they have to refocus and recalibrate for the rest of the week immediately after. All the other courses are unique and challenging but they’re not like Athens…especially this year.”

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