Tom Soladay and the Team Mountain Khakis crew are proving to be a formidable forces at the USA Crits 2009 Speed Week Series. Two consectuive wins - the latest at the Beaufort Memorial Classic after winning the Historic Roswell Criterium on Sunday - has Soladay in the series lead. It also begs the question: can they clinch a hat-trick at the Downtown Walterboro Criterium? Stay tuned.
Soladay attacked with three laps remaining in the race and, despite desperate attempts by various riders to bring him back, powered away to register yet another stunning victory that catapulted him into the Speed Week series lead.
How it unfolded
The Beaufort course is one of the most technically challenging, with some very narrow sections, coupled with off-cambre corners. The first corner was one that riders were diving into and, if you were up near the front, riders from behind were getting ‘argy-bargy’ and bouncing off other riders to move up.
Early work by Canadian speedster Andrew Pinfold (OUCH) set the early tempo that had the entire field strung out on lap two. Soladay rolled off the front with Pinfold for a brief three-second lead before they were reeled back. Mark Hekman (Mtn. Khakis) attacked and won the second prime of the race. His burst of speed broke up the field even more, and large numbers of riders popped out the back.
A mid-race prime, taken by Frank Travieso (Champion Porsche), created a breakaway of five strong riders including Luca Damiani (Colavita/Sutter Home), Ken Hanson (Team Type 1) and David Guttenplan (Mt. Khakis). They rolled away and worked well together to maintain a slender lead of 10-15 seconds on the peloton.
The pack was being driven by Fly V Australia, OUCH and Kelly Benefits, which needed to bring the break back into the fold and set up for a field sprint. With 14 laps remaining, the catch was made and an attack was launched by Ryan Anderson (Kelly Benefits), but they didn't stay away for long.
In the dying minutes of the Beaufort Memorial Classic, a flurry of attacks was launched, but nothing stuck. An exciting finish was in the cards. The crowd was stunned when Tom Soladay launched his superman attack and powered the three final laps on his own, taking the $450 Gambler’s prime along the way.
In a post-race interview, Soladay described the situation just before he launched his successful attack. "It was a controlled panic. I had to be full on immediately. I knew I had the legs to keep my speed to the finish, but it was a gamble whether or not the field could bring me back." He paid strong tribute to his Team Mountain Khaki squad. "They are a strong team that allowed me to ride aggressively with no hesitation," he said.
During the last three laps, it was up to other teams to take control of the situation and only Champion Porsche, with Frank Travieso, was drilling it on the front going into the final lap. But they had left it too late.
Aussie Karl Menzies (OUCH), who took second place, commented that their four-man hit squad had a couple of guys pull out, and OUCH did the best they could given the circumstances. "John Murphy gave me a great lead-out that allowed me to unleash with 500 metres to go," Menzies said. He added that Team Mountain Khakis were definitely very strong, but they also had the numbers, with eight of them present.
The reigning Australian National Criterium Champion, Bernie Sulzberger (Fly V Australia), rode impressively to finish 4th despite a slow start to the race that had him near the back of the field. To move up like that and to be in contention at the finish shows his class. Hekman (Mtn. Khakis) came around Sulzberger right at the line to claim the 3rd podium spot behind Menzies.
The aggressive racing, combined with the technical, tight course and the uneven surface ensured only the strongest and street smart would survive. There were only 44 finishers out of the more than 100 riders who started the race.
For live-updates on all the races, you can follow USA CRITS announcer Chad Andrews’ twitter on TotalCyclist. The Downtown Walterboro Criterium is next up in the USA CRITS Speed Week Series Wednesday night.
High tempo and attacks make women's race
Kelly Benjamin and her Colavita/Sutter Home teammates took advantage of a smaller women’s field and the absence of Team Tibco, which was competing elsewhere due to sponsorship commitments, to secure a satisfying win. Colavita and its Tuesday rivals produced some exciting racing for spectators who were gathered around the short, super-technical circuit that went straight through the picturesque Beaufort village.
In the final stages of the race, it looked like a flier by Kori Seehaffer (Team Type 1) was going to seal the victory after her attack with four laps to go. However, Kelly Benjamin bridged the four-second gap with two laps left, and the pair worked together to ensure they stayed away from the charging peloton.
To ensure a result for herself, Seehaffer needed to work with Benjamin for as long as possible. Benjamin, being the stronger sprinter of the two, took the win easily in the final stretch. Tina Pic (Colavita/Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light) took the bunch sprint to place third.
How it unfolded
With a first lap prime worth $100 - nabbed by Tiffany Pezzullo (DFT p/b TREADS) - the pace was kept fairly high in the women's race. Constant attacking, punctuated with timely primes to keep the women motivated helped them maintain the high tempo and after approximately 10 laps Laura Van Gilder threw in a massive attack that caused mayhem in the bunch.
When she was caught, quite a number of riders had been dropped. A mid-race prime for sprint points was taken by Van Gilder, and she took advantage of the momentum created to roll out front with Melissa Sanborn (Vanderkitten), Benjamin, and Seehafer in tow.
This was too threatening a break for the peloton to let go; it was chased back relatively quickly. Many unsuccessful attacks were launched by different teams, but the pack was all together with six laps to go. Then a late race attack by Seehaffer created the winning duo. Van Gilder took fourth behind Pic, followed by Sanborn.
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