Big money attracts top sprinters to Charlotte

Race organizers of the National Racing Calendar (NRC) Presbyterian Hospital Invitational Criterium are offering a total of $75,000 to the professional category events on July 30 in Charlotte, NC. The Pro-Cat 1,2 women will be led by defending champion Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita-Forno D'Asolo) competing for a $25,000 purse and Jonathan Cantwell (V Australia) will line up to defend his title in the Pro-Cat 1 men's race for a purse of $50,000.

"This year's field is very, very good," said event promoter Thad Fischer. "We have several past winners attending and teams' A-squads are here. We reached our field limit fast in the men's race and unfortunately had to turn a lot of riders away. We expect good races again this year."

At the start of the season the International Cycling Union announced that it would permit Professional Continental teams to compete in NRC criteriums that were added to the UCI Criterium Calendar. The men's field will include UnitedHealthcare with a strong sprint squad including last year's runner up Jake Keough. Team Type 1-Sanofi Aventis's Joe Eldridge and Alex Bowden will participate along with several of its development riders.

"We have always had Continental and Pro Continental teams here so the idea of them not being allowed to compete was frankly unacceptable," Fischer said. "Major events in the US must have the best riders possible attend. I am not in agreement with American teams, owners and sponsors having strict goals of going to Europe to compete. We need big events, support from the federation and incentives to keep them here."

Other strong contenders sure to make an impact on the 125-ride men's field include Patrick Bevin (Bissell), who placed third last year, Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home), Cole House (, Tom Soloday (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth), Luca Damiani (Kenda/5-hour Energy), Luke Keough (Mountain Khakis p/b Smart Shop), Mark Hekman (Clevland Clinic Sports Health), Christian Helmig (Elbowz Racing) and Emile Abraham (AeroCat-Cycling).

On the women's side, Colavita-Forno D'Asolo will field a strong team that also includes Kelly Benjamin and Leah Kirchmann. However, they will have some tough competition from rival UCI team Tibco-To the Top that will field Samantha Schneider, Joelle Numainville and Emma Mackie.

"I would really like to win it two years in a row but we have a really great team coming," Cliff-Ryan said. "We can go either way, by making it a hard race and being prepared for a sprint. It is the biggest prize all year, next is Liberty Classic. I think a lot of teams and riders will register on the day and it is usually a big field because the event promotes the women with a big prize purse, not quite the same as the men, but it is still the biggest on the calendar."

Other notable sprinters registered to compete in the event includes US National Road Champion Robin Farina (Now-Novartis for MS), Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom) and Erica Allar (RideClean).

The event is embarking on its eighth-year anniversary and Presbyterian Hospital has titled the event for the previous four years while Volvo & University Volvo play a role as the official pace car. The dumbbell-shaped race course remains the same as in the previous two years with the riders coming through the finish area twice per lap and four corners on each end. The Pro-Cat 1, 2 women will compete for a total of 40km and the Pro-Cat 1 men will race for 80km.

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