The US Pro Criterium Championships this year move to High Point, North Carolina for a two-year stint after bouncing around the Great Lakes area since leaving Downers Grove, Illinois after 2009. The most recent incarnation looks to be one of the most spectacular and innovative set-ups in criterium history: even if the race is hit by the expected afternoon thunderstorm, the finish stretch will stay dry thanks to its placement underneath the huge awning of the Mendenhall Station.
With the creation of the National Criterium Calendar (NCC), the men's and women's pelotons are well-practiced at the discipline. NCC series winner Erica Allar (Care4Cycling) is on strong form, coming fresh off back-to-back victories at the Prairie State Series, but Laura Van Gilder and Theresa Cliff-Ryan have been showing good legs lately as well.
As an Australian, the men's NCC series leader Hilton Clark is not eligible to race, but his UnitedHealthcare train will be difficult to beat. Jake Keough is fresh off his biggest win, a stage of the Tour of Qinghai Lake, but may struggle with the jet lag. His brother Luke will be fresh to step up to the plate, but the New Englanders could be closely challenged by the scrappy underdogs, SmartStop/Mountain Khakis, Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies with defending criterium champion Ken Hanson, the ever-present Hincapie Devo riders or the Jelly Belly team with criterium specialist Brad Huff and US Pro road champion Fred Rodriguez.
The brand new course is relatively flat and fast, with a figure-eight configuration and mostly wide open, well-paved roads. The route narrows after the start/finish line, taking a quick left, then a tight right turn onto a narrow road, followed by a short climb that could provide a launching pad for attacks.
However, it's still a long way to the finish from that section, and the run-in is filled with wide roads and fast turns, which will allow lead-out trains to become assembled for an expected bunch sprint finish.
Racing starts for the women at 4:50pm EDT, with the men taking the stage at 6:40pm.
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