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USPRO Criterium Championship - 1.3

Chicago, USA, August 17-18, 2002

Startlist    Schedule and results    Photography


By Chris Baldwin, Cyclingnews correspondent

The US Criterium Championships are upon us again, and once again Chicagoland is bracing for some jet-fired racing on the streets of Downers Grove. All the top teams are sending full squads for Sunday's event, as the Stars and Stripes Jersey in on the line.

No course changes are in store over the 8-turn route, and the men will lay down two solid hours of speed in the 100k race. $4000 goes to the overall men's winner, and the first American citizen across the line will be the 2002 USPro Criterium Champion.

Last year's overall winner Harm Jansen, a citizen of Holland who races in the US, has come back and will by no means be a slouch on the couch come Sunday. His Saturn Team Director Jim Copeland expects much from the Dutchman and the rest of a very strong squad.

"Mark McCormack was 5th last year and came really close. He's in good form now, really fit, and I expect him to be in serious contention. Ultimately we are coming to win the bike race, but to win the Stars and Stripes jersey would just be that much better," he told Cyclingnews.

The 2001 USPRO Criterium champion, Navigators' Kirk O'Bee, who was recently relegated from his placing in the 2001 First Union USPro Championship due to a high testosterone/epitestosterone ratio (t/e)*, will not be racing for the Navigators team.

Certainly a major bummer for his team, but no reason to throw in the towel altogether, as Olympic gold medallist Marty Nothstein and Russian speedster Vasilli Davidenko will be right there to pick up the slack. Most other teams fear the Russian rider immensely, and will make sure to cover his every move when the whip comes down.

"There's a lot of really strong teams this year," said Davidenko. "So it's hard to say what could happen. Last year we won the jersey, but this year our goals are a bit different. This year we want to win the race, whether it's a Canadian, an American, a Russian, or a New Zealander who's first across the line. If there's a break, or if the one incline splits things up, then that will be the decisive moment in the race and we will be there to cover it."

Prime Alliance intends to send Jonas Carney to the front for the sprint finish, though their squad will be short a rider, as Chris Horner recently broke his collarbone in Oregon. Neo-pro Alex Candelario has proven a quick study this year, learning to ride aggressively in the pack and where to be when it comes to providing a lead out for Carney. Team manager Kirk Willett said he is also concerned about the overall team standings this year.

"The tightest battle is between Mercury and us. We're ahead, but Mercury is right behind by 160 points. (Mercury riders) Chris Wherry and Gord Fraser both had wins last week, and with Henk Vogels as the fastest lead out man in the peloton, they will have the biggest impact on the race," said Willett.

Mercury manager Thurlow Rogers, still grinning from Chris Wherry's win in Colorado at the Saturn Classic, has lots of confidence in Canadian Gord Fraser, whom he calls "the master of the field sprint."

"Obviously (Saturn rider) Ivan Dominguez is hot, and he showed us what he can do in a 100k race in New York, but Mercury won four times last weekend. Wherry in Colorado, Gord at Manhattan Beach, Plamen Stoyanov on Sunday won in Denver, and Bryce Jones in Kansas City. I'm looking for Gord in the sprint, and if he can get away with Chris Wherry then we can get into the jersey, too."

US Postal is sending a six-man squad to Downers Grove, with hometown riders Kenny Labbe and Robbie Ventura at the fore. US Time Trial Champion Dylan Casey, Euro-Peloton Super-Domestique Matt White, Sea Otter speedster David Zabriskie, David Clinger and NYC cameraman Tony Cruz will also be there. Smaller in number than the other teams, Postal is still a contender for the finish.

"It's our strongest team ever," said Labbe. "It's the highlight of my racing season and the gem of the American criterium scene. It's a hometown race and its one of those rare times I get to show up with a pro field in Chicago in front of family and friends."

"Criteriums are always tricky, and you can never predict Downers Grove," said his teammate Ventura. "All the teams have the power to chase, and everybody has a guy they can send to the front for the win. Gord, Plamen, Vogels, Carney, Prime Alliance's David McCook and John Peters, the McCormacks and Ivan Dominguez, Nothstein, Davidenko, even Schroeder Iron has Hilton Clarke. Races are getting faster, and American racing is getting better overall. You can't just sit in anymore and save your legs for some power at the end. You have to be powerful and fast."

There are other championship races on tap as well this weekend. Elite men and women race early Sunday for their titles, as do handcyclists and inline skaters. Saturday's 6pm men's pro-am should see cloudy skies with a chance of thunderstorms, while the weatherman promises highs in the 70s and clear horizons for Sunday's main event. Cyclingnews will have full race results and interviews right after the race.

(*Navigators' PR person Ray Cipollini advises that O'Bee "has not tested positive for any banned substance. He's agreed to the suspension only until the USADA can determine the reason behind the abnormality. His testosterone levels are normal, and so far it has not been shown that he has done anything wrong. He is still undergoing a medical evaluation to determine if it's due to a physiological problem.")

Event Schedule & Results

Day 1 - August 17

Day 2 - August 18