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USA Crits Series - NE
USA and Canada, April 26-September 25, 2008
Race 1 - April 26: Athens Twilight Crit, Athens, Georgia
Bahati, Larson knock out speed week opener
By Laura Weislo in Athens, Georgia
Set in the college town of Athens, Georgia, the Athens Twilight Criterium has been a mainstay of east coast racing for decades. Beginning in 1980, the fast four-corner race has built a mythic reputation as being one of the hardest events, and one of the most prestigious wins a rider can put next to his or her name. After 90 minutes of furious racing, Rock Racing's criterium specialist Rahsaan Bahati emerged as the victor in another classic edition of the race.
The 26-year-old Bahati blasted off the wheel of Sebastian Haedo (Colavita / Sutter Home) to take a stunning victory in the fast, crash-filled race. Remaining patient and well-positioned as attack after attack flew away in the final 20 laps, Bahati avoided a late-race wreck and then used his expertise in the corners to move onto the right wheel coming into the critical final turn.
"I had a sense of calm coming into the race, and I didn't try to force anything tonight," Bahati explained after one of his career's biggest wins. "I've been struggling with injury for the past few months, and I decided to just let the race unfold and hope things went my way."
Bahati, whose Rock Racing team was undermanned with just three riders in contrast to other teams like Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast and Colavita Sutter Home, who did not have to split rosters between the criteriums and Tour de Georgia, but they executed a perfect strategy by getting into the main break of the day with Australian pursuiter Peter Dawson.
"My race is to go off the front and try to lap the field or win from a break, and Rahsaan's is to sprint, Justin as well," explained Dawson. "So my being off the front took a whole lot of pressure off those guys - they could just follow the wheels all day. It's such a fast race that's all you really need to do. It's fantastic for Rahsaan to finally get a big win and for myself and Justin to play a part in it is just great."
The race began well after sunset, and a large, nervous field was shattered by several early crashes, one of which took down last year's winner, Mark Hekman and two of his Toshiba-Santo team-mates. "It was a rough night - I'm the only guy on the team that didn't crash," said Toshiba's Keith Norris. "Every other guy went down and had some sort of injury, so it kind of took the whole team out of contention. We tried to get together and do as much as we possibly could as we had left at the end, but we were all in rough shape."
In the chaos of the early laps, a break of three slipped off the front containing Colavita's Kyle Wamsley, 19-year-old Ben King (Kelly Benefits) and Rock Racing's Peter Dawson, a four-time World Champion for Australia in the team pursuit.
The breakaway got within a straightaway of lapping the field, but as the peloton shed the dead weight through crashes and attrition, the teams finally coalesced to drive the chase down to 15 seconds behind the leaders with 20 laps to go. "The problem was I was the only guy who was fast in the sprint in the group, so Kelly didn't want it to stay away," Wamsley explained. "We were just out there taking primes, and I knew we had Sebastian [Haedo] in the field, so we could just let our guys sit in and rest and put the pressure on the other teams to chase.
"They said we had 20 seconds to the back of the field at one point and we really started going hard, but not everyone had the legs to do it, so we didn't make it unfortunately." The break was reeled in with 16 to go, and several different groups of riders tried to launch a counter-attack, but each time one team was missing - either Health Net, Toshiba, Kelly Benefits or Colavita, and the field sprint was inevitable.
"I didn't want Sebastian to have to expend any energy, so after I sat on for five or six laps I just stayed at the front - once you get 20 or 30 guys back in this race you never see the front again - so I just stayed at the front and covered a little bit, then found some extra energy for the sprint to get him on the podium," Wamsley continued.
With five laps remaining, the Kelly Benefits team took control of the lead-out along with Colavita, but a crash disrupted the organization. Wamsley and his Italian team-mate Davide Frattini avoided the wreck and were able to gain the front on the last lap. "Kelly had the front coming into one to go, and Davide was in front of me," Wamsley explained. "I just looked at Davide and said, 'just get me to the hill on the back side and I'll take it from there'. So he brought me to the top of the hill and I sprinted all the way to the last corner so Sebastian could have a clear shot at the line."
The plan nearly worked, but on the long finishing straight, Haedo's sprint was interrupted, and the focused and powerful Rock Racing rider, Bahati, was able to capitalize on the distraction to move up into position and take the sprint victory. "I took the front from the last corner, which is a long way to go," Haedo explained through an interpreter. "Bahati is good in the corners, he's fast - and passed guys in the turns every corner on the last three laps. He was one or two riders behind, and when he jumped for the sprint, one rider came from the right side and cut over, and I had to brake and jump again."
Haedo, the brother of Team CSC's Juan Jose Haedo, showed that he shares his sibling's talent by re-starting his sprint and still powering to second place. Ken Hanson (California Giant Berry) was a surprise third. The 2007 Downer's Grove Pro-Am winner got ahead of Canadian Keven Lacombe (Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast) to take the final podium spot.
Larson sprints to home-town win
Former Gainesville, Florida resident Rebecca Larson (Aaron's) gave her newly adopted home-town crowd a thrill by taking her first Athens Twilight victory. A first year PhD student at the University of Georgia, Larson made the winning break of five that held a solid half-lap advantage on an ever shrinking field in the second half of the race.
The 27-year-old then carried on the team's trend of winning the Athens Twilight by out-sprinting Catherine Cheatley (Cheerwine) and Jennifer Wilson (Vanderkitten) to the line. Jacquelyn Crowell (Kenda Tire) and Tiffany Cromwell (Colavita) rounded out the breakaway.
"I countered one of Meredith Miller's attacks, I just went hard through a turn and saw Catherine Cheatley with me," Larson explained how the break was established. "We were all working pretty evenly, and I was surprised they let it stick."
As one of the fastest sprinters in the move, Larson drove the break in order to ensure that the other riders would cooperate even if they felt they were at a disadvantage for the finish. "I wanted to just drive it because I have good fitness to go with the break, and wanted to win for the home town crowd," Larson said. "We've won this race the past two years, and it's important to the sponsors to keep the tradition rolling. We're really excited!"
The race began just before sunset on an unusually warm, humid spring evening, and was fast from the gun thanks not only to the prime called from the start line, but three more lap prizes called within the first twenty minutes of the race. "The racing pretty animated tonight between Aaron's and Cheerwine looking to create moves. Different things were forming, and the one that Cath was in was the right mix - all the teams were represented, and the field had whittled down quite a bit by that point," explained Cheerwine's Laura Van Gilder. "There wasn't much power left in the field, and with the teams not having to chase, it was up to individuals to try to bridge that gap."
The catch never would come, and despite three riders from a previous move being pushed back into the new breakaway after they had crashed, the five riders up front worked through the confusion and contested the final sprint fairly. "There was an initial break, then a bit of a crash, then that move came back together and another went clear. There were five us in the break - then next thing we know they're pushing three girls into our break," explained Colavita's Tiffany Cromwell. "In the end we managed to sort it all out."
Cheatley was the first to jump coming into the final turn, but was unable to lose the speedy Larson, who powered to the win to the delight of the home crowd. Cheatley held off Vanderkitten's Jennifer Wilson, who was a bit of an unknown quantity in the move. Wilson was understandably excited with her best result ever. The 36-year-old former professional ballet dancer is in her fourth year of racing, and after a previous best result of second in the Valley of the Sun criterium in 2007, took fifth in the Garrett Lemire Grand Prix earlier this month. "My team-mate was in the first break, but then she crashed, and we caught the break right after that," Wilson explained. The California resident followed the wheel of Cromwell into the move, and despite the elite company rode her way onto the final podium spot.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Dennis Johnson
Elite men 1 Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing) 1.39.19 2 Sebastian Haedo (Colavita Sutter Home) 3 Kenneth Hanson (California Giant Berry) 4 Lacombe Keven (Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast) 5 Jeff Hopkins (Team Inferno Pro Cycling) 6 Kyle Wamsley (Colavita Sutter Home) 7 Jake Keough (CRCA/Sakonnet Technology U25) 8 Dave Guttenplan (TIME Pro Cycling) 9 Mike Stoop (TIME Pro Cycling) 10 Devon Vigus (California Giant Berry) 11 Gustavo Artacho (Colavita Sutter Home) 12 Kyle Gritters (HealthNet p/b Maxxis) 13 Mauricio Henao (Clinica Union) 14 John Parra (Toshiba-Santo) 15 Frank Travieso (Toshiba-Santo) 16 Adam Myerson (TIME Pro Cycling) 17 Gerardo Castro (Richmond Pro Cycling) 18 Yosvany Falcon (Toshiba-Santo) 19 Martin Gilbert (Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifa) 20 Gary Yates (Naples Cyclery) 21 Bruno Langlois (Myogenesis.com) 22 Seth Hansley (Locos) 23 Esteban Jukich (Richmond Pro Cycling) 24 Justin Williams (Rock Racing) 25 Rich Harper (Team Inferno Pro Cycling) 26 Rob White (ABD/Geargrinder Cycling Team) 27 Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo) 28 Jim Baldesare (Team Inferno Pro Cycling) 29 Josh England 30 Ryan White (ABD/Geargrinder Cycling Team) 31 Luca Damiani (Colavita Sutter Home) 32 Matt Decanio (Haymarket Bicycles) 33 Davide Frattini (Colavita Sutter Home) 34 Ryan Mele (Richmond Pro Cycling) 35 Josh Carter (ABD/Geargrinder Cycling Team) 36 John Durango (Toshiba-Santo) 37 Oscar Clark (Kudzu.com U23) 38 Dirk Pohlman (Texas Roadhouse) 39 Justin Beard (Black Sheep Cartel) 40 Carlos Alzate (Toshiba-Santo) 41 Owen Nielsen (DLP Racing) 42 Jackie Simes (TIME Pro Cycling) 43 Andy Jacques-Maynes (CalGiant) 44 Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast) 45 Christan Helmig (Metro Volkswagen) 46 Christopher Ernst (Industry Nine) 47 Michael Norton (Calyon) 48 Casey Magner (Blue Competition Cycles) One lap behind 49 David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast) 50 Ben King (Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast) 51 Cheyne Hoag (CRCA/Sakonnet Technology U25) Elite women 1 Rebecca Larson (Aaron's) 55.32 2 Catherine Cheatley (Cheerwine Cycling) 3 Jennifer Wilson (Vanderkitten Racing) 4 Jacquelyn Crowell (Team Kenda Tire) 5 Tiffany Cromwell (Colavita/Sutter Home) 6 Tina Pic (Colavita/Sutter Home) 7 Kelly Benjamin (Cheerwine Cycling) 8 Anna Lang (Aaron's) 9 Laura Van Gilder (Cheerwine Cycling) 10 Shontell Gauthier (Colavita/Sutter Home) 11 Samantha Schnider (Calanta) 12 Erica Allar (Aaron's) 13 Allyson Brandt (Cheerwine Cycling) 14 Sarah Caravella (Tibco Pro Cycling) 15 Jenny Trew (Vanderkilten) 16 Taitt Sato (ValueAct Capital) 17 Jacqueline Kurth (Team Kenda Tire) 18 Shannon Koch (Metro VW) 19 Kristin Sanders (Aaron's) 20 Tamyra Barnard (Herbalife) 21 Holli Steelman (Juice Plus/NC cycling) 22 Cheryl Fuller (Reality Bikes & Skateboards) 23 Leigh Valletti (Vanderkitten Racing) 24 Meredith Miller (Aaron's) 25 Dana Martin (Peachtree Bikes) 26 Monique Hanley (Team Type 1) 27 Nicole Bossie (Hincapie-Barkley) 28 Julie Bishop (Team Bents) 29 Kacey Manderfield (Verducci/Breakaway) 30 Robin Farina (Cheerwine Cycling) 31 Kathryn Clark (Team Kenda Tire) 32 Ashley Anderson (FCS Cycling / Metro VW) 33 Kirsten Davis (Sorella Cycling/BVM Engineering) 34 Melissa Sanborn (Vanderkitten Racing) 35 Catherine Powers (Aaron's) 36 Hannah Banks (ValueAct Capital) 37 Casey Gale 38 Kele Murdin (Team Vanderkitten) 39 Laura Bowles (Advil/ChapStick)