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July 19, 2003
Postal Pro Cruz-es to victory
By Casper Casparian
In a cameo, hometown appearance while on break from his European racing schedule, United States Postal Service rider Antonio Cruz pulled off a short-course victory at the inaugural Velo Club La Grange Brentwood Criterium on July 19, 2003.
Contained within the U.S. federal government’s Veteran’s Administration campus near UCLA, the .7-mile parallelogram-shaped course featured four turns, moderate elevation gain and challenging pavement.
Driving a five-man break shortly after the gun, Cruz and his escapees lapped the field, then sheltered themselves within the pack as the high pace, rising temperature and humidity and increasing wind took their toll, leaving only 19 riders to complete the race. Despite a late effort to catch up by protagonists and State Champions Thurlow Rogers (Monex-Hot Wheels) and Chris Walker (Velo RPM), the integrated pack stayed at bay, with Cruz crossing the line first.
"Although the course was pretty short, it was hot and the wind was a big factor," said Cruz, who will shortly resume his racing schedule with the New York City Cycling Championship and the Classica San Sebastian. "Guys would take five-to-ten second pulls and then find themselves over their threshold."
The race got underway with words from Club President Duncan Lemmon, who recalled the memory of Garrett Lemire, a former La Grange member who was killed in a racing accident at the 2003 Tucson Bicycle Classic in Arizona. A portion of each entry fee was given to the Garrett Lemire memorial fund. Cruz is also a member of the La Grange Club.
Shortly after the 90-minute race began, Cruz sprinted for a prime, and then kept going. He was soon joined by Eric Wochna (Velo RPM), Ryan Lane (Velo RPM), Richard Meeker (U.S. Postal Masters) and the Monex duo of John Wordin and Ryan Barrett, and the group immediately got in sync and put more than 20 seconds on the field.
Unrepresented teams failed to organize and the pace and the advantage of the leading group increased until Wordin, best known as the D-S for the Mercury pro team in years past, fell away from the break and took up blocking duties back in the pack. Even with primes offered just about every lap, the field couldn't stop the Cruz train from eating its tail, as the pack itself winnowed in size. At its peak, the temperature crept above 35-deg C, with unusually high humidity, and many of the initial 60 starters dropped off the pace.
"I felt I had an advantage in this field because I've been peaking for the trip back to Europe," said Cruz, who is also father of a newborn, said after the race. "One thing I noticed is that the local pros have a much faster jump [than I do], because they train and race differently." When asked how his training might differ from that of U.S. pros, Cruz responded, "My training consists of going just one speed: fast."
After the breakaway of five re-integrated with the field, ageless strongman Rogers - a veteran of the Olympic games and the Tour de France, as the announcer reminded the crowd - leapt from the group, with Walker joining up before Rogers disappeared. The two cooperated perfectly but were ultimately unable to come closer than 20 seconds from the back of the main group.
Meanwhile, back in the pack Josh Horowitz (Minute Maid/Dasani-La Grange) made a late solo effort to escape the field. His move lasted several laps but was ultimately brought to an end by Tony Cruz’s increased pace-making.
As they stayed away from the field, Rogers easily outsprinted the climber Walker for sixth place in their two-up finish.
Images by Casper Casparian
1 Antonio Cruz (USA) U.S. Postal Service/Berry Floor 2 Ryan Barrett (USA) Monex/Hot Wheels 3 Richard Meeker (USA) U.S. Postal Service Masters 4 Ryan Lane (USA) Velo RPM 5 Eric Wochna (USA) Velo RPM 6 Thurlow Rogers (USA) Monex/Hot Wheels 7 Chris Walker (USA) Velo RPM 8 John Wordin (USA) Monex/Hot Wheels