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U.S. National Criterium Championships - NE

Downer's Grove Village, Illinois, USA, August 18-19, 2007


USPRO, elite criterium nationals back in Chicagoland

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Downers Grove, Illinois

Hilton Clarke and Brad Huff in 2006
Photo ©: Jonathan Devich
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For the past twenty-one years the fastest riders racing in America have made their way to Downers Grove, a western suburb of Chicago, to contest the most prestigious criterium of the year -- the USPRO and elite national championships. As it has always been, the professional men's race is open to all UCI professionals, allowing all of the speed specialists to compete. And while the prize money may have been usurped by races in Charlotte and nearby Elk Grove, the tradition surrounding this race, along with the stars and stripes jersey, make this a key event for anyone racing in the States.

For the USPRO championship, Brad Huff (Slipstream-Chipotle) will try to repeat his national championship -- and this time perhaps as the overall winner. Last year's winner Hilton Clarke (Navigators Insurance) is a questionable starter, suffering from an injury. But not to worry, there are plenty of other names on the start list that could easily take the win. Toyota-United's Ivan Dominguez is back from injury and is up to speed, winning last weekend at Elk Grove. Frank Pipp (Health Net-Maxxis) is the best American hope on the team, especially after winning in Charlotte.

However, two Health Net Aussies are going rather well these days, namely Karl Menzies and Rory Sutherland. This is where the 'open' format makes things interesting. Go for the win, go for the jersey, or both? Some teams like Health Net and Slipstream have this option, while teams like Toyota-United and Kodak Gallery-Sierra Nevada, with Canadian sprinter Dominque Rollin, have a better chance at only the overall win.

Rahsaan Bahati (Rock & Republic)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
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Then there are the unknown factors, like the Rock & Republic team, made up of all criterium specialists. Rahsaan Bahati has already netted two tough criterium wins this year with the CSC Invitational and the Manhattan Beach GP. Also on the team is the current elite national champion, Kayle Leo Grande. However, Leo Grande was noticeably absent from the big money race at Elk Grove, with the team mentioning a possible leg problem. No word yet if Leo Grande will be racing at Downers Grove.

Pic totally airborne.
Photo©: Dave Schneider
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Speaking of elites, the women's race is one of the more exciting events of the year. The race is practically named the Tina Pic Classic, for how many times the Colavita-Sutter Home rider has won this race. However last year, that streak was interrupted by a mishap in the short-chute before the final turn between Pic and Laura Van Gilder (Cheerwine) -- allowing Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Verducci Breakaway) to take the biggest win of her career.

Look for Pic to be back and exceptionally motivated to take her stars and stripes jersey back, especially after winning in Charlotte. But also motivated will be Laura Van Gilder, who has a strong criterium team surrounding her. The team swept last week's Elk Grove podium and are firing on all cylinders. Other teams with candidates for a win are Aaron's Corporate Furnishings with Kat Carroll and Jen Mcrae (Advil-ChapStick).

Notably absent from the race will be the majority of TEAm Lipton, who are racing with the US national team in Europe.

Brad Huff (Mercy) wins the elite criterium
Photo ©: Mark Zalewski
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Finally, the elite amateur men will be contesting the other national championship. The names might not ring a bell... yet, with an emphasis on the 'yet.' The past three elite champions: Kayle Leo Grande, Brad Huff and Keith Norris all currently ride for professional teams. Winning in Downers Grove is a quick ticket to a pro contract.