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2013/07/31 Eric Young adds another national championship victory on the Challenge Strada
The Optum p/b Kelly Benefits Strategies men went 1-2 this weekend at the US Pro Criterium Championships on Challenge Strada Special Edition tires at 105psi. Lauren Hall took fourth in the women's race on Strada Special Editons at 100psi. The Strada and Crono S.C. tires have supported 17 professional national road championships podiums and seven championships this season in Britain, Belgium, Canada, Germany, the United States and New Zealand. Boasting 13 of those podiums, the 25mm Strada rolled six national champions to victories.
Miguel Martinez also claimed 9th in the Vallnord World Cup cross-country race on Challenge MTB ONE tires.
Eric Young (Optum Pro Cycling) claimed the second US Pro Criterium title of his nascent career with a perfectly timed sprint on a new course in High Point, North Carolina, beating his teammate and defending champion Ken Hanson, with UnitedHealthcare's Jake Keough in third.
Young told Cyclingnews that winning the stars and stripes jersey was different this time around when compared with his victory in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "When I won in 2011, it was my first year as a pro and I didn't really understand what was happening. Now I know what it means to wear this jersey, so it's that much sweeter, and I am honored to be able to wear it for another year. I can't say how excited I am."
The 24-year-old attributed the victory to his team, which fought elbow-to-elbow with the dominant force in the US criterium scene, UnitedHealthcare, especially naming Alex Candelario for bringing him and Hanson into position for the critical final turn.
"The team did great," Young said. "UHC had the lead going into the last two corners, but Candelario brought Hanson and I perfectly into the last corner, and I had the momentum out of the turn and was able to hold everybody off."
Hanson agreed, happy that the team's strategy played out exactly as planned. "We got a little disorganized the last couple laps, because it was such a fight with UHC." Once in position for the fast, wide open final two turns, Hanson said, "Eric timed it perfectly out of the last corner with two bike lengths on us immediately. He timed it perfectly. He was incredible - I was happy to get second place.
"I told him before the race that as long as one of us gets the jersey, it doesn't matter who. We both had good days, and the way the timing and positioning worked out was in Young's favor. He had incredible legs and definitely earned the jersey. To get 1-2 was perfect."
One person not happy with the outcome was Jake Keough who, fresh off a stage win at the Tour of Qinghai Lake and part of the National Criterium Calendar leaders, UHC, had high expectations for himself and his team.
"I'm not happy. Not happy at all. We had a strong team here, I feel really good," Keough told Cyclingnews. "I just came from China and had a good week at home. We just wanted to win. It was a crazy last lap, and we didn't go fast enough and Optum did a good job passing us."
Keough found himself too far back coming out of the last turn and had to sprint from eight riders back in order to make the podium. "[Optum] did a good job, hats off to them - they are good riders, but we wanted to win. We don't have our real criterium team here, we're missing (Australians) Hilton Clarke, Karl Menzies and (Colombian) Carlos Alzate, and it shows."
Small field on a big venue
The town of High Point rolled out the red carpet for its first national championships, setting up an impressive venue for the figure-8 course with the Mendenhall station's awning covering a start/finish straight replete with bleachers and food and beer vendors. The spectators showed up, but unfortunately the majority of the pro peloton did not. Only 42 riders took to the start, with all but five members of either UHC, Optum, SmartStop/Mountain Khakis or Jelly Belly.
The first breakaway was initiated by Bissell's Frank Pipp, and he was joined by Chris Uberti (SmartStop), Kiel Reijnen (UHC), Mike Friedman (Optum) and Sean Mazich (Jelly Belly). It looked like a perfect combination to be let free to lap the field, but Reijnen started sitting on, and doomed the move's chances.
Uberti saw what was happening and launched a solo move that would stay away until inside the last 10 laps. "I never thought it would work, but when I saw I had 45 seconds with 10 laps to go, I started to think maybe," said the 26-year-old who quit a prime engineering job with General Electric to pursue full time bike racing. "I was just working for the team, following the early moves, but when I was out there solo the crowds were cheering so loud, it helped to keep me going."
Uberti was caught a few laps later when UHC put its workers Chris Jones and Lucas Euser on the front, but soon Optum threw a wrench in the plans when Scott Zwizanski went solo off the front with 7 to go. He built up 15 seconds before Jelly Belly came to the fore and helped to close it down.
UHC and Optum battled side by side for control heading out for the last lap, but luck, timing and momentum were on Optum's side, and the rivalry finally swung toward the orange and black team in the final meters.
Yet one can't help but wonder if things might have been different had a normal-sized criterium peloton actually showed up to race.
"The venue is great, the course is great, but I hope we get a bigger participation from the Americans next year," Hanson said. "It was the smallest field ever, and that was kind of disappointing. I don't know if it's timing with other races, but I think if we get more riders, and have a more competitive field it will be better for cycling. The course is great, the venue is great, the crowds were great, we just need more of us.
"We want it to be competitive, and it certainly was in the end. The last few laps were just insanely fast because it wasn't that fast early on. It was about as gnarly and fast and chaotic as it can get in the last two corners. It's a good thing nobody went down - we were going bar to bar through the corners. But it was good and we're happy - 1-2 can't be better."
Young speculated that many teams have riders training at altitude for the Tours in Utah and Colorado. "It was a bit of a weird dynamic today. I think everyone knew it was going to be a bunch sprint in the end, so we waited until the last lap and a half to hit out really hard. There's always a bit of luck involved, I felt good, but you have to have the right position, momentum and you never know what's going to happen."
1 Eric Young (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 2 Kenneth Hanson (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 3 Jacob Keough (UnitedHealthcare) 4 John Murphy (UnitedHealthcare) 5 Charles Huff (Jelly Belly Cycling) 6 Andrew Dahlheim (Bissell Cycling) 7 Shane Kline (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) 8 Sean Mazich (Jelly Belly Cycling) 9 Frank Travieso (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) 10 Freddie Rodriguez (Jelly Belly Cycling) 11 Isaac Howe (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) 12 Alexander Candelario (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 13 Luke Keough (UnitedHealthcare) 14 Thomas Brown (Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) 15 K Frank Pipp (Bissell Cycling)
For the men, a field sprint
In the men’s race a more traditional script was played out, with all escapees being dragged back to the main field before the final moments of racing took place. Out of an early break, former Michigan state criterium champion Chris Uberti (Team SmartStop-Mountain Khakis) made a good show of strength.
“I just kind of rolled off the front, and I got a gap right away.” Uberti said following the event. “I felt good, and then I realized that I had (built up) 1:10 really fast. I just wanted to take it as far as it could go. But it was a long race, and with 10 laps to go the field started to ramp it up.”
Uberti, who was riding for teammate Shane Kline, knew that the longer he remained out front, the longer his team could rest in the field behind him. But the UnitedHealthcare squad, somewhat diminished by not having its full complement of non-U.S. riders, wasn’t willing to abandon its trademark strategies. The team dominated the front of the chase and soon had Uberti back in the ranks. A counter-attack from Scott Zwizanski (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) was short-lived, and then it was Jelly Belly’s turn to wrestle for the front of the race.
With laps ticking down, however, things became a bit chaotic, and Optum’s Eric Young knew that his team’s pre-race plan was ready to be put into effect.
“Things got a little disorganized, but all along we really wanted to wait until the last lap and choose our moment.” said Young. “We tried to hit them on the backstretch. Tom Soladay did a great job there. Then Alex Candelario, Ken Hanson and I got a good inside line going into the final turns. That gave me good momentum coming into the last stretch.”
Young catapulted himself to a win ahead of Hanson and Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare). It was one of the few times this season that the dreaded “Blue Train” hasn’t taken the top step of the podium.
“We really haven’t really had our lead out team together in crits much this year.” Young said. “We won two stages at the Tour of Korea and that was kind of the start of it, and we did well in BC Superweek too. For a guy like me that’s the way I want to build up to things like this and Elk Grove, so I was pretty confident we could beat them.”