American Kirk O'Bee (HealthNet-Maxxis) took the USA national criterium title after finishing second behind Canadian Martin Gilbert (Kelly Benefit) at the USA Cycling Professional Criterium Championships in Downers Grove, Illinois August 19.
In the elite women's race, Tina Pic (Dahlonega, GA/Colavita-Sutter Home-Cooking Light) sprinted to her fifth career title in the women's race, while Daniel Holloway (Lonlord, CA/VMG Racing-USA Cycling National Development Team) earned a victory in the men's contest.
O'Bee, who won the international race outright in 2001, placed second overall on Sunday but was the first American across the line to secure the title ahead of Health Net-Maxxis teammate and third-place finisher Shawn Milne (Gloucester, Mass.).
In the elite men's race, Holloway, one of the core members of USA Cycling's National Development Team program, won the field-sprint finish ahead of Josh Carter (Fairview Heights, CA/ABD Cycling Team) and runner-up Tom Soladay (Bethesda, MD/Kelly Benefit Strategies).
After winning four straight titles from 2002 to 2005, Pic regained the national champion's jersey after taking the field sprint ahead of Jen McRae (Austin, TX/Advil-Chapstick) and Anna Lang (La Jolla, CA/Karl Strauss-SDBC).
How the men's pro race unfolded
O'Bee finished second in the race in a photo finish with Gilbert (Kelly Benefit Strategies), but as the top American, earned the right to wear the jersey during criteriums for the next year. Teammate Shawn Milne finished third.
"The rain had a pretty dramatic effect on the race," noted Health Net-Maxxis directeur sportif Jeff Corbett. "Our strategy was to avoid crashes, keep it upright and save a bit of gas for later in the race."
The strategy worked well, with teammates Tim Johnson and Rory Sutherland covering moves, and Doug Ollerenshaw hunting for a break to join.
O'Bee noted that the race was fast from the gun, with the peloton strung out for much of the 62-lap, 100 km criterium. "I wasn't able to make my way up to the front until there were 25 laps to go," he said.
Despite losing their main threat for the race, Dave McCook (Kelly Benefits) was still motivated. With 12 laps to go, they took over on the front of the bunch and began working for Gilbert.
"Kelly did a great lead-out," O'Bee said, "but they ran out of guys with about one lap to go."
At that point, Darren Lill (Navigators) and Dominique Rollin (KodakGallery-Sierra Nevada) were off the front, though Kelly Benefits had brought the gap down to around five seconds.
From there, HealthNet took over, with Frank Pipp hitting the front and shutting down the break for good. "Frank did a great job closing the gap," O'Bee noted.
Teammate Karl Menzies took the reins from Pipp and hit the gas. "He was going so hard he nearly dropped me," O'Bee said. "I just tried to follow him."
But Gilbert was also there, and made it first to the final hard-left turn with 150 meters to go.
"I was right behind Gilbert, but maybe I was a bit too conservative going through the corner," O'Bee recalled. "I knew I had the jersey since Gilbert was Canadian and I had Shawn on my wheel. I just didn't want to wash out."
O'Bee's caution gave Gilbert four or five bike lengths coming out of the turn, the same gap O'Bee had on Milne. O'Bee kicked it and closed the gap, but in the bike throws on the line, Gilbert held on for the win by just the width of a tire.
Though O'Bee was happy to have won the jersey, he felt a bit disappointed over not winning the race. "Everyone worked so hard today," he said. "I'm really proud of the guys. They were selfless. Karl was unbelievable the last 10 laps. He kept me out of the crashes. He definitely had the legs to win today, too.
"I had really good legs as well coming in this week," O'Bee continued. "It's really disappointing not to get the win after the guys worked so hard."
Rain made the technical course hazardous, with crashes taking out some of the top contenders for the win, including Ivan Dominguez (Toyota-United), Rasaan Bahati (Rock Racing) and last year's jersey winner Brad Huff (Slipstream-Chipotle).
"This was by far the hardest USPro I've ever done," O'Bee said. "It's never rained this much before."
Only 52 riders finished the race, including all eight members of the Health Net squad.
2007 USA Cycling Elite and Professional Criterium National Championships
Downers Grove, Ill. August 19
1. Martin Gilbert (CAN)
2. Kirk O'Bee (Ada, MI)*
3. Shawn Milne (Gloucester, Mass.)
4. Alex Candelario (Stateline, NV)
5. Antonio Cruz (Long Beach, CA)
*USA Cycling Professional National Champion
1. Daniel Holloway (Lonlord, CA)
2. Josh Carter (Fairview Heights, IL)
3. Tom Soladay (Bethesda, MD)
4. Steve Tilford (Topeka, KS)
5. Kirk Albers (Upper Arlington, OH)
1. Tina Pic (Dahlonega, GA)
2. Jen McRae (Austin, TX)
3. Anna Lang (La Jolla, CA)
4. Samantha Schneider (West Allis, WI)
5. Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Cedar Springs, MI)
© BikeRadar 2007