“If you get into a break and you are not the fastest sprinter, shut it down” – this was the mentality going into the USA Professional Criterium National Championships in Greenville, South Carolina on Saturday afternoon.
“We wanted to win from the break,” said Team SmartStop sporting director Michael Creed.
Team SmartStop excelled in Greenville with team member Eric Marcotte adding to his USA Professional Road National Championships win with another national title. USA Cycling has confirmed that Eric Marcotte is the first rider to hold both the Road and Criterium professional national titles at the same time.
The rain had held off for the afternoon, as Team SmartStop fielded seven riders in the professional race including Marcotte, Travis McCabe, Shane Kline, Julian Kyer, Bobby Sweeting, Evan Huffman and Travis Livermon.
With such a small field of only 39 riders in total, everybody knew it was going to be a battle of who could get into the breakaway and from there, which teams were going to take over control of the race.
For the first 45 minutes, the race was a constant change of who was in front and who was trying to escape from the main peloton, until a break of 17 riders, including four from United HealthCare Pro Cycling, four from Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies, two from Hincapie Pro Cycling and Marcotte, Kline and McCabe for Team SmartStop.
The 17 riders very quickly established a gap of 20 seconds and with Sweeting, Kyer, Huffman and Livermon controlling the peloton, the team was happy with the situation they were in.
The foursome in the peloton worked tirelessly to ensure the large breakaway group did not come back together with the chase group through either lapping the field or them falling back and reconnecting with the lead riders.
“It took a lot of responsibility from the guys at the back to feather the gap,” said Creed, “I kept telling them to slow down, speed up, it was changing almost every lap and they did a really good job with that.”
“We wanted the break to go, and we wanted to win from the break and we didn’t want it to lap, we wanted to make it a really hard day out there for everybody and we wanted to draw every team out,” Creed added. “They did just that.”
Within ten laps to go Optum’s Tom Soloday went off solo and created a small gap that never really reached out beyond 15 seconds to the main breakaway group. Hincapie’s Oscar Clarke attacked within the final five laps as well as Optum’s powerhouse, Tom Zirbel.
But with two laps to go it was all back together and the race to cross the finish line first was on.
“Setting it up, just like we did last year at road nationals and man, I held it again. Just like when I attacked on the final lap, there was a moment of hesitation on the rest of the teams and United HealthCare still had four guys who were strong and wanted us to go but it was a little bit too late at that point and we didn’t want to burn a couple of matches so we ended up kind of playing it to United HealthCare’s favor,” Marcotte said in his post-race interview.
“It is pretty special, I mean, again like last year it’s got to settle in a little bit too, this is the second criterium I’ve done since June last year, so we haven’t done too much of these,” Marcotte said. “It was pretty good, it makes you proud, all the hard work you’ve done and how everybody was involved in making it happen.”
On Sunday, Team SmartStop competed in its first Team Time Trial at the USA Professional Team Time Trial National Championships, finishing in fourth place overall.
The criteria set by USA Cycling meant that American Trade Teams were allowed to include foreigners in their line up despite this being a USA National Championships race. Team SmartStop’s six-man team included Zach Bell, Rob Britton, Kris Dahl, Evan Huffman, Travis McCabe and Bobby Sweeting.
Despite having not ridden a Team Time Trial together previously the team rode incredibly well and smooth, having not made any major mistakes that Creed could see from the follow car.
Hincapie Racing Team won the National Championships with a time of 37:24, Optum Pro Cycling was second coming in at 37:31, United HealthCare was third finishing in 38 minutes. Team SmartStop slotted in fourth with a time of 38:13.
Team SmartStop has the Team Time Trial World Championships in September as a major goal for the 2015 season and will work on their technique as the year goes on, this will be helped with both the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and Tour of Alberta hosing a Team Time Trial this year.
A six-man team now heads from Greenville to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the Joe Martin Stage Race starting on Thursday with a 2.5km individual time trial.
Omer Kem serves as general manager of Team SmartStop. Team members include Zach Bell, Chris Butler, Rob Britton, Kristofer Dahl, Evan Huffman, Flavio de Luna, Shane Kline, Jure Kocjan, Julian Kyer, Travis Livermon, Eric Marcotte, Travis McCabe, Bobby Sweeting and Juan Pablo Villegas. Based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the team is sponsored by SmartStop Self Storage and managed by Premier Sports Partners.