Fly V gets the better of the Sunny King field

Fly V Australia’s Ben Kersten and Roosters' Nichole Wangsgard prevail in the hard-fought Sunny King NRC race in Alabama.

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By Joe Silva

Fly V Australia’s Ben Kersten took an impressive victory at the eighth installment of the Sunny King Criterium in Anniston, Alabama, by outsprinting 2008 winner Hilton Clarke (Bahati Foundation). In the women’s race Nichole Wangsgard (Roosters p/b Edge Composite Wh) took the win ahead of Vera Bradley’s Carla Swart.

Bazzana opens sprint for Kersten

Bazzana lit it up on the last lap. Photo: B.D Andrews |

In a hard-fought race that saw most of the National Racing Calendar contenders vying for dominance, the 28-year-old rider got the best of fast men on the short uphill finish to the line. But it was the efforts of one teammate that the Australian track specialist credited for his success.

“I had one teammate that put it on the line down the back straight … Alessandro Bazzana. That made all the difference.”

Bazzana and Kersten had been part of a 15-man escape group that were able to achieve separation with 35 of 60 laps remaining in the NRC’s third round of the series. After several small and unsuccessful breakaway attempts Kersten knew this was the move to follow.

“And soon as I saw Karl Menzies (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) and Hilton Clarke (go), I knew that was the winning break so I jumped across,” said Kersten. “And there was a lot of disorganization and I thought it wouldn’t stay away, but the next five or tens laps after that they put the hammer down and that was enough to form the split. And then we just had a lot of momentum after that.”

That momentum not only held the 15 riders out in front of the remainder of the field as the laps ticked down, but it eventually brought them around the 0.7-mile course and back into the chasing group.

“I had no idea (we lapped the field) until we saw the back of them. I thought it was going to almost come back together because we were just playing around so much. But when I saw the back of the bunch, I started laughing because I knew it was going to get easier after that.”

That sentiment was echoed by Clarke’s teammate Rahsaan Bahati who felt that the team would be able to benefit from the reconsolidation of the two groups and the certainty of a field sprint.

“Jamis did a great job keeping the pace high along with our Nathan O’Neill,” said Bahati. “Hilton and I just wanted to stay together with Yosvany Falcon (Jamis-Sutter Home) from there, but that downhill over the second to last corner is pretty pivotal. We just lost each other there and Hilton was on his own coming into the last corner.”

Last year’s winner Karl Menzies’ UnitedHealthcare squad rode hard but missed out on the podium by two places.

“I was going to just play off of Kersten and Clarke because it was pretty hectic into the final corners, but then it was Bazzana who led it out. But this is always a great race no matter what. For me this year it turned out to be more about opening the legs up a bit and getting going again ahead of Twilight in Athens and Speedweek,” Menzies said.

Menzies, who was seen warmly shaking hands with Bahati at the start of the race, said that public perception surrounding the two men’s team is out of focus.

“From the teams’ perspective there’s not an issue.” Menzies said. “There are no hard feelings between us. The public has just been making it sound bigger than it is.”

Grumbling after women’s finish

There was, however, some mild grumbling following the women’s event on the part of Carla Swart (Team Vera Bradley Foundation), who came in second behind breakaway companion Nichole Wangsgard (Roosters p/b Edge Composite Wh). Swart felt that Wangsgard abruptly changed her line as the pair came to the line and unfairly denying her the victory.

“I do believe the rule is that you keep your own line during a sprint, and that was not the case (today). The referee said that he watched video and that nothing really came from it.”

While Swart and her teammates opted not to lodge a formal complaint, Wangsgard maintains that that was not the case.

“I knew that if she was going to pass me, I didn’t want her to pass me on the non-windy side, so I knew that when I was going to go, I needed to go on the right. I chose the right side, and that might have looked as if I was cutting her off but she three or four bike lengths behind me when I did that.”

Wangsgard and Swart had left the field along with Team Type 1’s Jackie Crowell with only 10 laps remaining in the hour-long race. The trio initially only established a 30-second gap, but once that grew Swart’s teammate rode on the front of the chase and ensured that no one else would threaten the trio’s advantage.

Riders that fell prey to that situation included Team Tibco and 2007 winner Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom) who returned to the race with the disadvantage of having only one teammate.

Since the trio up the road each knew each other’s strengths, they were content to work well with one another until the finale. But Wangsgard wanted to leave nothing to chance and got poised for an early attack.

“We were playing a little cat and mouse, but I didn’t want the pack to catch us. We had been going really slow on that backside, so I decided to attack them there. It was a big risk, but I was able to hold them off.”

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