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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
With the USPRO Criterium Championship set for Sunday, VeloNews sat down with one of the favorites on the eve of the race, Canadian Gord Fraser of Mercury. Fraser won the event in 1999. In 2000, he finished second, setting up teammate American Derek Bouchard-Hall for the win and the national championship.
Who are your favorites? Who are you going to be watching out for?
I think the usual suspects. First of all, I think if our team does its job properly, we’ll be in really good shape. Obviously, I think the major threat would be the Prime Alliance team, with their three sprinters — McCook, Candelario and Jonas [Carney] – all being Americans, so they have a very good chance at the jersey, probably the best chance to win the jersey. The jersey is not such a big priority for us, first, because we always race to win the race, and second, because our American guys maybe don’t have quite the type of speed to win this race for the jersey with Derek [Bouchard-Hall] out. We do have good cards with [Chris] Wherry and Mike [Sayers] and who knows, maybe Phil Zajicek, but they’ll have to do it in a breakaway situation, and we like our chances more in a field sprint.
The main players, I think, are the Prime Alliance team, with those three guys. Navigators have a good team, a scrappy team. They could be in there. Also Saturn have some momentum after New York City, so they might feel like they have a sniff at a win. It’ll be interesting. All the main U.S. teams have pretty good cards, so it’s kind of hard to say.
What about a dark horse for the jersey?
Chris Baldwin. He’s been riding really aggressive, and I think if anybody who’s not considered a sprinter can win, apart from our team, I think Chris Baldwin has shown me the most lately, and maybe Chris Fisher as well. Those two guys might sneak away somehow to get the jersey. I like Alex Candelario as well. John Peters. You never know.
Does focusing solely on the win, and not the jersey, make things easier for you as a team?
I think it clarifies our objectives. I think it makes things a lot simpler for us. We tried to play cute a couple of years ago and it paid off, when I slammed the brakes behind Derek and gave him a gap and we got one-two. It was perfect, but you can only do that so many times. That was just one of those once-in-a-lifetime or once-every-few-years maneuvers that you can pull off because we had complete surprise on that.
How are you feeling? At New York, you were pretty tired after flying from Europe [the day after the Commonwealth Games road race] that day.
New York was pretty frustrating because there were two very big races so close together and I wanted to do both. I don’t know how many times I can represent my country anymore, I’m getting up there, and Commonwealth Games are a lot of fun, and I wanted to have that experience. I had to pull out all the stops to make it. I made it to the hotel an hour-and-a-half before the start, and this was after a 180K race where I went completely to the cramp point. Everything had to be perfect for me to win in New York, and we almost pulled it off. We came up a little short and I definitely didn’t have any legs to overcome any errors. The guys did a great job but it was just a little short. If I had normal legs, I probably could have pulled it off, but that was great. Then I won Manhattan Beach [last weekend], so I think for my personal form I’m confident and I think I have a really good chance. I’ve been really successful here in Chicago over the years and I’ve always won one of the races, either the warm-up or the main event, so there’s no reason to think I can’t do it again.
Last weekend at Manhattan Beach, were you thinking of Chris Wherry [who won an emotional Saturn Classic three days after his father died]?
It was a great weekend for us. When he won the Saturn Challenge, it was so inspirational to all of us that it definitely helped kick-start our day at Manhattan Beach, and we came through with a nice win there too. It was a wonderful way for us to … get on with things. It’s a tough time for us, with Chris, and yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my father passing, who was a big cycling fan and big supporter of ours, so I could really feel for Chris and I just wish I was there because I just hear all the stories about the emotions of the day for him and everyone else.
Is it tough for you to come back to this race [after missing it last year following your father’s death]?
Yeah, it’s tough. It’s really hard. There’ll be a lot of things going through our minds before the race. You know, those things always get pushed back during the race. It doesn’t really affect us. If anything it helps us get on with things. Racing is good therapy I suppose.