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By Joe Silva
Hilton Clarke stood on the top step of an all-Aussie podium at this year’s Sunny King Criterium in Anniston, Alabama, having secured Toyota-United’s second major victory of the day. Clarke’s teammate Henk Vogels took the win at the Tour of the Gila’s Downtown Silver City Criterium earlier in the day.
Clarke was part of a ten-man breakaway that held its own over a Pro1/2 field through 70 circuits of racing. Since that select group contained a considerable amount of horsepower including Jittery Joe’s rider Chad Hartley, Clarke’s fellow Australian Karl Menzies (Health Net), and Peter Dawson of Rock Racing, the possibility of the field being lapped quickly became apparent once the rather small field was satisfied with which riders had made the selection.
Once the ten; which also contained Matt Crane (Health Net), Clarke’s teammate Caleb Manion, Evan Elkin (Jittery Joe’s), Robbie King (Rite Aid), and Bissell’s Scott Zwizanksi and Richard England, had accomplished their mission of getting one lap up on the pack, Clarke was able to recuperate comfortably in the field for the remainder of the race.
“I guess with the U.S. circuit split up over three or four races, I knew that when we started tonight there wouldn’t be super numbers (here),” Clarke said. “With a field like that you know it’s going to be a bit of a negative race. Once every team’s got a rider in the race the field’s gonna stop because there’s no one to chase. Once Caleb (and I) saw the breakaway, we just drilled it. Then when I’m a lap up I’ve got (Ivan) Dominguez and Dominique Rollin to lead me out if you can believe that.”
Sunny King is the third straight victory for Clarke in less than seven days, having taken wins at the Beaufort Memorial Cycling Classic and the Downtown Walterboro Criterium earlier in the week. Clarke admitted he was still a bit tired after those efforts, which came on the heels of the Tour De Georgia, but that overall his form is continuing to improve.
“Len Pettyjohn’s just been letting me build and build into form. Through Georgia I helped Ivan, I kept building that form, and you can see that’s paid off.”
Vogels Gila win ahead of Alejandro Borrajo (Colavita/Sutter Home), the man who was second at Sunny King in 2007, today inspired Clarke and the rest of their Toyota teammates.
“As soon as I heard that Henk won, we were psyched to do the double today..”
These victories, however, come not too long after the announcement that Toyota-United would be terminating its sponsorship of the team at the end of 2008. But not even that fact could dim Clarke’s enthusiasm as he celebrated in the streets of Anniston with the rest of the boys in red, white and blue.
“I know Sean Tucker’s going to be making a big effort to keep the sponsorship going because this team is a brilliant team,” Clarke said. “So, fingers crossed and we’re just going to keep winning and that’s all that we can do.”
In the Pro 1/2 women’s race, the action was distinctly different. As they had done all week during the multiple USA CRITS Speedweek events run throughout the Southeast, the women from Aaron’s, Cheerwine and Colavita/Sutter Home kept an eagle eye on one another.
Breakaway attempts were short lived, and virtually every effort was neutralized by one of the three teams until the race was clearly set to become a field sprint. And as she’s done almost every time she’s clipped in at the starting line, Tina Pic blew by her competition in the finale as if it were standing still.
“I was really tired today, but I couldn’t let (my team) down. Not with my team working the way it is.” said Pic after taking her victory lap. “It’s the only thing that keeps me going is that they’re working so hard.”
Some riders in the field found the course difficult (it was at one time shorter than it currently is…), particularly with the impact of the small kicker hill coming up to the start/finish line. Pic, however, did not share that sentiment.
“The back end was so forgiving and you could get so much speed on it, that the hill just didn’t make that much of a difference.”
In the last two turns of the hour plus five laps race, the speeds picked up considerably as riders jostled each other for position. But once clear of the traffic Pic stood up out of her saddle and made her victory look almost effortless.
Pic’s win is the fourth time this week that she has bested long-standing rival Laura Van Gilder and the rest of the Cheerwine squad. Van Gilder was quick to point out that each race was strongly contested by both squads.
“The racing has been very aggressive by all the teams,” Van Gilder noted. “Even though there are some bigger and stronger teams here, no one has been giving up. Today it felt that there was a bit of tailwind on the hill, which meant no rest for the weary. It’s taxing. It’s a challenging course that you can’t underestimate. Nothing is getting away, so it’s keeping the racing really animated. It’s some of the best racing we’ve done, and I think we’ve put on a good show for the spectators. ”
Pic and Van Gilder will meet again at the next NRC event, Sunday’s Nalley Historic Roswell Criterium.
Sunny King Criterium – Anniston, Alabama
Pro 1/2 Women
1. Tina Pic, Colavita-Sutter Home, 30:54
2. Kelly Benjamin, Cheerwine
3. Jen McCrae, Advil-Chapstick
4. Laura Van Gilder, Cheerwine
5. Anna Lang, Aaron’s
6. Shontelle Gauthier, Colavita-Sutter Home
7. Erica Allar, Aaron’s
8. Holli Steelman, Juice Plus
9. Rebecca Larson, Aaron’s
10. Lara Kroepsch, Value Act Capital
1. Hilton Clarke (Aus), Toyota-United Pro, 33:50.9
2. Karl Menzies (Aus), Health Net
3. Caleb Manion (Aus), Toyota-United Pro
4. Chad Hartley, Jittery Joes
5. Peter Dawson, Rock Racing
6. Evan Elken, Jittery Joe’s Pro
7. Richard England (Aus) Bissell
8. Matt Crane, Health Net
9. Scott Zwizanski, Bissell
10. Robbie King, Rite Aid