Former champions reflect on Saturday’s Iron Hill Criterium

The USA Crits series and National Criterium Calendar continue for the men in Pennsylvania this weekend

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Joseph Schmalz clearly remembers the day in 2011 when he took to the top step of podium at the Iron Hill Twilight Criterium in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

“I felt like crap the first half of the race,” said Schmalz. “With, like, 15 laps to go or something, a small group rolled away, and I was able to jump across to it.”

In the finale, Schmalz (Elbowz Racing) got the better of Ben Zawacki, then riding for Mountain Khakis, and Olympian Bobby Lea, just nipping the pair as they came over the line.

“I remember coming through the last lap, and I knew that if I had any chance, I couldn’t be on the front coming in on the last few corners, so I pulled off fairly early in the lap and forced everyone else through. Going down the backstretch, I think I was second for the last few corners, and then coming through the last corner, I knew that I kind of needed to get a jump on them or make the sprint really long. I jumped really hard out of the last corner, and that was enough to hang on. I know they were closing on me, but I timed it well enough that they weren’t able to close back down on me. It’s a pretty hard little course.”

The course, which is just under one kilometer, features a tight turn No. 3 coming off the backstretch, which leads riders up a small hill to another tight final turn before the narrow, 300-meter run to the line.

Schmalz will miss his the ninth annual Iron Hill race this Saturday, opting to race the elite national championships in Wisconsin this week. Not so for the defending Iron Hill champion Bruno Langois (Garneau-Quebecor).

“[Last year] was the my first time doing Iron Hill,” said Langois. “We had a pretty small team, and there were no big [National Racing Calendar] teams, and I managed to play my card well. That third turn is pretty tight, But I don’t think this hill is a factor. I mean, it’s a false flat basically. The thing is, if you arrive with no speed coming from third turn and it’s going up, and then left again. Then you have the last stretch to the finish, and the road is rough. And that is kind of where I attacked last year.”
Langlois passed a breakaway group at full throttle over the finishing straight in 2012, and having caught them by surprise from the last corner, no one was able to latch on to his wheel. Rudy Project Racing’s Christian Grasmann had worked for much of the evening off the front on his own and was sitting comfortably in the breakaway, waiting to put his remaining strength to a final sprint. Having beaten the odds last year, however, Langlois is uncertain as to whether he can get the better of this season’s seemingly unstoppable force — UnitedHealthcare.

“They have a good team,” Langois said. “It’s going to be hard to go in breakaways. In Tampa [Florida], at the Cigar City crit, I lapped the field with Hilton Clarke, but then his team went to the front and they basically [controlled] the race. And he’s a really fast sprinter. I’m not a sprinter, so it was pretty much impossible for me to win.”

And because of UnitedHealthcare’s domination of both the National Criterium Calendar and USA Crits series this season, Langlois’ Iron Hill agenda has little to do with points.

“They’re the best team in North America [when it comes] to crits. At the same time, if you beat them, it’s good for morale,” he said. “I’m going there with just the expectation to ride my bike and have fun and enjoy the crowd and give it a good show and do my best. And if I can try and go for the win, then for sure I’m going to go. We’re also there for training, and we had a two-week break after the national championships, so I didn’t touch my bike for a week and my condition is not as good as last year when I was coming back from altitude training camp and I was flying. Right now I’m more just using these races to get back into the rhythm and do some intensity.”

The women’s field won’t be concerned about the points standing in Iron Hill either. Because of existing conflicts with this year’s Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix and elite nationals, there will be no women’s race in West Chester this year. The men’s event, which is set to begin at 7:45 p.m. EDT, will be streamed live online via SmartStop Self Storage’s website.

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