Crit Chronicles: Episode 5, Commitment to Teamwork Yields a Perfect Week
The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team had a full weekend of racing ahead of them this past Friday as men’s and women’s squads took to racing the 3-criterium Tulsa Tough series in Tulsa, Oklahoma, while another squad of men would challenge the 2-day Air Force Cycling Classic Omnium in Arlington, Virginia. With three squads taking on a total of eight criteriums over the course of the three days, the team knew they would need to rely on strong teamwork and proven race strategies to maintain the UnitedHealthcare Blue Train’s level of success. The racing got off to strong start for the team on Friday with both squads taking the win on the first day of the Tulsa Tough series. Read the Blue Dome Criterium race report here.
Criterium racing continued for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team in both states on Saturday. The Air Force Cycling Classic Clarendon Cup was especially long for a criterium, measuring 100 kilometers and amounting to over two hours of hard racing. The men of the UnitedHealthcare Blue Train would use this to their advantage, looking for opportunities while waiting for the field to tire. Jonny Clarke first attacked with two riders, followed shortly after by an attack by teammate Kiel Reijnen and three others. Once Clarke and Reijnen connected several laps later, they were fully committed to gaining as much ground as possible on the charging peloton. With roughly 35 laps left in the race, the breakaway companions caught back up with the group, successfully lapping the field. With two teammates a lap ahead, the UnitedHealthcare squad moved to the front, preventing any attacks from escaping to challenge the lead of Reijnen and Clarke. In the final laps, the focus turned to setting Reijnen up to challenge the sprint. The team performed and Kiel was able to deliver, sprinting to victory on day 1 of the Air Force Cycling Classic with teammate Jonny Clarke at his side in 2nd place.
With news of Kiel’s victory quickly spreading to the teammates at the Tulsa Tough, the women lined up for Saturday’s Brady District Criterium with inspiration and motivation. Coryn Rivera contributed to one of the race’s longest breakaways, which was brought back with just 10 laps remaining. In the final 6 laps, the women of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling team took to the front of the race and prepared for the finale. Months of training, preparation, practice, and team building paid off, as the women were able to execute a textbook lead out train, launching Hannah Barnes for a repeat sprint victory with teammate Coryn Rivera joining her on the podium in 2nd and Alison Powers nearby in 4th. The combination of the incredible winning streak and the wildly enthusiastic Tulsa Tough environment energized the men for day 2 of the omnium. The energy turned to chaos for some of the riders, with numerous crashes amidst the constant attacks from the field. The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team was able to bring the race back together with just two laps remaining and position for the sprint finale. The lead out train was also textbook for the men, with Luke Keough taking the victory, Ken Hanson narrowly avoiding a crash and claiming second, and Hilton Clarke taking third.
Sporting Director Rachel Heel had this to say about the performances, “Both teams rode a perfect team race, taking everything their competitors threw at them and coming out on top. The guys at the Air Force Cycling Classic set the bar high with a 1, 2 finish, and the squads here were determined to follow suit. Morale across the the team is really high.” Second place finisher Coryn Rivera added, “All I can say ‘how cool is this team?’ Sometimes I have to pinch myself. To be totally organized and in control is a collection of all of the girls’ strengths. And when you have your teammates on the front sacrificing themselves for you, it’s easy to execute my job protecting the wheel and going for the sprint because you know they just gave everything for you.”
“Tonight was a perfect display of teamwork. The boys rode so well and with a hectic last few laps it was crucial to have everyone doing exactly what we talked about and it was flawless. I just had to keep a cool head and do my job,” contributed men’s race winner Luke Keough.
Though much shorter than the Clarendon Cup, Sunday’s Crystal Cup at the Air Force Cycling Classic unfolded in a remarkably similar fashion to Saturday’s opener. Jonny Clarke launched an attack, joined later by Kiel Reijnen. The two teammates and their breakaway companions worked together to lap the field once again, with the UnitedHealthcare Blue Train again leading Kiel out in the sprint for back-to-back victories. By the final day of the Tulsa Tough Omnium, the riders of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team were in fantastic spirits, but also feeling the pressure of the winning streak. The riders were up against Tulsa’s Cry Baby Hill, famous for it’s steep gradient and massive block party atmosphere. After numerous attacks and regrouping in the women’s race, the team was able to reach the final corner with sprinter Coryn Rivera in prime position. With the finish line in sight, Rivera unleashed her sprint and claimed the victory not only in the final day’s race, but also the overall victory for the omnium. Rain began to fall midway through the men’s race shortly after, making each corner slick and dangerous. The men fought on, countering attacks and preparing for the finale until a crash with 2 laps left in the race took Karl Menzies, Ken Hanson, Luke Keough, and Hilton Clarke out of contention. Brad White found himself in front of the crash, but without his trusted teammates. Instinct took over and Brad attempted the unbelievable. Inspired to continue the team’s winning streak, he accelerated rather than looking back. He attacked solo from the front of the field, powering through the remaining 2 laps and holding his advantage through the finish line. Rachel Heal commented, “Today was going exactly to plan for the men until 2 laps to go. Fortunately, Brad White acted on instinct and attacked, saving the day for his teammates.”
The team’s success this week is the product of years of team building, training, and practice. The active spring race schedule and months of hard work are paying off with a team of dedicated and committed male and female racers that are able to train, travel, and race together seamlessly in a variety of settings and roster formations. While the men’s UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team has been together for years, the women’s team has just begun to click and benefit from the lessons, team dynamic, and team culture that the program has been building since it’s inception in December. Both the men’s and women’s squads have been able to build off the success of each other, creating a rich atmosphere of support and camaraderie. The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team would like to thank the 2014 Tulsa Tough, 2014 Air Force Association Cycling Classic, and all of the incredible teams, staff, and athletes attending both.
Sports Director Rachel Heal summarized her thoughts on the week’s events, “It’s fantastic to be able to go 6 for 6 in the Tulsa Tough this weekend as well as going 2 for 2 at the Air Force Classic. The girls are on a roll and confidence is high as we head up to Minneapolis for North Star GP. The men worked hard for these wins and will now take some much needed rest, then return to racing at the Tour of America’s Dairyland. The entire team worked together to make these wins happen and we’re very proud of how we raced together.”