Preview: USA CRITS under the lights in Oklahoma City

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Power, floodlights, and tons of food trucks.

The three-day Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic is jammed into one of the biggest nighttime street markets the U.S. has to offer. Midtown Oklahoma City turns into an outright street party, its air filled with the smell of BBQ, beer, and hot carbon brakes.

Now in its seventh year, the Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic has grown into a three-course event that covers the districts of Midtown, Film Row, and Automobile Alley. The star of the show is the opening Friday night race in Midtown, which hosts the H&8th nighttime food market, where upwards of 20 food trucks show up.

Entering its eighth year, the H&8th night market has grown into a partnership of sorts with the race. The market has morphed into an annual event, just like the race, and both work hand-in-hand with each other.

The market attracts over 20,000 people to Midtown and the race goes right around it. The amateur races in the early afternoon get the beer flowing early and then the pros race under the lights, as the food trucks start pumping out meals. If you’re craving it, you can probably find it. Fans, food, and great hard racing.

Does this scene sound kind of familiar?

The race does have an Athens Twilight feel to it. Thousands of fans, pro races at night, and a super fast, power-heavy course.

The Course

In more ways than one, the course in Oklahoma City feels just like Athens Twilight. From the start/finish line, riders climb slightly to the midpoint in the course before dropping back down to the finish. The long, slightly downhill straight to the final corner will string the field out lap after lap. It’s important to stay up near the front to avoid the inevitable accordion effect out of the final turn.

The four-corner, rectangle-shaped course is 1.15 kilometers long. The course runs in a clockwise direction with the finish/line located on one of the short segments.

After the first corner, the riders will climb up 6th Street before turning right and having about two blocks of flat road before turning again. Then riders scream down 8th Street toward the finish with the harrowing final corner at Hudson street and 8th Street, a no brakes and all-or-nothing affair.

The Contenders

With the third race of the USA CRITS series upon us, we’re now getting to know the usual suspects and riders to watch out for.

After a weekend that saw top international road racers take on the U.S. crit scene in Winston-Salem, the fields are more back normal for Oklahoma City. The smaller fields (60 women, 102 men) should see smoother races. Riders spoke of a lot of nerves in the peloton during Winston-Salem, but that shouldn’t be the case on Friday.

Samantha Schneider (ISCorp) is undefeated in USA CRITS races this year. She won in Athens in late April and again last weekend in Winston-Salem. She also swept the four-race mini-USA CRITS Speed Week series, which encompassed Athens Twilight.

ISCorp has no shortage of power. Caroline Baur currently leads the JL Velo Best Young Rider classification. She should perform well at a power rider’s course like Midtown. At Athens Twilight she chased down breakaways all race in support of Schneider and then strung the field out late in the race, taking nearly full-lap pulls.

Rachel Langdon (Gray Goat Mobile-Bullseye Total Media) may not have been on your radar to start the season, but she should be now. She leads the CyclingTips Lap Leader competition and is fifth overall in the series. She finished just outside the top 10 at Athens and Winston-Salem, but she leads the lap leader classification for a reason — she races aggressively.

Lily Williams (Hagens Berman-Supermint) is one to watch out for. She nearly pulled off the win at the Winston-Salem criterium with a late daring move and was caught less than two laps to the line. She showed her incredible power a few days later by winning the UCI 1.1 Winston-Salem Cycling Classic road race. She also gave a demonstration in a long breakaway at the recent Amgen Tour of California, as well.

Colavita-Bialetti is lurking behind ISCorp as a strong squad ready to pounce. The team is led by 52-year-old Tina Pic, who is showing no signs of slowing down after a fifth-place finish at Winston-Salem. Christina Gokey Smith has emerged as a great complement to Pic, as she finished seventh in Winston-Salem and sixth at Athens Twilight. Gokey Smith and Pic are third and fourth overall respectively in the series.

Laura Jorgenson (Feed Hungry Kids), who sits second overall in the series, will not be racing in Oklahoma City.

John Murphy (Holowesko-Citadel) is the heavy favorite to take the victory in Oklahoma City due to his powerful sprint and the incredibly strong lead-out train he has at his disposal.

On the men’s side, Holowesko-Citadel’s John Murphy leads the Colavita orange jersey series classification, despite finishing way down the order in Winston-Salem. Murphy drove the breakaway lap after lap in Winston-Salem, which earned him the lead in the CyclingTips Lap Leader classification. He gained overall series points by leading laps and earning intermediate sprint points. He has a tremendous amount of power, so Oklahoma City should suit him well. He started the series off by winning Athens Twilight.

Murphy will have will have a strong team supporting him, including Miguel Byron. Byron leads the Best Young Rider classification and is third overall in the series standings. Holowesko-Citadel put everyone into the red at the end of Athens Twilight with a tremendous lead out for Murphy that barred anyone from attacking, so look for them to do that again on Friday night. It also doesn’t hurt that Murphy is likely the strongest sprinter in the field.

Winning a bunch sprint against the likes of Holowesko-Citadel on a pure power course will be tricky, so look for riders to attack and force breakaways. To survive, a breakaway will probably have to include Byron or Murphy. Furthermore, a breakaway lapping the field is no longer a viable option for Holowesko-Citadel’s competitors because the lead-out train comes back into play; criterium rules dictate that a rider who has lapped the field can work with teammates who have been lapped.

David Guttenplan (Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan coaching) sits second overall and rides extremely aggressively. He’s always looking for breakaways and trying to force moves. He’ll

Team Clif Bar’s Kevin Mullervy and Zach Allison are knocking on the door of cracking Holowesko-Citadel. Clif Bar is second in the team standings and has been racing at another level this year. The squad’s lead-out train is much improved and the riders aren’t afraid to go wheel-to-wheel with Murphy and his teammates.

John Mitchell of Palmetto State Medical is fourth in the standings. His squad doesn’t quite have the mighty power of Holowesko-Citadel or Clif Bar, so look for him to go on the attack to better his chances.

For the second USA CRITS race in a row, Texas Roadhouse will be absent, and that means no Daniel Holloway. Holloway is losing major ground in the series title race and his finishing speed is one of a few that is in line with Murphy’s finishing speed.

Why OKC matters

Oklahoma City is a lot younger than Athens Twilight, but the sustainable model is the same — combine a bike race with a broader event for the community to enjoy.

The race is also the first back-to-back USA CRITS weekend on the calendar. After a Winston-Salem race that was filled with racers making a single stop at the series, the fields go back to their core groups. This should see a bit more aggressive and exciting race with a lot fewer nerves on hand.

As always, you can catch the Oklahoma City Pro-Am Classic on Coverage of the USA CRITS series race in Midtown on Friday starts at 6:00 p.m. EST with the amateur races before the pro women at 9:15 p.m EST and pro men at 10:15 p.m. EST. There will also be streaming coverage of the pro races on Saturday and Sunday, which are not part of the USA CRITS series.

CyclingTips is the official media partner of the 2018 USA CRITS series. Race coverage of the series will include pre- and post-race stories on each event and feature stories on each D1 Team.

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