Glitz, glamour, and WWE-style winner’s belts.
Celebrating its 20th year on Saturday, the San Rafael Sunset Criterium has taken the party atmosphere that has made Athens Twilight incredibly popular and put its a California spin on it.
While Athens Twilight is held in the centre of a college town, the San Rafael Sunset Criterium has a more upscale vibe. The race takes place in Marin County, California, the highest-income county in the U.S. and the richest county in California based on median household income. San Rafael is also the largest city in Marin.
The event is essentially an outdoor nightclub with a DJ keeping the streets of downtown San Rafael rocking deep into the night. VIP hospitality tents surrounded the course, as well as some of the roofs of the nearby restaurants.
Marin County may be the birthplace of the mountain bike, but Saturday night is all about skinny tires, skinsuits, and aero bikes.
While San Rafael boasts a huge party and intense racing, it is also a fundraiser. Domestic elite team Mike’s Bikes puts on the race and uses it to promote the team’s charitable effort, which is sending a container of refurbished bikes to Africa.
San Rafael is a classic American-style course. The 1km, four-corner circuit is a perfect rectangle, which means the start/finish straight and backstretch are long. This makes it difficult for a breakaway to slip away unnoticed, but it does allow riders to the opportunity to move up many places in the peloton at one time.
The finish is about 250 metres from the final corner. While it is possible to come out of the final corner in the lead and win, the second or third position is most likely where the winner will emerge should it be a bunch sprint. Anyone outside the top five in the last corner will have no shot at the victory.
The weather is expected to be perfect on Saturday, with the evening temperature expected to be in the low 70s Fahrenheit (20C).
Notably, the San Rafael Sunset Criterium conflicts with the final weekend of the 10-day Intelligentsia Cup criterium and road race series in Chicago. While a few of the top teams and riders will be missing in San Rafael, this will provide an opportunity for other riders to step into the spotlight.
Series leader Samantha Schneider and her powerful ISCorp squad are back after missing the last USA CRITS race in Boise, and they have a bit of work to do. Schneider’s absence saw her overall series lead go to veteran Tina Pic (Colavita-Bialetti). Pic entered Boise with a 121-point deficit to Schneider and left with a 74-point advantage.
The rivalry between ISCorp and Colavita-Bialetti is heating up with the two squads battling for supremacy in the team classification. ISCorp has a less than 100-point lead after missing the Boise race. Both programs have been impressive throughout the season, as each have four riders in the top 15 of the overall series standings.
U.S. national criterium champion Leigh Ann Ganzar (Wolfpack-Hyperthreads) moved into the top 10 in the overall standings after finishing on the podium in third in Boise. Her form has been impressive in the month since she captured the stars-and-stripes jersey; if she continues to perform she could make a charge into the top five of the overall standings by the end of the season.
Hagens Berman-Supermint will be without the powerful Lily Williams on Saturday, but Harriet Owen, Peta Mullens, and Starla Teddergreen will be in attendance. Mullens and Teddergreen finished fourth and ninth respectively in Boise. Owens is quick finisher that shouldn’t be counted out. She has multiple podiums already this season.
Kimberly Lucie of LA Sweat has been making a charge up the standings in recent weeks and has moved into the top 10 overall, occupying the eighth spot. Also, watch for Emma Bast and Rachel Canning of the Levine Law Group to be in the mix as well.
CyclingTips Lap Leader Rachel Langdon (Gray Goat Mobile-Bullseye Total Media) and sprinter Jessica Mundy (Meteor-Intelligentsia) are the only two riders in the top 10 of the overall standings that won’t be present in San Rafael.
On the men’s side, David “Gutt” Guttenplan (Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan Coaching) will be in the orange leader’s jersey and is looking to defend his overall lead. He’s targeted winning the USA CRITS series overall specifically this year and expect an aggressive race from him, as his finishing sprint is not the best.
Spencer Moavenzadeh (ButcherBox) continues to be a threat to Guttenplan’s goal of the overall title, as the USA CRITS series hits stop number seven of 11. He leads the U25 classification and sits second overall in the series standings. Moavenzadeh and Guttenplan earned nearly the same amount of points in Boise, so Moavenzadeh’s best is to force a breakaway and for Guttenplan to not be present.
Johnny Mitchell (Palmetto State) sits third overall, only 171 points out the top position, but will be racing without any teammates again on Saturday. He’ll need to be aggressive and try to force a breakaway, as his finishing kick in not that of the top riders.
Team Clif Bar will by super motivated on Saturday, as Northern California is the team’s stomping ground. The team has been knocking on the door of pulling off a victory for the last month and there would be no better time than at their home race. Zach Allison sits fourth overall with Kevin Mullervy right behind in fifth. Kevin’s brother Connor sits seventh in the overall standings.
The squad leads the teams’ classification, so they’ll need to produce high finishes all around to maintain their lead over Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan Coaching.
It’s important to note that elite team Mike’s Bikes-Equator Coffees will present. They’re known as the top team in the NorCal area and they’ll have a hit squad capable of chasing down any breakaway they miss. Interestingly, while teams are limited to starting just six riders, Mikes Bikes will be lining up with its main team and development team on Saturday, so it essentially has a 12-rider squad for the San Rafael Sunset Criterium.
Race coverage begins on usacrits.tv at 4:30 p.m. PST on Saturday with the amateur races, before the pro women take to the start line at 7:00 p.m. PST. The pro men’s race begins at 8:15 p.m. PST.
2018 USA CRITS Pro Men Series Leaders (Entering San Rafael)
Colavita Overall Leader: David Guttenplan (Support Clean Sport-Guttenplan Coaching)
Cycling Tips p/b BikeReg Lap Leader: Kevin Mullervy (Team Clif Bar)
JL Velo Best Young Rider: Spencer Moavenzadeh (Butcher Box)
FSA Fastest Lap: Justin Williams (Williams Racing)
Bandit Award: Frank Travieso (EDA-Evolution Cycling)
D1 Team Leader: Team Clif Bar
2018 USA CRITS Pro Women Series Leaders (Entering San Rafael)
Colavita Overall Leader: Tina Pic (ISCorp)
Cycling Tips p/b BikeReg Lap Leader: Rachel Langdon (Gray Goat Mobile-Bullseye Total Media)
JL Velo Best Young Rider: Caroline Baur (ISCorp)
FSA Fastest Lap: Samantha Schneider (ISCorp)
Bandit Award: Georgia Baker (Fearless Femme Racing)
D1 Team Leader: ISCorp