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“I see my job as we’re in show business.”
On a hot and humid night in Bentonville, Arkansas, at the opening event of the three-day Natural State Criterium Series, Colin Strickland (Meteor-Giordana) put on a show in the men’s pro race. He attacked relentlessly. It was all part of the plan.
Strickland views American criterium racing in a different way than most. He sees himself as an entertainer rather than as a professional athlete. People line the streets not to see a bike race, but to have an experience. He always strives to give them one. The results, where he is in the standings, that’s secondary for Strickland. He wants to have fun racing his bike and doing so means creating mayhem by attacking as early and as often as he can.
The Texan usually finishes races on empty. He digs deep and suffers, but if he leaves the race feeling that he’s accomplished what he set out to do, he’s satisfied.
“Honestly, it’s hard to pull good results out of a negative environment,” Strickland said. “If you’re having fun, than everything just works out.”
Women’s pro winner Valentina Scandolara (Roxsolt-Attaquer) sees it a bit differently. For her, the American crit scene offers just the right amount of hard racing and laid back attitude she needed after several years racing in Europe at the top level. After a tough 2017, she was looking for a way to take a year to reset. The electric atmosphere of nighttime criterium racing was exactly what she needed.
Entertainers, not professional cyclists
Try to have a quick conversation with Strickland about his job as an American professional bike racer — it won’t happen. He’s full of ideas and fires them off one after another, just like the attacks he put in on Friday night in Bentonville. In conversation and in racing, he’s simply too strong to follow.
In Arkansas, Strickland made the winning move stick with about six laps to go, though he was not alone — Clif Bar’s Kevin Mullervy had stuck with him.
However, Mullervy hardly pulled through to help Strickland push the pace and stretch the gap to the peloton behind.
According to Strickland, Mullervy said he was simply on the limit and unable to take a pull. Still, Strickland won the sprint to take the win. Australian Cameron Ivory (GPM Stulz Australia) bridged the gap to the leading duo on the final corner of the race and was able to steal second away from the tapped-out Mullervy.
Oftentimes when USA CRITS takes over the downtown of a small town for a weekend, most spectators are not racers themselves and don’t fully understand the ins and outs of criterium racing. Strickland simply sees this as an opportunity to demonstrate what criterium racing is all about — and that means creating mayhem.
“Results are great, but no one really cares and no one really remembers results, but they do remember watching somebody go crazy,” Strickland said. “Win or lose, I just try to animate the race, which sometimes works, usually not, but when it does work it’s even better.”
Strickland most certainly was an entertainer on Friday night and, on this occasion, he also came out the winner.
A welcome change
Scandolara spent her entire professional career in Europe until she made the jump to American criterium racing in 2018. She’s raced for the best teams in the world, from the Australian GreenEdge program to racing last year on Marianne Vos’ WM3 Energie squad.
The Italian rider’s vast experience came in handy on Friday, as she knew exactly who she needed to mark the entire race. That rider was ISCorp’s Sam Schneider, winner of three of the four USA CRITS races that had been contested before Bentonville.
“I know that Sam Schneider has a pretty strong team and this [course] is pretty technical, so I wanted to take the second-to-last corner in first,” Scandolara said. “That was my mission, that’s all I wanted to do in the race, and I did that well.”
The course in Bentonville was an L-shaped six-corner affair, all within a kilometre. The technical nature of the course intensified the racing with the women’s event seeing constant attacking, though none would be able to stay away to the finish.
Scandolara relied on her experience and bided her time. She let the stronger teams chase moves down and put in their own attacks. Finally, on the last lap, she came to the fore, and surprised ISCorp’s supreme lead-out train into the final corners of the race. The narrow streets and a quick succession of corners made it difficult to pass, allowing Scandolara to upset Schneider.
At just 28, Scandolara is in the prime of her career, but after a difficult season last year, she was looking for a more relaxed racing scene.
“I love it. Crits are totally different from the WorldTour road races of course and I just needed a change,” Scandolara said after her win in Bentonville. “I was really sick last year, so I wanted to take a year with less pressure and this team, Roxsolt, allowed me to do that. I think that I made the right choice. The crowd was amazing, the best one so far.”
Time and time again on the USA CRITS circuit it becomes evident that American criterium racing is indeed its own discipline. Unlike European road races, there are no early breakaways and no down periods; the racing is full-on for the duration of the event. The racers are professional cyclists, but also characters in a play that has no script.
Strickland is always looking for ways to create even more mayhem and excitement throughout the peloton — and if he had a wish, there would be no race radios.
“I think it’s very hard to make an argument that it is good for the fans and the show to have more coordinated bullshit. I don’t want to see crashes, but I want mayhem and confusion on what’s going on in the race. I want to see people making mistakes. I want to see people attacking races because that’s what makes exciting bike racing and safe bike racing. Fast racing is safe racing and exciting racing. It’s a win-win.”
Men’s Top 5: 2018 USA CRITS Natural State Criterium Series: Bentonville
1. Colin Strickland (Meteor-Giordana)
2. Cameron Ivory (GPM Stulz Australia)
3. Kevin Mullervy (Team Clif Bar)
4. Spencer Petrov (CCB-Velotooler)
5. Frank Travieso (EDA-Evolution Cycling)
Women’s Top 5: 2018 USA CRITS Natural State Criterium Series: Bentonville
1. Valentina Scandolara (Roxsolt-Attaquer)
2. Samantha Schneider (ISCorp)
3. Josie Talbot (ISCorp)
4. Rachel Langdon (Gray Goat Mobile-Bullseye Total Media)
5. Christina Gokey Smith (Colavita-Bialetti)
2018 USA CRITS Pro Men Series Leaders (After 5 OF 11 Events)
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: Kevin Mullervy (Team Clif Bar)
Bandit Award: Frank Travieso (EDA-Evolution Cycling)
D1 Team Leader: Holowesko-Citadel
2018 USA CRITS Pro Women Series Leaders (After 5 OF 11 Events)
Colavita Overall Leader: Samantha Schneider (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
Remaining events in the 2018 USA CRITS series
July 14: Andersen Schwartzman Woodard Brailsford Twilight Criterium – Boise, Idaho
July 28: San Rafael Sunset Criterium – San Rafael, California
August 4: Littleton Twilight Criterium – Littleton, Colorado
August 11: Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic – West Chester, Pennsylvania
September 2: Giro della Montagna (Gateway Cup) – St. Louis, Missouri
September 15: Atlantic City Resurgence Fest Criterium – Atlantic City, New Jersey