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That was the pre-race prediction at the July 14 Andersen Banducci Twilight Criterium in Boise, Idaho. The course was flat and wide, allowing riders to pedal swiftly through the corners.
The lack of technicality in the course prevented the accordion effect normally seen when the speed is high and corners are tight. Riders in the front reduce their speeds, packing the group tighter, and causing those in the back to slow down even further. Riders sprint out of the corner, stretching the peloton into a long thin line, and a greater distance for those in the back to catch up; this effectively serves to make the race more difficult and helps a breakaway succeed.
In Boise, however, the simpler course had everything going against a breakaway. It appeared a field sprint was in the cards for the pro races.
It would turn out to be anything but. Extremely aggressive racing in both the men’s and the women’s pro races saw breakaways steal the day. So much for predictions.
Jennifer Valente (Twenty20) and Gage Hecht (Aevolo) stood atop the podium, as the winners of the sixth stop of the 11-race USA CRITS series. However, they should have been joined on the podium by their teammates, as both victories were the result of incredible team efforts.
The two teams’ strategies were similar in their simplicity — attack, attack, attack. By stacking the winning breakaways in their favor, both Twenty20 and Aevolo were able to take the race into their own hands and avoid sitting back and following the wheels.
Twenty20 is by no means a criterium squad. The team’s stated goals are to bring athletes to the Olympics either on the road, mountain bike, or track. When it comes to road racing, their main focus is stage races and time trials.
Despite not racing many criteriums each season, Twenty20 had won in Boise the last two years with Ali Dragoo and Valente. The team is based out of Boise, so there’s no lack of motivation among the riders to put on a show in front of their hometown fans and prove that Boise is their town.
Attacks went straight at the start from Twenty20. About halfway through the 60-minute race a large breakaway rolled off the front. Present were three Twenty20 riders, Chloe Dygert-Owen, Valente, and Dragoo. After a bit of reshuffling over the next laps, the breakaway settled in for the long haul with about 11 riders, where Dygert-Owen and Valente made the final split.
Peta Mullens and Lily Williams of Hagens Berman-Supermint, both sublime sprinters, also made the breakaway. National pro criterium champion Leighann Ganzar (Wolfpack-Hyperthreads) was in the front group as well.
A few solo moves by riders in the breakaway — those who did not like their chances against the fast sprinters in the lead group — forced Valente and Dygert-Owen to do a heap of work on the front in the final laps. As defending champions, others looked to them to take the responsibility of chasing.
In the finale of the race, it was evident the lead group of 11 would contest the win and Valente, one of the best sprinters in the group, began thinking about what she needed to do to take the victory.
“I was more just thinking about the execution than thinking about whether I could win or not,” Valente said.
Dyget-Owen attacked going into the final lap, but when she was quickly brought back, she buried herself on the front of the group for Valente.
Valente comfortably took the final sprint and Twenty20 celebrated their third consecutive Boise victory in front of the home crowd.
Valente had just returned to the track a few weeks prior and admitted the added training gave her a bump in speed. “I was definitely more comfortable sprinting than I have been most of the year and I think a lot of that does come from doing a lot of speed work on the track,” Valente said. “It’s definitely fun to win any bike race and to win back-to-back is definitely special.”
As the saying goes, “Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail.”
If that’s the case, Team Aevolo was most certainly the hammer at the Boise crit. Their unrelenting attacks stretched the peloton thin on a course which doesn’t always see this type of action.
“We talked in our team meeting beforehand that we were going to try to do as much damage as possible throughout the race,” Hecht said. The boys in green and yellow did just that. Aevolo impressively put three riders in the winning breakaway of six.
Hecht was joined in the escape by teammates Imeh Nsek and Luis Villalobos. UnitedHealthcare’s Lachlan Norris also made the split, which was key. UnitedHealthcare was by far the strongest team in the peloton on paper on Saturday. The Pro Continental squad had brought its heavy hitters to the race with the likes of Tanner Putt, Eric Marcotte, and Serghei Tvetcov lining up.
With a man in the breakaway, the boys in blue opted not to help the chase in the peloton, tilting the possibility of the breakaway surviving very much in the lead group’s favour. Also making the breakaway were Silber’s Nickolas Zukowsky and Hugo Scala, Jr. (Matrix-RBM).
Surprisingly, the three lone wolves in the breakaway worked with Aevolo, rotating through the pace line and assisting in driving the group’s advantage upward rather than simply sitting-in to conserve as much energy as possible.
As the finale of the race approached, the Aevolo riders started taking turns attacking off the front of the breakaway, when disaster struck. Villalobos suffered a mechanical and with free laps over, he was forced out the breakaway. Aevolo now only had a one-rider advantage.
In the final lap, Hecht buried himself on the front of the group to lead out Nsek. Hecht led around the final corner with about 200 metres to the finish line and immediately launched himself to the finish line. He waited and waited for Nsek, or anybody, to come around him, but no one did.
Unbeknown to Hecht, Nsek slipped his gears and was not able to fully sprint. Despite the slip, Nsek showed his talent by still managing to finish third.
In Boise, Aevolo and Twenty20 demonstrated the art of creating a successful breakaway — ride aggressively, tire out the other teams, and get a numerical advantage in the winning move. While this can be extremely challenging on a less than technical course, both squads brought strong legs on the night of the race to accomplish this and come out victorious.
Men’s Top 5: 2018 USA CRITS ASWB Boise Twilight Criterium
1. Gage Hecht (Aevolo)
2. Nickolas Zukowsky (Silber Pro Cycling)
3. Imeh Nsek (Aevolo)
4. Lachlan Norris (UnitedHealthcare)
5. Hugo Scala Jr. (Matrix/RBM)
Women’s Top 5: 2018 USA CRITS ASWB Boise Twilight Criterium
1. Jennifer Valente (Twenty20)
2. Lily Williams (Hagens Berman-Supermint)
3. Leighann Ganzar (Wolfpack p/b Hyperthreads)
4. Peta Mullens (Hagens Berman-Supermint)
5. Brenna Wrye-Simpson (LA Sweat)
2018 USA CRITS Pro Men Series Leaders (After 6 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: Justin Williams (Williams Racing)
Bandit Award: Frank Travieso (EDA-Evolution Cycling)
D1 Team Leader: Team Clif Bar
2018 USA CRITS Pro Women Series Leaders (After 6 OF 11 Events)
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
Remaining events in the 2018 USA CRITS series
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