The Air Force Association Classic, a two-day race held in Arlington, VA, has been a staple of the National Criterium Calendar for over 15 years, providing two days of exciting criterium races on technically demanding courses. Hilton Clarke was unparalleled in his sprinting form over the weekend, taking victory on both days and winning the overall title. Coryn Rivera fought hard for a second place finish at the Clarendon Cup on Saturday, before coming back stronger in Sunday’s Crystal Cup for the stage victory to secure the women’s overall title.
Clarke wins Saturday’s Clarendon Cup, Rivera second in women’s event
The 1-kilometer course took competitors straight through the heart of Arlington’s Clarendon business district, lined with dozens of restaurants and small businesses. The prime location ensured every turn on the technical 1-kilometer circuit was lined with spectators. In the men’s race, 100 laps of the course meant each rider made 500 turns throughout the race, all in 90-degree heat with high humidity.
The weather conditions didn’t upset the UnitedHealthcare Blue Train, though, who started the day with the aim of winning the sprint. Carlos Alzate made an early breakaway in the race, but with such a short circuit, the move never left the sight of the main group and was eventually brought back into the fold.
With over half the race done, a move including Hilton Clarke and Adrian Hegyvary finally got away. The 12-person breakaway worked well together to gain a lap on the field; a difficult task in a race with so much horsepower in the main pack. With just under 10 laps of the short circuit remaining, the break made contact, giving the 12 riders in the move a short respite before competing for the sprint.
With the luxury of a full lead out train, the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team were perfectly positioned to capitalize on Clarke and Hegyvary’s hard work. The team dominated the front of the race in the closing laps. Coming out of the final corner, the Blue Train rode in synchrony to deliver Clarke to a clear sprint victory, with Hegyvary crossing the line in 5th place.
In the women’s event, a ferocious pace was held from the start. Multiple early attacks saw the UnitedHealthcare Team doing the majority of the work to contain moves. After half of the racing was compete, the pack was together and the pace slowed, allowing enough time for the team to regroup around its sprinters in the later half of the race. A daring solo move by Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) with 20 laps remaining threw a spanner in the works. With the solo attack beyond the field’s reach, the UnitedHealthcare Blue Train worked to win the bunch sprint, instead. With Rivera safe in the main pack, she was led out with three corners to go, winning the sprint and taking second place on the day.
Rivera and Clarke take victory and overall wins at Sunday’s Crystal Cup.
Following Saturday’s exciting racing, the Air Force Association Cycling Classic’s Crystal Cup formed the second of the USA Cycling National Criterium Calendar events for the weekend. On top of the individual victory, riders were chasing the omnium win. The 1.3-kilometer course ran up and down Crystal Drive and around South Clark in downtown Arlington, VA.
For the women, the race started with one clear goal: set Rivera up for the stage win as redemption for the second place on Saturday and to secure the overall title in the process. Containing breakaway moves throughout the race was a challenge for the team, with every rider working hard on the front to keep the pace high. With 15 laps remaining, the race was aggressive and frantic with many riders aware that the clock was running out. Strong teamwork on the front of the pack by the women in blue and white ensured that the race would be decided by a sprint finish. With Rivera protected for the majority of the race, she was fresh for the finale. Aided by her teammates, Rivera launched a flawless sprint, taking victory in the race and seizing the overall Yellow Jersey in the process.
“As a sprinter, I was conserving my energy to use it where it mattered most,” Rivera said. “My teammates did a great job keeping me covered. Hard work and good luck is always a good mix for a race finish. The Tibco team did a really good job today giving us a run for our money… They gave us a good run but didn’t overtake us in the end.”
The men of UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team rode a strong and dominant race to put Hilton Clarke and Karl Menzies in an early move that would go on to lap the field. With eight riders one lap up on the main field, the pace coming into the finale was slower than normal. This unusual pace may have contributed to a late race crash, which took out Team UnitedHealthcare’s Luke Keough before the finale. The UnitedHealthcare Blue Train immediately stepped on the gas to lift the pace, leaving the field strung out and nearly single file coming into the final sprint.
The men of the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team delivered Clarke across the line in first place, sealing his overall omnium victory for the weekend and making it three wins in a row for Clarke after last week’s Manhattan Beach Grand Prix victory. Karl Menzies, fellow breakaway companion, finished second in the sprint and joined his teammate on the podium. General Manager Mike Tamayo was pleased with the weekend’s events, “It’s great to win the overall for both the men’s and women’s races.” With huge crowds in the downtown area, Tamayo was happy to see the team perform for so many fans, “The spectators were great, even in the excruciating heat we had.”