US criterium racing is known to be fast and exciting, and the 7th annual Iron Hill Twilight Criterium did not disappoint. This 1 km, 4 corner crit showcased a tight and challenging course in downtown West Chester, PA. It also happened to be stop number 5 of the USA Crits Series, making it an important event in the march to the championships on Pennsylvania Ave, in Washington, DC.
The racing kicked off with the amateurs taking to the streets. From the beginning, the race separated the strong riders from the weak. Early crashes in turns 1 and 3 crushed the hopes of some riders to raise their arms in victory. The peloton kept a blistering pace, diving into the corners and powering along the straights. Present at the front was Manny Caliz (Shirk’s Racing presented by Trek). Always the protagonist, Caliz pushed the pace, frequently opening gaps between him and the other riders at the front. At 10 laps to go, Caliz finally pulled away. With Christopher Newport (Philadelphia Ciclismo) and Sean McLaughlin (Human Zoom Cycling) driving the chase, Caliz held a firm gap between 10 and 15 seconds as the laps counted down. As race MC Chad Andrews called 2 to go, it was a race for second place. Caliz easily powered up the straight for the last time to take one of the biggest wins of his career. Following up 10 seconds behind, Newport pipped Todd Lippin (Breakawaybikes.com-IFRACTAL) at the line for second place.
As the sun began to set, the pro women lined up. Defending champ Lauren Ellis (Jazz Apple) was not present, but Erica Allar (RideClean p/b PatentIt.com) had unfinished business from her second place finish last year.
With series leader Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom) also not present, the door was open. Keeping an eye on the front, Allar let Silke Wunderwald (Team Kenda p/b Geargrinder) and the ladies from Team Pure Energy/Pro Air-HF manage the pace. As the laps ticked down, Allar decided to make a run for it, taking Kacey Manderfield (Team Pure Energy/Pro Air-HF) with her. As the gap opened up, Ali Ingram (Vanderkitten Racing) tried organize the bunch and bring the race back together. Arley Kemmerer (CAWES p/b Specialized) and Collen Gulick (Team Kenda p/b Geargrinder) opened up a small gap to try and bridge to the leaders, but were swallowed up by the pack with a few laps left to go. At the line, Allar took the win over her break companion Manderfield, and moved into the overall series lead. The podium was completed by Colleen Hayduck (Team Pure Energy/Pro Air-HF) taking the bunch sprint 33 seconds behind Allar.
The showcase event of the night was the pro men. The street lights lit the course as darkness fell upon the city. Unlike the ladies, the men failed to keep the rubber side down, with a few crashes in corners 1 and 3. Other than a few flyers jumping out to win prems, the group mostly stayed together. It wasn’t until the late stages of the race that a break finally took hold. It started as two riders, Joe Schmalz (ELBOWZ Racing), Ben Zawcki (Team Mountain Khakis), but eventually became four with Bobby Lea (Team Pure Energy/Pro Air-HF), and Dion Smith (Pure Black Racing) bridging the gap. The break worked together to keep an 11 second gap in their favor. Local favorite Michael Chauner (Team Cykelcity) was part of the group trying to bring the race back together, but in the end, it wasn’t meant to be.
Coming up the final stretch, Schmalz hugged the barriers on the right and took the win by half a wheel, with Zawacki and Lea following. Smith followed in a few seconds back, with the pack sprinting across 22 seconds behind the leaders.
The USA CRITS Series continues July 16th with the Exergy Twilight Criterium, in Boise, ID.