The legendary Stillwater Criterium lived up to its reputation as one of the hardest races in the United States on Sunday. Attacks flew as the racers went up Chilkoot hill which features a 24 degree grade to the finish line. Put under pressure in the final laps, Canadian Ryan Anderson prevailed to win the overall at the North Star Grand Prix, the fourth title in a row for his Optum team. Anderson finished strong by taking third on the sixth and final stage and claimed his first USA Cycling National Racing Calendar overall stage victory.
“I was glad I was able to be good to finish because the guys rode so well. From day one, the first criterium, we took responsibility for the race and the guys rode pretty much all week.”Anderson said. “For our team it’s a really important race because most of our partners are from the area. I’ve had a bit of a bumpy year, I’ve had some success but I’ve also had some downs this year so to get this win is really motivating for me going forwards with the rest of the year.”
Luis Amaran (Jamis-Hagens Berman) finished second overall, 16 seconds down while Anderson’s teammate Jesse Anthony was third, a further four seconds down.
Travis McCabe of Team SmartStop put in a blistering attack with three laps to go to take the stage win with the field breathing down his neck.
“I just went for it, I looked back on the second lap and I had a 15 to 20 seconds gap and I knew that Optum was content in letting someone like me go and they were just really watching [Luis] Amaran [Jamis-Hagens Berman]. So I just put my head down, raced aggressive and stayed away. I couldn’t hear anything, the crowd was loud, everyone was just roaring, it was so awesome.” McCabe said. “I look back halfway up the climb and they’re charging, I look up at the board and see zero laps and so at that point, I just sprinted with whatever I had left out of pure fear and kept it to the line. It’s really exciting, it’s a great win for the team, we’ve had an awesome year.”
The chasing riders caught McCabe at the line. Belgian Gerry Druyts of Team3M was second on the stage.
As the sun came out after a rainy morning, the riders lined up at the bottom of Chilkoot Hill for 28 laps of pain. The front of the race shuffled and re-shuffled under constant attacking. Seventh overall and 43 seconds down in the general classification, Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman) escaped early to put pressure on Anderson. Also off the front were Tom Devriendt (Team 3M), Ben Frederick (Kelly Benefit Strategies Elite), Coulton Hartrich (SeaSucker/Guttenplan Coaching), Gabriel Baca (Elbowz Racing) and Michael Olheiser (Incycle-Predator Components).
Behind the Optum Team lined up at the front of the stretched out field, controlling the pace and keeping the gap to less than 30 seconds. With six laps to go, Ian Crane (Jamis-Hagens Berman) counter-attacked when his teammate was reeled back. Sensing the pressure, riders swarmed the front of the field and Optum lost control for less than two laps.
“I got a little concerned about six laps to go and that’s when Ian Crane hit out and that put us under a little pressure and Jesse jumped on him right away but he went on the climb and it put the guys that were riding earlier under pressure. Thankfully, the three guys that were riding early in the day did a fantastic job.” explained Anderson. “Once Tom came back, then at three to go I felt that we were in a good position, between six and three were a little bit stressful.”
McCabe followed the team plan and launched himself up the climb with three laps to go. “The whole team was disappointed with the way it played out on the second day so we were just out for stage wins and to race aggressively. I was always at the front, riding the waves, staying in the wind and keying off of Jamis mostly and with four laps to go or three, Amaran attacked and pretty much blew the field up, there was five of us that stayed with him. Right after the hill, on the next little climb, everyone sat up and there was a lull and I knew that everyone was hurting so I figured just to go and not look back. So I attacked up and over that, and spent the downhill recovering, going hard the climbs.”
Amaran put in one more attack the final time up the climb but could not drop Anderson.
Anderson added, “The pressure was just on over the top, Tom was really good here and Jesse, we all stayed together and then Tom pretty much rode the last lap and I slotted in. At first I was sitting behind Amaran but then I decided to get back with the guys and they brought me safely through here [last turn before climb]. Amaran went from the bottom but I was good enough to hang on.”
The Optum team won the overall team classification with three riders in the top five of the general classification.
Eric Marcotte (Team SmartStop) retained the blue Xcel Energy Sprinter jersey and Fabio Calabria (Horizon Organic/Einstein Bros) took the Sports Beans King of the Hills. Finishing only six seconds down on the stage put Orlando Garibay (Incycle-Predator Components) in the white TRIA Orthopedic Center Best Young Rider jersey and Hartrich in the green North Star Top Amateur jersey. Devriendt was awarded the red Penn Cycle Most Aggressive Rider jersey.