On Saturday, April 20, 2013, absolutely beautiful weather blessed Anniston, Alabama where the annual Sunny King Criterium was being held. With sunny skies overhead and a slight breeze, many attended to watch the race and enjoy the Noble Street Festival which had kiddie rides, food vendors, music, and picnic tables. The Noble Street Festival was held in front of the downtown restaurants and directly off to the side of the start/finish line. The streets were lined with metal railing to prevent people from obstructing the races and for pedestrian safety, which was a good idea with such a large crowd of spectators. Even though most the events were in one area, people were allowed to walk around the track or even set up their own chairs if desired. I, personally, watched the race by walking around the track, carrying my camera by my side looking for photo opportunities, but if you would rather sit down, relax and enjoy the race, the Sunny King Criterium made that possible with the Red Diamond JumboTron, a huge screen displaying the race. Plus, the Red Diamond JumboTron was directly off from the start/finish line so spectators could also see the race live as well. All the races at the Sunny King Criterium were entertaining, but I want to share a few of the amateur races that stood out above all the rest.
The Men's Category 4 Masters 35+ was very interesting. Everyone was altogether in the peloton and then with about 15 minutes left to go, Justin Meschler (Big Ring Racing, Inc) stole the show entirely, breaking away by himself and keeping it up until the very end. It was very close at the finish line, only a 7 second gap. The announcer, Chad Andrews, called it “a battle of freshness versus the eagerness and desire to win the race” and Justin won that “battle.” Justin sprinted up the hill and gave a photo finish with the peloton still about fifty meters behind him. In the pictures leading up to the finish line, Justin’s face shows he is pushing himself beyond his limits, breaking barriers to keep it up and stay in the lead, but he managed to not blow himself up entirely. He won the race! It was a well-deserved and well-fought race. After his second place win in Macon, getting second place by a couple inches at most, Justin seemed motivated to not let anyone near the finish line when he crossed. Congratulations to Justin Meschler from Big Ring Racing!
The other race I really enjoyed was the Men's Category 1/2/3/4 Masters 35+. Kirk Corsello (Century Road Club Association/Lupis Racing Team) took off right away, breaking away on the very first lap. Now, he tried this in Macon on the second lap, but, in Macon, no one actually followed him. What happened? Kirk rejoined the peloton. However, Oleg Tanovitchi (Iron Data Racing p/b Apto Solutions) did not race in Macon last week. Oleg was in New York competing in the Tour of the Battenkill. At the Sunny King Criterium, Oleg was ready and there was no way Oleg was letting Kirk take off from the group without him. By the 2nd lap, Oleg had joined Kirk in the breakaway, but their lead was not significant enough to get away without others joining them. Kirk’s teammate, Andy Lougher (CRCA/Lupus Racing Team) joined the breakaway, bringing along Patrick Raines (Team SmartStop p/b Mountian Khakis), and before the breakaway could get organized and gain full speed another Lupus Racing Team member, Igor Rudalev, caught the breakaway by himself. The breakaway kept churning in this fashion for the majority of the race, and mostly they all took turns pulling. However, an unexpected turn of events happened with only 10 laps to go; Igor attacked, leaving the breakaway. Then, even more surprisingly, no one followed him, and Igor soft pedaled and let the breakaway catch up, still pulling once he was back with the breakaway. Igor’s attack seemed to cause a distrust within the breakaway, and Patrick Raines and Oleg Tanovitchi seemed hesitant to pull for fear of expending energy to only get attacked from behind…a serious concern when three out of five people in the breakaway are on the same team, as Lupus was in this race. With only three laps to go, Oleg decided to make his move and attacked up the hill toward the start/finish line. Kirk sprinted to catch his wheel and stayed on Oleg’s tire in order to draft. With Oleg and Kirk having a gap between themselves and the breakaway, the peloton chased hard, and the question lingered: Would Igor, Patrick and Andy lose their gap? Would the peloton catch up to them? Patrick was getting no help from Lupus Racing Team members most likely because Andy and Igor didn’t want to pull Patrick up to Kirk and Oleg, but they could have just been exhausted. With only 1 lap left, the peloton overtook the remainder of the first breakaway. Everyone wondered if the same would happen to Kirk and Oleg. If Kirk and Oleg did not figure out a plan on how to work together…even though they were racing against one another…it was inevitable the peloton would reach them and all their hard work, the break away, would be for nothing. Luckily, they decided to take turns pulling, giving each other a little break, in order to have a fighting chance against the peloton, and because of their impromptu strategizing...they were rewarded with first and second place. However, it was very close at the end, as the peloton was right behind them. Kirk passed Oleg in the sprint up the hill towards the finish line and received 1st place, but Oleg still managed to hold on to 2nd place! What a unique race that I will never forget!
I also got to meet a very talented member of the Village Volkswagen Elite Cycling Team, Nolan Tankersley, who not only placed 2nd in the Junior 15-18, but also surprised himself by winning the Men’s Category 2 race later in the day. I asked Nolan if he set out to win, and he genuinely said, “No. I was just going out to see how I would do, but on the last lap, a spot opened up for me to get out there, and I took it.” On the very last lap, Nolan Tankersley raced with the entire peloton behind him. At the hill, he still had some energy left and sprinted to a first place victory and the $1,000 prize! He won with a 7 second gap in between himself and the peloton. Two wins in one day! Very impressive!
It is simply remarkable the talented cyclists that can be found at these races, and I encourage all people who love cycling to come out to an event to celebrate and watch these amazing athletes perform. Bring a friend along or the whole family. It is free and the people are nice. Don’t let people scare you with what they say about roadies.