Spectators lining the streets at this year’s Iron Hill Twilight Criterium in West Chester on July 6 are in for some top-flight competition.
Many of the highest-ranked professional bicycle riders will be competing in West Chester’s popular race, a crucial stop on the USA CRITS Championship Series calendar.
With two more races to go before the USA CRITS Finals in Las Vegas, the United Healthcare Pro Cycling Team will be trying to keep their lead over Team Smart-Mountain Khakis. UHC riders will be going into the Iron Hill Twilight Criterium holding three of the four top positions in the 2013 USA CRITS Championship Series, with Hilton Clarke and Carlos Alzate currently in first and second places respectively, with teamate Luke Keough coming in fourth. This is the first year for Keough, who joined UHC just after his victorious finish at the 2012 USA CRITS Championship Series finals.
Veteran sprinter Hilton Clarke has landed a top-three finish 18 times during the past two seasons. Now in his 13th year, Clarke is considered one of the top criterium racers in the sport. He developed his love of cycling at a young age in Australia, where he watched his father compete in the local velodrome and traveled with his dad to ride in track cycling events at the 1968 Mexican Olympics.
“When I came to the USA in 2001, I heard about criterium racing, which I discovered I really liked,” Clarke said. “For me, there was so much going on it was impossible not to get passionate about it. The corners are always coming at you quickly, so you have to attack them constantly. And there are so many guys who want to be in the same place at the same time that you have to think quickly to get there first!”
Clarke attributes the success of the United Healthcare Pro Cycling team to its stability. “We’ve been together so many years that we have developed a good chemistry,” he said. “We can anticipate what the other UCI team members are going to do next and know each other’s style.”
Rounding out UHC lineup at the Criterium are Adrian Hegyvary, Karl Menzies and Bradley White. White is coming off a victory at the Glencoe Grand Prix earlier this month.
Only Shane Kline, who rides for Team SmartStop/Mountain Khakis, was able to break UHC’s hold by taking third place in the men’s overall standings after finishing in the top ten in every race this season. “Everybody knows Iron Hill is going to turn out to be a real battle,” Kline said.
After spending many weeks on the road, Kline is happy that the Iron Hill Twilight Criterium is so close to his Bally, Pa., home, just south of Allentown. “West Chester is only about 40 minutes from where I was raised,” he said. For much of his 24 years, cycling has been the center of his life. He earned his first pro contract at the age of 19.
This will not be his first time riding in the West Chester race. “I haven’t been able to compete at Iron Hill for four years because there have been other events that overlapped,” he said. Last year, he competed at the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix in California, which was going on at the same time as the West Chester race, where he came in fourth place.
In addition to the main event, there's a whole day of family fun in West Chester on July 6.
The excitement starts early with a series of amateur races that will be held at Bayard Rustin High School from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Everyone is invited to watch these heats, which will help determine the field for the Rothman Institute Amateur Men's Criterium to be held later in downtown West Chester.
Starting at 4:30 p.m., there's the popular Kinetic Physical Therapy Community Festival, featuring a business bazaar, food stands and other activities.
At the AAA Travel Kids' Zone, kids can get their faces painted, and the Radio Disney Road Team will present games, dancing and prizes. The Maxxis BMX Stunt Team will be performing gravity-defying tricks during the day.
The Market Street Block Party also kicks off at 4:30 p.m., where participants can do sidewalk chalk art, enjoy food specialties from local restaurants, and hear some live music. At 5 p.m., children from ages 3 to 10 will pedal their bikes toward the finish line, followed by a series of back-to-back heats for runners of all ages and abilities.
The Rothman Institute Amateur Men's Criterium begins at 6:45 p.m., with top local riders of all levels of ability testing themselves against their peers.
The Iron Hill Twilight Criterium begins at 7:45 p.m., as hundreds of cyclists race through this challenging circuit at speeds of more than 35 miles per hour. The action begins and ends at the intersection of Gay and High streets, where the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant stands.
For more information, visit www.ironhilltwilightcriterium.com.