Downers Grove, IL — They made the most unlikely pair, Rock Racing and Team TIBCO; fundamentally different in their makeup and markedly divergent in their approach to marketing their teams. Yet, for a weekend their paths converged in the western suburbs of Chicago with both teams leaving with a National Champion among their ranks and a sweep of the weekend races.
Rock Racing 1-2 In Criterium Nationals Warm-Up
Rock Racing’s Sterling Magnell and Kayle Leogrande finished 1-2 during last Saturday night’s Pro-Am Challenge, the warm-up to the Saab USA Cycling Professional Criterium Championship at Downers Grove, Ill.
Magnell launched an attack with two corners to go on the figure-eight course, then held off the charging field on the slightly uphill finish to score Rock Racing’s 33rd win of the season.
“Sterling went past everyone going five or six kilometers an hour faster than everyone else,” Leogrande said. “It looked like he was shot out of a cannon.”
As Magnell blazed across the finish line, Leogrande jumped defending national criterium champion Kirk O’Bee (Health Net presented by Maxxis), who was also passed by third-place finisher Jonathan Cantwell (Jittery Joe’s Pro Cycling) in the final few meters.
The Rock Racing pair’s success was set up by teammates who covered moves throughout the 31-mile (50 km race). In the waning minutes of the race, it was Rahsaan Bahati who was the engine powering the team’s lead out. His Herculean effort came just a handful of laps after the 2000 amateur criterium champion stopped for a free lap following a flat tire.
“Rahsaan came up to me and asked, ‘Do you want to win?,’ ” Magnell said. “So I jumped on his wheel and Kayle followed. When I felt him slowing down coming into the second-to-last corner, I punched out and went for it.”
Magnelll’s move was reminiscent of the strategy that earned him a victory at the Great Downer Avenue Bike Race at the Point Premium Root Beer International Cycling Classic. It was one of two races the 25-year-old won while finishing second overall in the 17-day series.
More than 150 amateurs and professionals competed Saturday night.
“The win tonight was good for the morale but we’re staying hungry,” Magnell said. “This was by no means our goal. (Winning) the national title is our No. 1 goal.”
1 Sterling Magnell (USA) Rock Racing
2 Kayle Leogrande (USA) Rock Racing
3 Jonathan Cantwell (Aus) Jittery Joe's Pro Cycling Team
4 Kirk O'Bee (USA) Health Net presented by Maxxis
5 Luca Damiani (Ita) Colavita Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light
Bahati's Instant Karma
Helping to carry a teammate to victory the night before, Rahsaan Bahati was instantly rewarded for his efforts with a victory in Sunday's Saab USA Cycling Professional Criterium Championship.
Bahati out-sprinted Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies presented by Medifast) and third-place finisher Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo Pro Cycling) at the end of the 62-mile (100 km) race to join Rock Racing teammate Justin Williams as a winner of the coveted stars-and-stripes national championship jersey.
Earlier this month, Williams captured the USA Cycling Under-23 National Criterium Championship in Anaheim, Calif. It is believed to be the first time two African-Americans have earned national cycling titles in the same discipline in the same season.
“This has got to be some type of history,” Bahati said after notching his ninth win and receiving a congratulatory call from Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball. “There is definitely some significance to it. Perhaps we won’t see it now, but in the future it will carry some weight.”
“I don’t think there’s another team in the world that would allow and promote and support these individuals to the level that they have attained,” Ball said. “Whether it be Rahsaan Bahati, Justin Williams, Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton or Kayle Leogrande, if it wasn’t for the program we put together collectively, they could not have had these results. It is really, really special.”
Bahati said his second victory at Downers Grove fulfills a season-long goal.
“It was a huge relief to come across the line with my arms up,” Bahati said. “Candelario, Hekman and I came into the last turn NASCAR style – pretty much stacked three-wide with me in the middle. But once we got into the straightaway and I got the gear going, I knew I had it.”
Earlier this spring, things didn’t look so promising for the 26-year-old. He nearly ended his season prematurely after learning that his right thigh bone was overgrown. It created constant pain in his upper thigh on each pedal stroke. Ultimately, he decided against undergoing surgery to correct the problem. That led to wins in Athens and Manhattan Beach and a spot on Rock Racing’s squad for the Tour of Britain next month.
“I told him he’s the fastest man on this planet,” Ball said. “There’s not a race in the world that he can’t win and I believe that whole-heartedly.”
1 Rahsaan Bahati (USA) Rock Racing
2 Alex Candelario (USA) Kelly Benefit Strategies - Medifast
3 Mark Hekman (USA) Toshiba - Santo Pro Cycling presented by Herbalife
4 Antonio Cruz (USA) BMC Racing Team
5 Kyle Wamsley (USA) Colavita Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light
Photos: Vero Image (first and third); Leonard Basobas (second and fourth)