Rain can’t dampen criterium
South Carolina native wins men’s pro race in the rain at 14th annual event in West Chester
For the first time since debuting in 2005, the Benchmark Twilight Cycling Classic was staged during persistent rain showers on Saturday in downtown West Chester. And while the conditions certainly affected attendance, three rain-soaked champions were crowned while many marveled at the amount of spectators on hand for the marquee Iron Hill Pro Men’s Criterium. “It’s really impressive that we’ve had this many people come out with the rain we’ve had,” said Mark Yoder, president of the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce.
“Last year we had a short rain delay and a couple years ago we had sweltering heat and a wind storm that came through. But we’ve never had a drenching, constant rain like we had this year.”
The highlight of the 14th annual event – held on an eight-block, rectangular circuit – was a rare field sprint to conclude a frantic, high-paced pro men’s race. Corey Davis, a native of Greenville, S.C., crossed the line in first place ahead of runner-up Tom Gibbons by just over a second.
“It never slowed down,” said Davis, age 25. “It was full-out from the start, on a super fun course with great atmosphere. The rain just added another element to it.
“This is one of the best venues we see all season.”
The rain actually let up for the finale, which was staged on wet pavement. The riders in the Brumbaugh Pro Women’s Criterium and the Rothman Institute Amateur Criterium were not so lucky.
For the second time in three years, a Schneider won the pro women’s race. In 2016, it was Skylar Schneider, and this year her older sister, Sam, prevailed. Earlier, Easton native Sean Guydish
made his first competition in West Chester a memorable one with a wire-to-wire win in the amateur race.
The ninth of the 10-city U.S.A. CRITS Championship Series, West Chester has become one of the more popular stops according to Gene Dixon, the director of USA Crits.
“This is one of the great events in our series and it has been for years,” Dixon said. “Downtown West Chester has changed a lot over the years and we’d like to take credit for that, but we know it’s not just us. This environment makes an excellent setting for some great racing.
“Our riders love coming here. Criterium racing across the nation is held in a lot of cities. We have a lot of athletes who look forward to this stop because of the atmosphere. You can’t recreate it. It’s not like we can go to a parking lot and build this kind of atmosphere. It’s being downtown that gives you that.”
Unlike the earlier races, there was no successful breakaway during the entire
75 kilometer men’s pro race. In the final lap, Davis came from fourth place to out-sprint the rest of the field. His winning time was 40 minutes, 7.5 seconds.
“We all thought there would be a break, so it’s hard to believe it wound up a field sprint,” said Davis, who is a member of the Cyclus Sports Team. “This is a huge win for my team. It’s a first-year team.”
A native of suburban Milwaukee, Sam Schneider’s late push was enough to win the rain-soaked 40-kilometer pro women’s race. For a long time, however, it looked like a runaway victory for Texan Lauren Rathbun, who led all of the way before being overtaken with just two laps to go.
Thanks to help from ISCorps Pro Cycling teammate Josie Talbot, Schneider was able to bridge a 14-second gap behind Rathbun with 20 laps remaining. It was down to seven seconds with 12 to go, but once Rathbun began lapping a group of back markers, Schneider and the chase group made a big move.
“If it wasn’t for Josie I would not have been able win this race,” said Schneider, who had a winning time of 54:48.5 said. “It took
quite a bit of effort to bring back Laura.”
Afterwards, Schneider commented on the size of the soggy crowd near the finish line at the corner of Gay and High streets.
“I couldn’t make it here last year but I definitely had this race on the schedule this year, and I’m glad I did,” she said.
“The West Chester race is definitely on everybody’s radar. How awesome are the crowds out here? It’s such a great community and we are thrilled to come here and race.”
In the 35 kilometer amateur race, Guydish opened a five-second lead on a group of a dozen pursuers midway through, and proceeded to increase the margin in nine seconds soon thereafter. He began lapping dropped riders with four laps to go and wound up winning by eight seconds over Kevin Westover in a time of 43:38.3.
“It was a very technical race, which favors me,” said Guydish, from team Young Medalists. “Getting clear of the main group helped me a lot because the pavement was wet. I was able to stay upright, especially on the corners.”
It was the second year of a five-year commitment as
title sponsor for Benchmark Federal Credit Union. And even though weather was an issue, attendees made the best of the situation, according to Benchmark’s Director of Marketing Rebecca Worthington.
“Weather is the one element none of us can control,” she said, “There are not as many people here as in the past couple years. There wasn’t as many in the kid’s races as normal, and I also heard the Community Fest wasn’t as crowded, so the weather has played a part.
“But it certainly hasn’t stopped those with VIP tickets. The VIP tent is packed.”