By Ian Dille
Published: Sep. 18, 2009
At the lobby bar of Dallas’ W Hotel on Thursday evening, pro bike racers and bike racing fans alike held their champagne glasses high in toast of Team Hotel San Jose’s Heath Blackgrove, who scored his second consecutive victory at the TX Tough Grand Prix by out-sprinting a breakaway group of five riders.
“We missed two big moves and were able to bring them back. It really speaks to the strength of our squad,” said Blackgrove, who placed in front of OUCH-Maxxis’ national criterium champion John Murphy.
Between sips of bubbly, Blackgrove deferred personal praise. “I give all the credit to my team,” he said.
Big night in Dallas
The penultimate stop on the USA Crit Series tour featured a full field of 125 riders racing a roughly one-mile, four-corner loop around the American Airlines Center.
To locals, the swank retail and restaurant area surrounding the stadium — dubbed Victory Park and developed by Ross Perot Jr. — is known as the home of the Dallas Mavericks (a few of whom also occupied the W Hotel bar).
But on Thursday night, the city’s enthusiastic cycling community came out in droves, despite an onslaught of nasty rain, to cheer on the nation’s best criterium riders.
Jumbo screens broadcast the action around the course. A news helicopter hovered overhead throughout the duration of the 75-minute event. The disc jockey from a local radio station played MC and gave the pre-race call ups (not muffing a single name).
The race started with a lap of silence in honor of the recently deceased Dallas cycling legend, Chris Hipp.
Attrition and tactics
The wet conditions at the race’s start made the final corner — a tight 120-degree turn heading up a long drag through the finish line — a single file affair in the field.
Each lap, racers were peeled off the back of the pack in droves, while those diligent enough to stay at the front sprinted for a slew of $1,000 primes.
Team Type 1 and OUCH-Maxxis were the main instigators early, forcing a number of dangerous moves that caught out Team Hotel San Jose. However, determined to ride hard in their home state, the Austin-based amateur team went to the front and drove back the splits. The team recruited Blackgrove from the now-defunct Toyota-United squad for 2009.
An exciting finale
As the race clock counted down to 20 minutes to go, the field finally split for good. Blackgrove, John Murphy (OUCH-Maxxis), Michael Creed (Team Type 1), Adrian Hegyvary (Hagens-Berman LLP), and Adam Myerson (Team Mountain Khakis) escaped from the severely depleted pack and gained a maximum advantage of 20 seconds.
Missing the break was Kelly Benefit Strategies young sprinter Jake Keough, who is leading the USA Crits Series in a tight competition over Team Mountain Khakis’ Mark Hekman. Keough’s teammate Reid Mumford quickly went into time trial mode at the front of the field, narrowing the gap to eight seconds, before ultimately losing steam.
As the roads dried over the course of the race the speed increased significantly, allowing Blackgrove to hit the final corner first and with enough momentum to hold off a hard charging Murphy at the line.
Keough placed second in the field sprint to maintain his overall lead in the series heading into the USA Crit series finals in Las Vegas next Thursday night.
While acknowledging his whole team wasted themselves at the front of the field, Blackgrove gave special recognition to his former Toyota-United cohorts, Sean Sullivan, who’s returned to form following an early season knee surgery, and Chris Wherry, the former US professional champion racing in his final event as a professional cyclist.
“I fully intend on staying involved in cycling as a coach and manager,” said Wherry, whose post-race retirement party also served as his teammate’s victory celebration.
“I’m excited about the next phase of my life and having a chance to give back to a sport that’s given me so much,” said Wherry.