Optum teams gets top-three sweep in Foothills Classic
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Apr 23, 2012 | 1806 views |  0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
PIEDMONT — Optum Pro Cycling came into Sunday’s Foothills Classic armed with more than the army of riders it brought to the area this weekend.

It came loaded with determination after falling short of the top spot in Saturday’s Sunny King Criterium women’s pro race.

Optum optimized its motivation, taking the top three spots in the Foothills. Winner Courteney Lowe crossed the finish line hand-in-raised-hand with teammate Anna Barensfeld.

They finished well ahead of teammate Lex Albrecht, the third-place finisher.

“We are just really happy, because we were disappointed (Saturday night),” Lowe said. “We’re a young team, and we’re new, but we’re learning.”

The Foothills Classic is a road race added to the Anniston area’s annual cycling weekend three years ago. It was added largely to give pro teams more motivation to come — a training road race on Sunday to complement the Sunny King Criterium, which is a points race on USA Cycling’s National Criterium Calendar.

Both the women’s and men’s pro fields Sunday were largely the same as the groups that ran the pro criterium races Saturday night.

On the men’s pro side, 2007 Sunny King Criterium winner Frank Travieso won Sunday, raising his left arm in victory after winning a field sprint to the finish.

The Optum team that dominated the Foothills women’s pro race was the same six-rider crew that came ready to dominate Saturday’s criterium.

They had three riders in the breakaway pack of five and three more holding back the field.

But RideClean’s Erica Allar and Mellow Mushroom’s Laura Van Gilder, knowing they were outnumbered, worked together in the lead pack and took their turns in the lead down the stretch. Allar won the final sprint, ahead of runner-up Jade Wilcoxson, from Optum, and Van Gilder.

Come Sunday, the Optum team came ready for redemption.

“We definitely wanted to have control of the race,” Barensfeld said. “We did a good job at the beginning, and then there was kind of a lull.

“We all kind of had the same idea, and Jade said we need some attacks.”

Wilcoxson attacked first. When the field reeled her back in, Lowe and Barensfeld went on the attack.

“It’s really ideal when two of us can go together at the same time,” Barensfeld said. “Court had a little bit better climbing legs on that really steep pitch, and I was able to catch her just after the hill.”

When the two got together, they took off together.

“We both just kept going,” Lowe said. “We put our heads out and our bums up and rode as hard as we could.”

When they approached the finish line, they sided up, raised their arms and held hands across the finish line.

“When you work together the whole day like that, it’s just kind of neat,” Barensfeld said. “You want to finish together like that.”

Travieso had a much different experience in winning the men’s pro race.

He had spent the previous year’s Foothills helping teammate Cole House win, but his Cocos team came with only three riders Sunday. The other two are from Miami and not used to racing hills, so they didn’t have hill-strong legs.

Travieso had to fight out front alone.

“It was a hard race,” he said. “By the time we hit the sprint, it started going really fast.

“It was good. Everyone in the breakaway worked super hard to make it happen. I guess everybody had the same idea that I had, just to come to win the race.”

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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