Not only was Interbike a fantastic experience for the Masi brand, but it was pretty darned cool for the A&F team as well.
Thursday night saw the finale of the USA Crits series, which the team was leading the Team Overall, Under 25 category (Brandon Gavic), Most Laps Lead (Mark Hekman) and had at least a spot on the final Individual Overall podium sewn up (Mark Hekman). Poor Mark had missed the last race/s due to his broken foot from his terrible crash at Elite Nationals. Still, his points going into the final all but secured him a spot on the final podium.
In an effort to protect their leads in the various categories, the boys came to the race with a strong squad; Brandon Gavic, Rich Harper, Marco Aledia, Bennet van der Genugten, Jaime Gandara and Timmy Swain. The six were primed and ready to throw down on the technical course that saw many, many crashes throughout the night- including the women's(*) and Industry Cup races earlier in the evening.
The race was action packed and I had a nice front row seat from within the confines of the VIP area... that's how I roll. Even though he was upset to not be racing, Mark made the most of the evening...The "famous" Umbrella Girls were on hand to escort the riders to the start line as they received their call-ups. I don't think I've ever seen Rich Harper with a bigger smile... ever.
The race course was lined with rabid fans and lots of curious onlookers from the Mandalay Bay hotel/ casino, since the race was held in the parking lot of the casino. To me, the course looked like a bloodbath in the making, though the guys later said that it was actually quite a fun course.
The race began at a blistering pace and then only got faster after prime after prime was offered up- including the infamous $5000 prime offered by Rock & Republic a couple laps from the finish. The primes were flying throughout the 60+ lap race, so the pace remained high. Plus, all of the teams wanted the win in Vegas. It may have been the end of the season and there was plenty of showboating going on, but it was clear that many of the riders were more than a little motivated for the win.
The night was a little hectic and first Tim Swain had a rider put his pedal in one of his wheels and ripped a few spokes out of the carbon rim... which is a really bad sound. Then Jaime Gandara went down in a larger pile up and the officials weren't so sure they were going to let him have his free lap to get back in. About 5-6 laps later, he was finally back in the race. On the final lap, BVDG was involved in a little spill and finished the race with less than a complete jersey.Still, the race was a great show for the fans. In the closing laps, Kelly Benefits put on a show and controlled the closing of the race. The team put at least 5 guys on the front and kept the pace ramped up to beyond ludicrous speed and straight to plaid (it's a Spaceballs joke... ). Nobody got away from them and really, nobody tried. They took control of the front of the field and had things wrapped up... or so they thought, until Ivan Dominguez pulled off one of his trademarked incredible sprints. You have to give it to him for making the most of the race because the rest of the Toyota-United team seemed to be asleep the whole race. Ivan rode the Kelly team to the line with a brilliant sprint.
In the end, Brandon Gavic took 15th, Harpoon was 21st, Timmy was 30th, Jaime was 32nd and MA was 43rd. BVDG was out of the top 75 thanks to that last lap spill... but he's got a national title this year, so he's gonna be ok.
With Brandon's efforts on the night, which were very impressive for such a little guy in a crit full of some very big dudes, he took the overall U25 title for the series.
Mark ended up still taking the most laps lead category, as well as still maintaining 3rd overall in the individual category.Thanks to some questionable points tallying, the team ended up second in the overall teams classification behind AEG. AEG rode very well through the series and would be a worthy winner of the title, were it not for some odd irregularities in the way the series dealt with the A&F team. That said, with no hard feelings, AEG did a great job and Frank Travieso was a great overall series winner.
All in all, not a bad night for the team and certainly a great series. You can bet that the team will show up for the series even more motivated next year and they will OWN the podiums all along the way.
To the team; you know I love ya already, but one more congratulations won't hurt... so CONGRATULATIONS!
* An additional congratulations has to go to Carrie Cash from Team Revolution. Team Revolution is a women's team I have had the pleasure to work with. They are based out of St. Louis and are an amazing group of hard riding women. Carrie, on a borrowed Masi demo bike managed to finish 11th in the women's pro race without a single teammate to work with her. Talk about toughing it out and making the most of the night! Way to go Carrie- I'm proud to have been able to provide you (and the team) with bikes this year!