College football rules Saturdays in Athens, Georgia each fall, but come spring the action moves from between the hedges and hash marks of the manicured grass playing field to the four asphalt corners and whirl of wheels at Clayton Street and College Avenue for the 34th annual Athens Orthopedic Clinic Twilight Criterium.
USPro criterium champion Kendall Ryan (L39ION of Los Angeles) launched a late-race, solo attack that gave her the victory in the women’s pro race while Bryan Gomez (Best Buddies Racing Built by HGR Construction) outsprinted local favorite Ty Magner (L39ION of Los Angeles) for the men’s pro title.
The penultimate event and crown jewel of the seven-race Speed Week series, Athens Twilight returned to its springtime date on Saturday after rescheduling for the coronavirus pandemic and an estimated crowd of 20,000 spectators turned out on the downtown circuit.
“Athens is the cream of the crop for sure. The crowd was amazing, it was literally like fuel for me,” Kendall Ryan told Cyclingnews after her win. “The bottom last two corners are just so fun to reel. It was a pretty magical night. It was my first win here in Athens, and first big crowd win, the atmosphere was just awesome. I’m really proud of the girls for the effort.”
Speed Week, with all its races taking place between April 22 and May 1 in the south-eastern US, crowned individual and team overall winners on Sunday after the College Park Criterium.
L39ION of Los Angeles won six out of seven races in the women’s pro division to secure both the individual and team titles. Kendall Ryan racked up four victories and a pair of runner-up placings over the week, including winning the two crits with the largest prize purses, Athens and the opening night at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System Criterium. Her teammate Skylar Schneider added a pair of victories, including the final round at Spin the District Criterium – College Park, and was never out of the top 10 all week.
Finishing second in the team standings for women was Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24, which held off CWA Racing p/b Goldman Sachs ETFs by just 17 points. Emily Ehrlich finished third overall for the Virginia’s Blue Ridge team, with a fifth place or better in all seven races, including a pair of second-place results in Augusta and Spartanburg.
Best Buddies Racing Built by HGR Construction took top honors for the men in both categories, topping the Blazers and Automatic-ABUS Racing squads who were second and third, respectively, followed by L39ION of Los Angeles in fourth. In the individual standings, Alfredo Rodriquez (Best Buddies Racing) took enough points with a fifth-place finish at the finale in College Park to edge Magner by a slim 14 points. Best Buddies’ Bryan Gomez was third overall. Best Buddies won four of the seven criteriums over the week, Rodriguez winning twice and adding four other podiums.
The top five individuals and teams shared in a $15,000 bonus purse for the series, split equally for men and women, while the total prize purse for the seven races totaled $80,000.
Women in Athens
The first 30 laps of the women’s contest in Athens was a sparring match between five riders from L39ION of Los Angeles and a foursome from Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24. Each attack was brought back and then a new rider would test the waters. Kendall Ryan was the one to get away, vaulting around the course to catch a trailing group of riders.
From the lead chase group, Alexis Ryan (L39Ion of Los Angeles) would stretch across the line to grab second place, and US Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Valente (Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24) took third.
“L39ION was just trying to win today. We really wanted Alexis to win because she lives here in Athens. We wanted her to have a hometown win and the crowd go wild for her. And we also wanted to defend the win also because Sky [Schneider] won last year,” Kendall Ryan said.
“Our tactics were just to really isolate the other teams and send fireworks at them, and try to get a move off the front until they couldn’t cover one. Yeah, I timed it just right and nobody went with me. I was expecting them to reel me back in, but I really went as hard as I could and committed so that whatever final move, if they caught me, I could go for the win.”
Men in Athens
Going into Athens, Rodriquez had a slight lead over Clever Martinez (Blazers) and Magner in the men’s overall Speed Week standings. But once under the lights of the college-town course Saturday night, the Best Buddies Racing team used its six-rider squad to wrestle L39ION, who brought a few extra riders to the weekend to support Magner.
Best Buddies’ Hernandez drove a group of four off the front after the opening handful of laps in the 80-lap contest, but the field never let them get away. Then a group of 13 moved ahead and gained a one-minute advantage, Best Buddies leading the drive to catch the back of the main field.
With 20 laps to go, Ben Wolfe (Best Buddies) pushed the pace with Eder Frayre the last L39ION rider remaining to help Magner in a bunch that was down to 12. With one to go, Hernandez delivered Gomez into the final turn into the slightest uphill rise to the finish. Magner was not able to get by and Gomez won by half a wheel. Liam White (Butcherbox Cycling) finished third and Hernandez fourth in the reduced lead pack.
“These guys were dominant against the best criterium racers on this side of the planet,” said Thomas Craven, team director. “We could not be any happier. If the season ended today, we could call it a success because of that result.”
Magner, who took part in his hometown race for an eighth time, seemed to be in control with his teammates until the last 20 laps and had a hard battle to the end. It was turned out to be his third runner-up finish and his sixth time in the top five.
“Our L39ION of LA squad was perfect, but my legs started to fade the last two laps. I gave everything – and that’s all there is to it. One day the stars will align, the Athens curse will be broken, and all of us locals will probably steal the Clayton street construction cones,” Magner said on his Instagram feed.
“Congrats to my long time friend Thomas Craven and Bryan Gomez for taking the win! We wrapped up Speedweek with two wins, and I was second overall. The team is on the up and can’t wait for the summer of speed!”