August 19, 2016 – On Saturday Aug. 20, Canada’s Ryan Aitcheson (Astellas Pro Cycling), 24, from Kitchener, Ont., will take the start line in West Chester, Pennsylvania at the Iron Hill Twilight Criterium, the final top of the USA Crits Championship Series, in overall leader’s jersey. Barring any calamity Aitcheson is set to make history as the first Canadian to win the series overall title.
In 2015, Aitcheson made a name for himself on the USA crit scene by racing the (NCC) National Criterium Calendar, USA Crits, along with other top professional criterium across North America. He raced aggressive throughout the entire season and made several winning moves which resulted in lapping the field.
While he consistently found himself on the podium – with eight impressive podium finishes in the NCC series – he never got the full taste of glory, until 2016 where he won two events including the prestigious Athen’s Orthopaedic Clinic Twilight Criterium in May while fellow Canuck Marie-Soleil Blais (Fearless Femme Racing) won the women’s race for a Canada Day podium style finish.
We caught up with Aitcheson following last weekend’s Rochester Twilight Criterium where he was second to find out more about his historic rise to the top of the heap in the US crit racing scene.
The Pro races at the Iron Hill Criterium start at 6:30pm with the women, followed by the men – catch all of the action here.
Ryan Aitcheson: Being able to rely on my teammates is very calming during a race and means you can take more chances, and the right chances, to get into the moves that stick. The right moves, is the hard part. I haven’t always been a breakaway rider (somehow turned into one) but I feel like I’ve learned over the years of racing of how to be aware – keep aware of many factors that are in the race; obviously the hitters on the start line, but the constant speed changes, cornering speed, long straight-aways, and abilities of others around me. All these combined with the proper timing. It isn’t just what I do though. When I’m off the front it makes a difference what my team does behind me in the field i.e. following other riders and slowing the field down so I can lap.
You finished 3rd overall last year – what were your expectations? Did things unfold as expected and were you happy with your progress?
RA: The 2015 season was definitely an eye opener. I started the year as a full time Crit rider which I switched up my training to help peak for. Going into the season I knew I had some good form, and my roll was to cover moves and work in the lead outs for our sprinter. Little did anyone know that many races ended in groups lapping. Maybe it was just luck to start, but I never missed a break that went to the line in 2015. My goal and the teams goal was podium finishes in the top-tier races. I never had a big league podium up till last year so I was looking for one. I was always just “there” for most the year. I mean, podiums are great! Winning is the next challenge. The last few months of racing I took more risks to try and chase the win. Attacking the break or launching a sprint early to get that extra edge.
How did it feel winning this year’s Athen’s Orthopaedic Clinic Twilight Criterium, also the final stop of Speedweek where you finished 2nd overall – soon after you won the Glencoe Grand Prix?
RA: What a race that is. Athens Twilight was the most insane race I’ve ever done. Beer gardens on every corner, the smell of hot break pads of 150 guys going into the tight corners, the city thrives off this one race every year and shuts down. The 2016 race will go down in history. There was three of us that lapped the field twice who were contesting the sprint. The team went into overtime to make that win happen. I’m still in shock over that race. Won’t be the same going back there next year.
Do you have a favourite type of course or are there particular course elements that intrigue you?
RA: I like challenging courses. Ones were only the strong and best bike handlers can stay at the front. Four-corner, open road, fast crits have so much reshuffling of riders that it makes holding position so challenging. And they are usually too fast for a break to stay away. I’m also a fan of little hills in races. That 30-second climb hurts but brings a whole new element to the race.
Heading into Iron Hill, the finale of the USA Crits Championship Series on Aug 20 you’re leading overall and your teammate Eamon Lucas is the top U25 men – both with substantial leads. Does that put more pressure on you and the team?
RA: The team has a lot going on in the finale this year. We also have the team overall. The spread on the series is pretty significant, but nothing is locked up. It will be a long team meeting before the race running over scenarios for the best outcome. I’m feeling the pressure and I will be even more so lining up with the leader’s jersey. It will wrap up a great year for us to take home the jersey.
What will winning the 2016 USA Crits Championship Series mean to you?
RA: The team has followed the series all year and helped me so much along the way. It will be pretty insane that a foreigner has accomplished so much in the American crits, and of course being the first Canadian to ever win the series overall is cool.
Do you know what team you will be racing for in 2017?
RA: Good question! No idea. It seems I’ve been so wrapped up in this season that I haven’t noticed it is soon coming to an end.
What does your race season look like after Iron Hill? Will you return to the track this fall for the Canadian National Track Championships and other key events at the Milton Velodrome?
RA: After Iron Hill I have a few more team events planned. Including a few drinks after a successful Iron Hill (we hope). There are three big USA PRT Crit weekends left in the year for me. Two days at Chris Thater, four days racing in St. Louis, and capping off with two races in Boston. No racing plans after that. I’m planning on doing some end-of-season base training out in BC and hopefully planning winter training camps for next season!
Good Luck this weekend.