August 8, 2004 (Charlotte, N.C.) – Coming off a one-two finish at the BMC Software New York City Cycling Championship, Greg Henderson and Gord Fraser of the Health Net Pro Cycling Team Presented by Maxxis were marked men at the Bank of America Charlotte Criterium in North Carolina Saturday evening.
“Everyone was racing to beat us because we were the favorites,” noted Henderson, who won in New York the previous Sunday, with Fraser on his wheel finishing second. “So it fell to us to control the front.” Which is exactly what the squad did with eight of the 1.2-mile laps remaining in the two-hour race. “And if we’d have had one more guy there, we’d have won it,” he added.
Unfortunately, the format of the race called for five-man teams, with Dan Schmatz, Mike Sayers and John Lieswyn doing much of the work for Health Net Presented by Maxxis. When it came down to the finish, it was Henderson left to lead out Fraser. But with several of the other contenders having to do less work those final eight laps, Colavita-Bolla’s Ivan Dominguez had just enough left in the tank to pip Fraser on the line by only a few inches. Fraser was followed closely by Navigators Insurance Aussie Henk Vogels, who is set to return to Europe next year with Division 1 Lotto.
Despite the close second finish, Health Net Presented by Maxxis directeur sportif Jeff Corbett was still satisfied with the team’s performance. “The guys rode stellar today,” he said. “This was one of the best efforts all year. They were on everything, they covered every move. Everyone did their share. They did everything to get Gord to the line. They were rock stars today.”
The race attracted the top teams riding in North America, as well as several foreign teams, and with good reason. In its first year, the B of A-sponsored event is the richest of any North American criterium, with a total prize purse of $125,000, and the winner’s take being $40,000 of that.
For Henderson, this was his last race in North America this season. He’s on his way to Athens for the Olympics. He’ll return to his native New Zealand after the games. Fraser will also head to Athens for the Olympic road race on August 14, and will return to the states for the USPRO Criterium Championship in Downers Grove, IL on August 22. Sayers and Schmatz will be in southern California next weekend for the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix, Sunday August 15.