September 30, 2007 – The inaugural USA Crits Finals were held on Thursday evening (Sept. 27), in the parking lot of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas at the end of day two of Interbike 2007. As I walked to the venue, who did I spot riding on Las Vegas Boulevard (aka “The Strip”) but Canada’s Martin Gilbert in his Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast kit.
I shouted his name and he pulled over, asking me if I knew where he could train in the area. Unfortunately, I had no idea (other than “nowhere”) but at least I was able to tell him exactly where the evening’s criterium would take place.
I was working on the live WCSN.com video webcast all night and as the evening progressed many cycling luminaries in town for the Interbike trade show stopped by our announce position – Davis Phinney, Alex Stieda, Phil Liggett, Alison Dunlap, Greg LeMond and Linda Jackson (Team Tibco Director) among them.
Pocket rocket Laura Van Gilder took advantage of perfect Cheerwine
teamwork to outsprint Menikini’s Rochelle Gilmore for the women’s title. Gilmore had the advantage of partial anonymity in the peloton since her luggage had been lost in transit by the airlines and she was wearing all black.
In the Industry Cup, Kenny Williams of Full Speed Ahead won bragging rights for the rest of his life by besting an all-star field containing Mario Cipollini, Steve Bauer and Steve Hegg.
The large crowd at Mandalay Bay was quite knowledgeable, due to the fact that Interbike was in town, and quite boisterous, since by the time the men’s race began at 9:30 p.m. they’d watched the women’s , kids’, handcycle and Industry Cup competitions and had probably been downing beers for a few hours in the desert heat.
The men would race 60 laps of the 1-kilometer course, pancake flat but more technical than your garden variety criterium. There was attacking galore, in no small part due to the constant cash and product primes up for grabs – after all, this is Las Vegas so money must change hands.
The bell for the final prime – $5,000 US – was rung with two laps to go and Gilbert decided to go for the big money. He gapped the peloton and crossed the line with one lap to go alone, picking up the cash. However, he paid for his efforts in the final circuit and Toyota-United’s Ivan Dominguez passed him for the race victory. The Quebecer hung tough for a well-deserved second place. KBS-Medifast teammate Dave McCook completed the podium. The question was, did Gilbert go for the prime rather than the victory?
Martin Gilbert: No, no, I think I was going for both. The team did a great job and at the end we came up with like 2-3 laps (left) and there was me and Dave (McCook.) I knew there was the prime coming up and then we’d have one lap to go – if I took the corners well then I felt I’d be ok. So I just jumped for the prime to make a big hole and kept going all the way to the end. But I think Ivan caught me like with half lap to go and when he took my wheel he had the power and the draft to pass me at the end – when he passed me it was over, I gave everything from there to the end but I couldn’t… I went flat-out all the way to the line.
This is a perfect course for you, you like this kind of race, right?
MG: Yeah, I sort of like to drive my bike and turn left, right, everything. So I had a lot of fun tonight. It was good because there were no potholes or anything so every corner was kind of smooth, not slippery, there was a lot of cornering but never like really high speeds so it wasn’t too bad.
I saw you riding out on the streets earlier in the day. What are your impressions of Las Vegas?
MG: I think Vegas is a little bit special. I came here at the beginning of the year when I went across the country by car and just passed through. It’s not exactly my kind of city but it’s pretty nice to come here and know what it looks like when people speak about it.
What are going to do with your $5,000US since you’re in Vegas?
MG: (Laughs) Going to cash in right away, no, no, ha! Yeah, we’ll split that with the guys and have a pretty nice night I think.
You’re not going to hit the slot machines?
MG: No, no, I don’t think so, I don’t really like those games. Maybe poker a little bit, but we’ll see later.
What’s next for you this season?
MG: I have the Tour of Chihuahua in a week and after that I start my track season with the World Cup in Australia and all the World Cups this winter.