Bahati’s National Criterium Title Leads Rock Racing’s Prolific Day

Downers Grove, Ill. — Rahsaan Bahati’s victory Sunday at the Saab USA Cycling Professional Criterium Championship proved to be the crowning moment of the most prolific day – and week – in Rock Racing’s two-year history.

Bahati out-sprinted Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies presented by Medifast) and third-place finisher Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo Pro Cycling) at the end of the 62-mile (100 km) race to join Rock Racing teammate Justin Williams as a winner of the coveted stars-and-stripes national championship jersey.

Earlier this month, Williams captured the USA Cycling Under-23 National Criterium Championship in Anaheim, Calif. It is believed to be the first time two African-Americans have earned national cycling titles in the same discipline in the same season.

“This has got to be some type of history,” Bahati said after notching his ninth win and receiving a congratulatory call from Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball. “There is definitely some significance to it. Perhaps we won’t see it now, but in the future it will carry some weight.”

In addition to Bahati’s win in Downers Grove, Ill., Freddy Cruz, Danny Finneran, Danny Heeley and Iggy Silva captured the team pursuit for Rock Racing Sunday at the USA Cycling Junior Track National Championships, while Williams won the Brentwood (Calif.) Grand Prix and Oscar Sevilla finished in the top 10 overall at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah.

Add in three bronze medal finishes (by Silva on Sunday in the 10 km scratch race, Finneran in the 3 km pursuit on Friday and the junior 17-18 criterium on Aug. 7) – as well as Fred Rodriguez’s runner-up placing Friday night on Stage 3 of the Tour of Utah and Sterling Magnell and Kayle Leogrande’s 1-2 finish in Saturday night’s Pro-Am Challenge – and Rock Racing collected five wins, two seconds and three third-place finishes in the span of 10 days.

“I don’t think there’s another team in the world that would allow and promote and support these individuals to the level that they have attained,” Ball said. “Whether it be Rahsaan Bahati, Justin Williams, Oscar Sevilla, Tyler Hamilton or Kayle Leogrande, if it wasn’t for the program we put together collectively, they could not have had these results. It is really, really special.”

Bahati said his second victory at Downers Grove fulfills a season-long goal.

“It was a huge relief to come across the line with my arms up,” Bahati said. “Candelario, Hekman and I came into the last turn NASCAR style – pretty much stacked three-wide with me in the middle. But once we got into the straightaway and I got the gear going, I knew I had it.”

Earlier this spring, things didn’t look so promising for the 26-year-old. He nearly ended his season prematurely after learning that his right thigh bone was overgrown. It created constant pain in his upper thigh on each pedal stroke. Ultimately, he decided against undergoing surgery to correct the problem. That led to wins in Athens and Manhattan Beach and a spot on Rock Racing’s squad for the Tour of Britain next month.

“I told him he’s the fastest man on this planet,” Ball said. “There’s not a race in the world that he can’t win and I believe that whole-heartedly.”

Williams scored an impressive victory of his own Sunday in defeating Tour de Georgia stage winner Ivan Dominguez in an epic sprint down the finishing straight.

“Justin jumped behind him, Dominguez jumped again, Justin jumped again, passed him and took it,” Ball said. “It was just like a classic sprint in the Tour de France.”

In Utah, Sevilla’s seventh-place finish overall led Rock Racing as the five-day event concluded with the KJZZ Time Trial.

Digging deep to the finish of the Saab USA Cycling Professional Criterium Championship (left to right): Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies presented by Medifast), Rahsaan Bahati (Rock Racing), Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo Pro Cycling) and Kayle Leogrande (Rock Racing).

Rock Racing’s Rahsaan Bahati posts up for the win as Alex Candelario (left) holds on for second ahead of Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo Pro Cycling).

Rahsaan Bahati delivered Rock Racing its second win in two days at Downers Grove, Ill., following up on the 1-2 finish in Saturday’s Pro-Am by Sterling Magnell and Kayle Leogrande, respectively.

Congratulatory Call
Moments after winning the National Criterium Championship, Rahsaan Bahati received a congratulatory phone call from Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball.

The podium of the Saab USA Cycling Professional Criterium Championship (left to right); runner-up Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies presented by Medifast), winner Rahsaan Bahati of Rock Racing and third-place finisher Mark Hekman (Toshiba-Santo Pro Cycling).

Rahsaan Bahati of Rock Racing celebrates after achieving his season-long goal of winning the stars-and-stripes jersey of professional national criterium champion.

Photos Copyright: Vero Image