I did promise in this post a post how to beat UHC, so here’s my thesis: It can be done, but it’s very tough and you need a couple of fast people (uh duh).
Let’s first review why they’ve been unbeatable in the crit circuit. There are really three main reasons: they’re typically much stronger than most the American Crit racing field, they have great and sometimes questionable tactics, and finally because the nature of the criterium itself.
First, and easiest to understand, is the Criterium. By nature Criteriums are easy to control; ESPECIALLY for a well disciplined team that is filled with great riders. Crit’s are tight, intense affairs where it’s difficult to move up. Realistically you’re only participating in the Crit if you’re in the top 20-30 of the field (or less if it’s a very technical crit). If you have a team with 6 guys who are all A: Strong enough to ride at the front of a NCC crit and B: VERY technically adept at holding their position within those top 20 riders, you are already 90% there in terms of dominating the race. When UHC lines up 6 guys in the last lap of a crit, it is nearly impossible to get around all them simply because it’s hard to move around 6 guys at any point in a crit when it’s going flat out.
Now to the tactics aspect of the crit racing. Nearly all the riders on UHC are VERY good at protecting their spot at the front. Watch the last few laps of any of the NCC crit races. If there’s a good feed you’ll see the usual tactic of riding inside until just before the corner, but you’ll also see doors getting closed. What do I mean by doors getting closed? Lets say you had your team lined up behind UHC and you start trying to go around them. You foolishly chose the easiest looking path which is closer to the barriers…so someone on their team yells “Left” or “Right” and they move closer to the barriers, thus “Closing the Door”. This is a tactic as old as Criterium racing itself and UHC has a team chalk full of possibly the best bike handlers in the world, so they’re obviously really good at it.
Where they catch flack is when stuff like this happens:
Closing the door in a finishing sprint is generally frowned upon, but again falls into the Grey area of anything goes criterium racing in the US.
Finally, all the guys on UHC are really strong. Each one could probably win all these crits 50% of the time if they were just free-lancing.
So beating UHC is very difficult, but possible, and happened on a number of occasions.
US Crit championship is one example, but not a very good one. UHC had all their American riders and a few top sprinters which meant their All-Star crit squad, which is nearly completely from the Southern Hemisphere, was absent.(I guess if we wanted American’s to win more crits we should race them Clockwise instead of counter clockwise). They played things a little more conservatively to save their bullets but still lost control in the closing laps, largely thanks to Jelly Belly’s late race assault and the very long and open course at High Point….
Or I prefer to think they were super gassed from chasing the courageous solo breakaway rider that had built up a 1:30 gap over the field:
The other good example is from the Prairie State Series: Elmhurst crit. Now I may just be talking out of my ass from hearsay in terms of how Escuela bested UHC (I also thought there was a video at some point that I now cannot find, but I may be wrong), so take everything I say here with a complete grain of salt and consider that it could be totally made up.
As far as I recall, How Escuela got around UHC was by using their own tactics against them, intentionally or not. In the closing lap on the back side of the course the move was made to sprint around UHC. The difference this time was that more than one person was in place and fresh enough to get along side UHC. As per UHC’s normal tactics, when the first rider was seen pulling along side them, their sprinter turned into them, closing the door. While normally this fends off the single attacker pretty well, in this case it completely opened up the door for Escuela to take a clean line in the final corners for the win. So all you have to do is have two national class sprinters tag teaming the UHC sprint train at the same time…EASY!
Escuela is a super strong rider and great sprinter, but as it goes in sprint finishes: positioning and timing trump sprinting power every time, ESPECIALLY in cirteriums.
Trust me I’m supper happy UHC is out there racing…but it’s also kinda the goal of everyone racing crits to beat them.