Cyclists pedal to success at 2015 AFA Cycling Classic

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By SHANNON SCOVEL
College Contributor Network

As the sun beamed through the clouds on Sunday afternoon in Crystal City, Va., Hilton Clarke picked up speed on his bicycle. The Australian native raced around and around the 1.3 kilometer course at the 2015 Air Force Association Cycling Classic's Crystal City Cup for two hours, fighting hard to earn his second victory of the weekend. Clarke topped the podium the day before in the Clarendon Cup, and as he neared the final laps of the event, he looked to his teammates to keep him in a position for another victory.

"The team, the six riders that are here, we've been together five years now, so we have a very good understanding together and a really good chemistry as a team," Clark said. "We like to pride ourselves that we work really well together, and, at the finish like you've seen the last two days, they took care of me really well and took me to the line."

Professional and amateur cyclists competed in the Clarendon Cup and the Crystal Cup in Arlington, Va. over the weekend, and top three point scorers in the two races earned recognition as medal winners in the Omnium competition.

Clarke claimed the gold in the Omnium for the Pro/Am, and Coryn Rivera won the women's competition. Rivera earned her overall victory after placing second in the Clarendon Cup on Saturday and first in the Crystal City Cup on Sunday.

In addition to recognizing the top finishers in each race, the announcers at the Air Force Association Cycling Classic also selected one rider from each race as the Most Heroic Rider. This athlete earned a black jersey and a cash prize for his or her efforts. Ben Frederick, a 26-year-old rider from Harrisonburg, Va. won the Most Heroic Rider Award for the second consecutive year on Saturday after he broke from the field and lapped the main pack. For Frederick, the challenge of racing against strong riders excites him, and he hopes his distinction as Most Heroic Rider will convey his toughness and determination to potential professional racing teams.

"I would love to be on a professional team, and this is just a great way to show them that I want it so bad," Frederick said.

While the event challenged riders with a technical course and hundreds of turns, Frederick said Air Force Cycling Classic offered him racing experience that will allow him to further develop as a competitive cyclist and potentially turn pro.

"I work 30 hours a week and sleep on an air mattress to try and make ends meet to be able to come to these big races, and so just having the confidence that I can still race with these guys is really great," Frederick said.

Other riders, however, fell prey to the technical course, and small bike malfunctions often turned into larger crashes. Payne Griffin, who competed in the Amateur race on the United Health Care team, struggled to maneuver around another cyclist, caught his bike pedal on the ground in the Saturday race and stumbled.

"There was one other guy in front of me that clipped his pedal, and then I went down behind him, but I landed in a chair. Some spectator, they gave me a coffee, so it was good," Griffin said. "I went back into the pit and got back in the race. In this race, if you go down before eight laps to go, then you come over here, and they'll put you back in. I finished, but after that my hip hurt."
Despite Griffin's crash, he continued to help push his teammates to the finish line.

"This year, I'm just riding for the team," Griffin said. "United Health Care is a great sponsor, they give us a lot of support, so I've got a ton of people in the development team and riding up with us."
An early crash caused nearly half of the women's' field on Saturday to drop back as well, but Lauren Stephens, the Women's Pro/Am winner on the first day of racing, navigated the difficult course and emerged victorious after leading for the final 18 laps.

"I'm a time trial specialist, so I just got into that time trial mode, and then having my director here, Ed Beamon, on the side giving me the time gaps, knowing its going down like two or three seconds each time just gives you that motivation," Stephens said.

Sunday's race featured a much tighter competition for the women, and Rivera squeezed out her win with a final surge through the finish line.

"We were getting a good run for our money there," Rivera said. "My girls did a good job manning the front and keeping me protected and keeping me in perfect position for the win."

While Rivera and Stephens delivered solid performances at the 2015 Air Force Association Cycling Classic, both athletes will immediately follow their success with a trip to Britain to compete in the Tour of Britain later this week. Frederick, on the other hand, will end his season racing the Reading 120, a large professional race in Pennsylvania.

"I'm just trying to do this [Most Heroic Rider] jersey proud, do the Air Force men who have served our country proud as the most aggressive rider," Frederick said.

Shannon Scovel is a sophomore journalism student at American University where she serves as the sports editor of her student newspaper, The Eagle. Originally from Cary, North Carolina, Shannon has a passion for sports and previously worked as a correspondent for the Raleigh News and Observer covering high school athletics.
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