Kimberley Wells' first visit to Boise was a smashing success, something fellow Australian Hilton Clarke knows perfectly well.
Wells, in her first-ever entry in the Boise Twilight Criterium, won the women's pro race on Saturday night, while Clarke won the men's pro race for the third time, and the second straight year.
"I love racing in the night, the crowd is so great - I've never won a race three times, so it's a special one for me," said Clarke, who also won in 2008.
Clarke, who won the National Criterium Calendar series title in 2012 and sits on top of the standings again, found himself toward the front of the peloton heading into the final turn, along with three UnitedHealthcare teammates vying for the final sprint. Two crashed, leaving Clarke in front.
"I was struggling the most out of all four, but there was a bit of a gap and I held on," Clarke said. "To tell the truth, going into the last turn I thought 'third wouldn't be too bad,' because the other guys were riding so well, but they attacked it a bit too hard. That's disappointing, but I'm glad we scraped away with a win."
Wells also was buoyed by a strong team, Exergy Twenty16, which included 2012 Olympic silver medalist Lauren Tamayo (team pursuit) and Boise's Kristin McGrath, last year's Twilight Criterium champion.
Tamayo built up a 15-second lead with 20 minutes to go, forcing the pack to try and catch up. Then McGrath broke out in front with seven laps to go, leading until the final lap, when Wells, after waiting for her shot while in the peloton, outsprinted Erica Allar and Jennifer Purcell for the win.
"We've got a strong team, so we can afford to be aggressive and see if we can get any breaks," Wells said. "For me, I'm a sprinter, so it worked out well that it came down to that."
Wells, a newcomer on the Exergy team, has taken a year off from her practice as a doctor to try and test herself as a cyclist with her first-ever tour of the United States. As it is with Clarke, Boise is bound to hold a special place for the victorious Wells, who was cheered on by team director Kristin Armstrong, a Boise resident and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
"It's been a nice surprise," Wells said. "I didn't know what to expect, but it's a great event and having it happen here makes it extra special."
BIG TURNOUT FOR KRISTIN'S KIDS' RIDE
Prior to the competition at Saturday's Twilight Criterium, Armstrong held her annual Kids Ride.
More than 200 kids between ages 3 and 10 took to the Criterium course with Armstrong, who signed autographs for more than an hour before the ride, and again for another hour afterward.
CRITERIUM 'GOOD TO GO' FOR 2014
Twilight Criterium race director Mike Cooley said the future of the race was "absolutely" in doubt earlier this year until new title sponsor Andersen Banducci, a Boise law firm, took over sponsorship in late March to financially ensure the event, held annually since 1987, would continue.
Andersen Banducci agreed to be the title sponsor this year and next, and Cooley is optimistic the firm may continue to do so in the future.
"We're good to go for next year, they're excited, and I think they could be around for a while," Cooley said.
Praising a "perfect" setup, plenty of volunteer help and cooperation from Mother Nature with 90-degree temperatures, Cooley said Saturday's race was another strong year for the event, which is part of the USA Crits series, held across the country from Las Vegas to Charlotte. The Criterium was surrounded on all sides up and down the course by fans lined up to get a good view.
"We're one of the smaller markets on the series, but we get one of the bigger crowds, and that draws a lot of good riders," Cooley said.
OTHER TWILIGHT RACE WINNERS
Eagle's Seth Merriman won the men's category 1/2/3 race in runaway fashion in the final race before the pro events. Hannah Ross of Pocatello won the women's 2/3/4 race, while Boise's Douglass Cook won the men's 4/5 race and Boise's Brian Cavanagh won the Masters 40-plus race.