Lars Michaelsen pumped his fist in triumph as he crossed the finish line of the CSC Invitational cycling race in Arlington yesterday.
Then he suddenly lowered his arm and waited nervously before the results of the close race finally showed that he had won the 100-kilometer race by inches.
Michaelsen admitted his celebration was a bit premature and that he quickly reconsidered. "If you lose that way," he said, "that's not nice."
At the final sprint of the race on a one-kilometer course through the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, Michaelsen, a 10-year pro from Denmark who races for Team CSC, edged out Canadian Gord Fraser of Health Net and Vassili Davidenko of Navigators Insurance to earn the win.
Navigators had five racers leading the final breakaway, but Michaelsen and Fraser battled their way through that pack to set up the final exciting finish.
"I took advantage of the work of the Navigators," Michaelsen said. "I was fighting to get a good position, which I managed. . . . Perhaps I was a little rough, but that's racing."
The CSC Invitational was the first of a weeklong string of big criterium races -- road races held on a course that is about one-kilometer long -- ending with the U.S. Professional championships in Philadelphia next weekend.
In the women's race that preceded the men's race, Gina Grain of the Victory Brewing Company team edged Shannon Hutchison of Colavita Olive Oil/Bolla Wines and Erin Carter of TDS-Schwalbe in a final sprint.
The men's race, composed of 100 laps around a five-turn course that started and ended on Wilson Boulevard near the Clarendon Metro station, was tightly contested, with a few attempts at breakaways that were not sustained. With five laps to go, the Navigators worked their way into perfect position, getting their five lead cyclists at the front of a close pack.
That appeared to set up a final lap sprint for Davidenko, but Fraser and Michaelsen surged their way through the pack. Meantime, Davidenko had a gear malfunction that, combined with a headwind, did not allow him enough speed to hold off Fraser and Michaelsen.
"I had really good position, my teammates did a good job," Davidenko said. "I had a technical problem with my gears, and it was too late to change something. So I was just going [as hard as] I can."
Fraser, who barely missed the victory, said he was just a little too late starting the surge to beat Michaelsen over the final 50 meters.
"I got him, but about two meters too late," Fraser said.
Michaelsen, 35, and Team CSC, one of the world's top-ranked teams and the defending team champion at the Tour de France, had not raced in a criterium in about a year.
"Part of me felt like a fish out of water," Michaelsen said. "It had been a long time since I had a criterium in America, but I still had it. It was a nice feeling."
In the 50-lap women's race, an early attempt at a breakaway was successful and five cyclists stayed well ahead of the rest of the pack from the fourth lap until the end. For Victory Brewing Company, which had only three entrants, the race went perfectly, Grain said, as the single pack at the front allowed the team to be in position for the championship.
With about five laps to go, the leaders caught up to the rest of the field, setting up a frantic finish where five leaders had to weave through the pack to get to the finish line. Grain said it was a race that suited her well.
"I like working with a lot of people, I like being aggressive," Grain said. "The more the merrier for me."