This memorial day as most families were piling in their cars heading to the beach or the mountains, as myself and 100 of the top American cyclist lined up in the swelteringly heat at the downtown start line in Greenville, SC for the Road Race National Championship. With Nation
als coming just after Tour of California this year it was always set to be a fast and furious show down, with all the favorites in top form. Because Team Type 1 didn’t take part in this years edition of California I was fresh off the plane from Circuit de Lorraine in France, a little bit jet lagged and not used to the heat that everyone else had been experiencing all week in CA.
Since it was memorial day we were treated to a very special national anthem sung by a local talent, and then we were off. It was a fast and furious start to the 116mi. race with three local laps, followed by four large laps (including the Paris mountain climb) and then a final three local laps. The normal early break tired hard to establish on the initial local laps. Various teams threw team mates up the road to make sure they were represented. Nationals is always on of those races where the tactics are unpredictable, sometimes the early move stick, sometimes it is a field sprint, sometimes a late attack, it seems to be different every year. After three local laps of attacking a move of 10 or so finally broke clear after establishing a minute gap heading out of town however BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen and Liquigas’ Timmy Duggan decided that it was dangerous and their respective teams weren’t represented, so the chase ensued. The chase however was so fast and unexpected that gaps started to open and before we knew it the main field was well behind. As soon as we caught up with the initial breakaway there was a lull and I started to help pull since I was committed to the move at that point. After a short time Garmin (which was the best represented team in the break) took over duties at the front and began to stretch the gap out. By the time we completed the first big lap it was out to three minutes and Garmin seemed to have the best cards to play with their sprinter Tyler Farrar safely tucked in the group. Things were mostly unchanged by the time we started the 3rd big lap. Garmin was still pulling our break of 25 or so riders along and the field was still chasing but the gap was coming down. By the time we hit Paris mountain the gap was down to a mere 40 seconds. This forced a stronger pace from us in the front, which lead to Farrar and a number of others getting dropped out of the break. Over the top of the climb the gap was hovering around 30 seconds and Garmin had run out of riders to work (other than Tom Peterson who road an incredible day, sacrificing himself for his team mates).
I decided that after spending all day in the break I didn’t want to see us caught by the field so I helped with the work on the descent into town. It was enough to re-motivate the group and distance us a bit from the shattered peleton behind. Once the gap started to go back out again the Competitive cyclist team (who was also well represented with four riders) took over the work duties and the gap went back out to three and a half minutes before the final assault on Paris mountain.
Tom Danielson led in to the climb with a vicious attack that put me into the red right away. I don’t know if I was suffering because of the heat or if I just didn’t have my climbing legs but either way there was no way I was going to keep that pace up. After a kilometer or so of fighting I decided to ride at my own pace up the climb and hope that others would catch up and we could chase back down the leaders coming into town. The five strongest climbers of the break crested the climb close enough to one another to for one group and as I suspected towards the top of the climb and along the descent I was joined by some of the other dropped riders. Our group of 8 then set to work to chase down the leading 5. Normally 8 vs. 5 would be no contest but everyone was very tired at this point and having some of the strongest riders up the road meant that my group had to bank on a tactical cat and mouse battle up front slowing the leaders. As luck would have it that is exactly what happened and with 900 meters left in the race we made contact. Timmy Duggan had already taken off from the leaders with 20km remaining and was another 30 seconds ahead (with only 900 meters of racing left there was no chance or catching him) so the race was for second place. Once we latched we were only allowed one deep breath before the final fight for the line began. Ben Jacques-Maynes of Bissell took of first with Adam Hanson of Kelly Benefits following. Frank Pipp of Bissell and myself grabbed Hanson’s wheel and held on as best we could as we rounded the final bend. As Hanson closed on Jaques-Maynes with 200 meters to go Pipp lit out to over come Hanson. I knew this was the final effort of the race so I gave my all to try to come around the right side. I had just enough power to get by Hanson in the closing 50 meters but Pipp proved to powerful and I had to settle for 3rd.
It just goes to show that the race is never really over until you cross the line. It was a very different race than any edition before and I played the best tactical cards I had given that we only had three riders in the race. I had hoped to be a bit stronger on the climb the final time, but now I have something to train for! It was a great race, Timmy was a very deserving winner and Frank a very deserving second. I was happy to share the all-Boulder podium with both of those guys. I am really looking forward to Philly next weekend as it can be a similar type of course.