In an amazing show of grit and determination, after spending the whole race off the front, first in a 3-rider break then solo, Benjamin King of Trek-Livestrong, held off a chase group to win the US Pro Road Race in Greenville SC on Sunday. Making that two titles for the U23 development team following Taylor Phinney‘s win in the time trial.
Today was also the story of the peloton that played chicken and lost as they waited too long to chase especially with some teams not interested in chasing down their future teammates.
Out of the 12-rider chase group, Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit) took the sprint for second ahead of Kiel Reijnen (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda).
Coming to the line, fighting cramps, an emotional King zipped up, pointed to his Trek-Livestrong jersey and then raised his hand to celebrate his victory.
Make way old generation, the young American riders made their mark this year, a year of firsts in USA Cycling. Youngest US Pro champion. U23 rider winning the road race championship. Under-23 riders winning all three US Pro championships: Daniel Holloway (BISSELL) for US Pro Criterium, Phinney for US Pro Time Trial and now King for US Pro road race. And first time, that a rider wins both US U23 National Road Championship and US Pro Road Championship.
And they’re off. It didn’t take long for the break to go in the 115 miles (185.1 km) race with most of the 80-rider field feeling lethargic on a hot sunny day in Greenville, SC. After the first of three short 4.18-mile circuit, four riders King, Holloway, Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit) and Thomas Brown (Mt Khakis f/b Jittery Joe’s) already had 2:45 on the field. At the end of the opening circuits, the gap was up to 7 minutes as the now 3-rider break started the first of the 4 long 20.8-mile loop which included the climb up Paris Mountain. Brown fell off the pace in the opening circuits and was in no-man’s land for a couple of the long loops.
Game of chicken. The gap was up to 17 minutes by the start of the second big loop. Most of the field just didn’t seem to care and couldn’t get organized to chase. The game of chicken was on. Some riders leaving it to the big teams to assume the chase, and others just not interested in chasing down future teammates, with King going to Radioshack and Zwizanski to UnitedHealthcare. And obviously, neither BISSELL, Trek-Livestrong nor Kelly Benefit would chase with teammates in the break. And maybe for some, it was a case of being more pre-occupied with finding a contract than racing as a team. Also to take into consideration are the size of the teams, with only 4-5 riders for most, it is too little fire-power to bring back a 10+ gap.
The first time up Paris Mountain, BMC was at the front, working to reduce the damage and the gap started slowly to come down. Lending a hand were riders from Kenda p/b GearGrinder and Jelly Belly p/b Kenda to bring the gap down to 14 minutes by the time the trio started the third big loop.
With no concerted chase, many teams simply lost interest and most looked to BMC to do the work. And the peloton lost the game of chicken.
And he’s off. The third time up Paris Mountain, King simply dropped his breakmates and went off solo with over a minute to the duo at the top of the climb, and over 10 minutes to the field.
King kept on driving a steady tempo with the gap down to 7:30 as the 51-rider field started up Paris Mountain for the fourth and final climb. Garmin-Transitions had finally joined in the chase and riders were shelled off the back under the acceleration.
3-time US Pro Champion George Hincapie (BMC) attacked on the climb and only Reijnen and Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack) were able to keep up. But with Leipheimer not willing to work, the trio was chased down by the dwindling field. The now 25-rider field included Hincapie and his teammates Brent Bookwalter and Chris Butler, Leipheimer with teammates Matthew Busche, Chris Horner and Jason McCartney, Andrew Talansky and Timmy Dugan (both Garmin-Transitions), Candelario with teammate Neil Shirley, Reijnen and teammate Carter Jones, Team Type 1 trio of Shawn Milne, Chris Jones and Scott Stewart, and UnitedHealthcare duo Chris Baldwin and Max Jenkins. Also still in the field were Andy Guptill (Jamis/Sutter Home), Lucas Euser (Spidertech p/b PlanetEnergy), Craig Lewis (HTC-Columbia), Jake Rytlewski (Kenda p/b GearGrinder) and Phinney.
As King made his way into the first of the 3 smaller circuits, cross-eyed, fighting cramps, his lead was down to 4 minutes with 12.5 miles to go. Carter Jones took a flyer out of the field but was brought back, Baldwin made the next move but that also was neutralized. Bookwalter was on the job at the front of the field, setting a fast pace, giving it everything to try and bring King back.
With one small lap to go, only 4.1-miles of pain left, King had a gap of 2:15 on the field with Bookwalter still at the front. And that was more than enough for the young rider to make history.
Top 10 Results
1. Benjamin King (Trek Livestrong U23) 4:44:56
2. Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies) +0:01:34
3. Kiel Reijnen (Jelly Belly p/b Kend) +0:01:35
4. Christopher Horner (Team Radioshack)
5. George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team)
6. Shawn Milne (Team Type 1)
7. Matthew Busche (Team Radioshack)
8. Taylor Phinney (Trek Livestrong U23) +0:01:36
9. Andy Guptill (Jamis/Sutter Home) +0:01:39
10. Craig Lewis (HTC-Columbia)