While the main story of the Greenville Hospital System USA Cycling Professional Time Trial Championship on Saturday was the battle between the youngster in his first pro race Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong) vs the veteran Levi Leipheimer (Radioshack); there was another – quieter – story about another youngster in his first pro race and a veteran. Teammates on the Jelly Belly p/b Kenda team, Carter Jones and Bernard Van Ulden, vying for the third spot on the podium.
First rider off in the 15-rider field, Jones set the early fast time which stuck until his teammate Van Ulden crossed the line to take third-place. Jones held on to fourth, 2 seconds behind.
Sweeter this time around. It was hard to tell who was happier on the podium the winner or third-place Van Ulden. “I think they always used to say, first place is always really happy and third place is really happy and then second is usually a little dejected. I’m really happy about it, it’s a special experience.”
A huge smile as he made his way up on the stage. While this is not his first third at a US National Time Trial, he did it in 2005 and then last year after results were re-adjusted, it was the first time he could really soak it all in.
“I think it’s going to sink in tonight or maybe in a couple of days, it’s something that I really wanted to do. Being in my twilight years of racing possibly, I’ve always been really close at times, it always seem that I’m the guy down, it’s happened three or four times, less than a half a second. To be really to be able to be sit out there and soak it all in, it’s a really special experience.” the 31-year old said.
And soak it in he did. While most riders hurry to leave the press conference, Van Ulden hung out to listen to what Phinney had to say, still smiling and enjoying the moment.
The 12th rider to start, Van Ulden put his head down and concentrated on his own time. “I didn’t know what anybody’s time splits were, I didn’t really know what anybody was doing. You kind of want to hear and you kind of don’t. I never heard anything as I came through which is good, because if you hear ‘oh he’s a minute fifteen behind Levi’, you’re like ‘oh man this is no good’. I think it’s better that I didn’t. I always clock myself because results can be messed up.”
He didn’t really know if he was having a good ride. “I knew the times from last year and I started off relatively fast for me, and I was a little concerned that I might have gone out too hard but I knew that based on my times from last year if you can at least hold the same time through the laps I’d probably be okay.”
As with everyone, his splits were slower than last year due to windier conditions.
Not helping were his thoughts coming into the race. “I felt that I was mentally weak coming into this race, having the whole situation from last year of not getting to stand on the podium and other factors of racing and what not of this year.”
One thing that helped was being able to mark his competition as they made their way three-times around the flat, technical 6.9-mile (11.1-km) circuit. “Nice to have laps because you can concentrate on lap time and it kind of makes the race go by a little faster than all the way out and all the way back.”
The other is the bike. “I absolutely love this TT bike,” Van Ulden said emphatically about his Focus bike. “It fits me really well but also handles really well especially on a course like this where you have a lot of sharp turns, a lot of high-speed turns, it’s really important to be able to rail them, you can pick up a lot of time on the turns. I’m just really more comfortable on the bike and I have a lot more confidence to corner hard and fast, so I think I was able to stay on top of it, you save energy that way and carry your speed.”
For Van Ulden, it’s a good way to cap off what he called a “lack-luster season”.
“Not too much of a grim season but I haven’t been personally been too happy with my own results this season. California didn’t go bad but nothing super special about that. Nature Valley was alright but I was hoping to do a little bit more. It’s nice, towards the end of the season to have a nice way to finish it off.”
Often overlooked when top domestic TTers are mentioned, will this help get his more recognition? “No.” he replied. “I don’t know if I did something, I don’t know what it is. Even looking at the reports and who was coming into this race, I wasn’t on the radar and I was like ‘well okay’. I don’t know if it’s a Boulder thing or not but I don’t worry about it.”
Van Ulden will be back next year with Jelly Belly. “It would be nice to put some concentration on the road race and see if I could have a good ride because I think I could do really well.”
Hot lawn chair. “I was psyched to be the first person off, it was pretty cool.” Jones said. “It was certainly very windy, it made the course pretty challenging, a headwind in the harder sections so you had to meter yourself there.”
Headwind on the climb, crosswind on the faster sections could be tricky for some, but Jones had no problems. “There was certainly some sections on the course where it was a bit scary, on the faster sections on the course where there was crosswind I felt a little blown around a little bit on the corners here and there, but all and all I was never scared, not dangerous at any point, it wasn’t that bad.”
With riders going off every three minutes, Jones had to wait a long time to see if his result would stand.
“I rolled over to where we were set up and just sat down on a lawn chair, had my recovery drink, I was just talking and relaxing. I heard the announcers say that it was a good time but it would definitely get knocked off pretty quickly. I guess with the wind today the times were significantly slower than last year so they were a little off in the calculations. So yeah I had no pressure of being in the hot seat. The other interesting thing is usually when you have the fastest time, they pull you over and USADA is usually there grabbing you, putting you in the hot seat per say, but I guess because I was the first rider off, they neglected to do that.” he laughed.
Heck he was even having fun out there. “Interesting, I defined enjoyed myself out there today, when it’s a rough day, you’re thinking ‘oh I just need to go’, okay was like ‘alright I only one lap to go, that’s great’. I was actually having a good time and probably the course helped with that, doing three laps, being able to improve every lap, you can concentrate on the task ahead. It was a fun TT today which is a weird statement”.
And he had time to think about his parents that were watching the race. “On my second lap I saw Danny behind me. He wasn’t supposed to follow me the entire race, he was going to go follow Bernard but I guess since I was having a good time, he decided to stick with me. He only missed less than a lap with Bernard and if you have a mechanical the race is over anyway. So yeah he was still behind me at the end of the second lap, and I was thinking ‘oh I wish I had gotten my parents in the team car’.”
Just like Phinney, Jones was participaring his first race ever as a pro. Racing as an amateur all year, with the U23 development arm of the Jelly Belly squad, the 21-year old was brought in as a stagiaire for the US Pro races.
‘The purpose of that was so I could race with the US National Team because being a pro limits which races you can do.” Jones explained about his status this year. “My whole idea of my season was to race on the [Tour de] l’Avenir team at the end of year and that didn’t end up working out. I had great form after Tour of Utah and I gave Danny [Van Haute] a call and said what do you think of getting me into US Pro. And he looked into it, got the paperwork done and I’m here.” he added with a laugh. Jones will be joining the Trek-Livestrong team next year.
But his change of status was taken pretty matter factly. “These are the same guys I’ve been racing with all year, against all year, nothing’s change but now it says pro on my license.”
Nice way to end a good year. “One of the big goals for me this year was to prove that I could be consistent all year, so I had a result at Redlands at March. Then I went to Europe, I kind of dropped off the face of the Earth, I won a race over there, I got top 10 on another race which I was pretty pleased with and then I got second at Nationals. I got a result mid-year, then I was disappointed with Utah and I didn’t want to end the year like that, I had put a lot of work to be strong for Utah, it didn’t work out and glad I could be here to actually capitalize on the form I had and prove that I could have a full season.”