The 2012 USA Cycling Elite, U23, Juniors & Paralympic Road National Championships shifted back to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., on Saturday as riders tangled with the 23.7-kilometer Major Matthew P. Burke, M.D. Championship Course.
Riders were forced to not only overcome the the competition in their age group, but also their environment as temperatures on the course reached the 100 degrees F.
U23 Men. The day’s final race, which started at 1:30 p.m., pitted 138 of the country’s best under-23 men road racers against each other in a 168-kilometer contest. The outcome of the race came down to three riders who have spent ample time riding in USA Cycling’s National Development Program, Robert Bush (Louisville, Ky./Chipotle-First Solar Development Team), Gavin Mannion (Dedham, Mass./Bontrager Livestrong Team) and Tanner Putt (Park City, Utah/BMC-Hincape Sportswear Development Team). Those three riders broke away from the lead group with about 40 kilometers remaining in the race.
They quickly built a lead approaching two minutes, leaving the field to scramble for the final two podium spots.
“It was remarkably silent,” Bush said of lack of talking between the the three leading riders late in the race. “Everybody was alone with their thoughts. Everyone was trying to make sure they were able to give it their all to the finish line.”
As the distance to the finish line shrunk, the game of cat and mouse became more serious until, with approximately 500 meters remaining in the race, they came to a standstill. Bush hit the gas first, leaving Putt and Mannion behind. Bush carried the sprint through the finish line, holding off a hard-charging Putt, who edged Mannion by one second. Lawson Craddock (Austin, Texas/Bontrager Livestrong Team) finished fourth while Steve Fisher (Bellingham, Wash./Hagens Berman Cycling-Lake Washington Velo) claimed the fifth spot on the podium.
Bush, who has won three individual national championships, called his most recent Stars-and-Stripes jersey the sweetest of his career.
“It feels great to win the road race,” Bush said. “This is the big event of the weekend. I really wanted to win and I’m very happy that I did. We knew it was going to be a long race, so we had to be patient. We had guys that were willing to go in the early moves some of my teammates (Adam (Leibovitz), Rob Squire and Anders Newbury) were all over the early breakaways, which took pressure off me. At one point, Robin Carpenter was up the road, so I could sit on everything. That was perfect. It was really a team race. That’s how we won it last year, with great teamwork. That was the plan last year, just use the whole team.”
Juniors Women 17-18. The juniors women 17-18 field showcased 26 of the country’s best 17-18-year-old women road racers. The riders stayed together after 24 of the 72 kilometers were complete. On the second of three laps, Page Robertson (Oakland, Calif./Team TIBCO II) attacked and earned a 20-second gap as she embarked on the third lap.
The field caught Robertson early in the third lap and rode together until Grace Alexander (Boise, Idaho/BYRDS (Boise Young Riders Development Squad)) attacked with Alexis Ryan (Ventura, Calif./Team TIBCO II), who was defending her national title in this race, on her wheel. With the field seemingly willing to ride for third, Alexander and Ryan agreed to work together until the end and let a sprint settle the top spot.
Ryan and Alexander worked together up the final climb when Ryan noticed Alexander breathing heavy. With under one kilometer remaining, Ryan decided it was time to sprint, Alexander couldn’t answer and Ryan carried it through the finish line, six seconds ahead of Alexander. Kayla Sterling (Allen, Texas/Exergy Twenty12) won the field sprint for third, narrowly edging Allison Arensman (Rutherford College, N.C./Pepper Palace/Spin-Tech Training) and Ellen Noble (Kennebunkport, Maine/C.F. Racing p/b Trek Portsmouth), who finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
“At the top of the last climb, I looked at Grace and she was breathing really hard,” Ryan explained. “I ramped it up, looked back and realized I had a gap so I just sprinted. This national title is actually sticks out the most (of her seven career national titles) because it came out of a breakaway. It felt fair.”
Ryan also may have had extra incentive. Apparently, before the race, Alexis’ father, Kevin, promised her a chocolate ice cream cone if she won the race. With the late morning temperatures soaring in the high 80 degrees F Alexis Ryan admitted to envisioning the refreshing treat during the race.
Juniors Men 15-16. Ethan Reynolds (Boise, Idaho/BYRDS (Boise Young Riders Development Squad)) won a six-rider sprint to the finish line to win the 72-kilometer juniors men 15-16 road race.
At the midpoint of the three-lap race, the five riders who comprised the five spots on the podium broke away and worked together to grow their advantage on the field. Reynolds kicked in a higher gear to win the field sprint, slightly edging Efren Flores (San Diego, Calif./Donny’s Cafe Cycling Club), who earned the silver medal. Adrien Costa (Los Altos, Calif./Slipstream-Craddock Junior Development). Jonathan Brown (Covington, Tenn./Hot Tubes Development Cycling Team) and Eric Oien (Escondido, Calif./ACQUA AL 2-San Diego Bicycle Club finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
“This feels great,” Reynolds said. “We (the five breakaway riders) were working really well together. We just pulled through really fast. We kept a good pace and were gaining more seconds on the field. I’m just super happy right now. This feels amazing!”
For Reynolds, the win marks the fourth national championship of his career. He was the national champion in the juniors men 13-14 criterium in 2011 and 10-12 criterium in 2009 as well as winning the individual time trial at the 2010 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships.
Road Race. The final day of competition, Sunday, returns to the Major Matthew P. Burke, M.D. Championship Course on Fort Gordon for three road races. The juniors men 17-18 start the day of competition at 8 a.m. EDT with a 96-kilometer competition. The elite and U23 women get rolling at 8:10 a.m. for a 120-kilometer contest before the elite men tangle over 168 kilometers at 1 p.m.
The long road race will complete varying numbers of laps (depending on age group) of a 23.7-kilometer course. The course features two climbs within the first eight kilometers of each lap. The second – steeper – of those two climbs gains 194 feet in a span of less than a mile.
U23 Men – 168 kilometers
1. Robert Bush (Louisville, Ky./Chipotle-First Solar Development Team) 4:13:58
2. Tanner Putt (Park City, Utah/BMC-Hincapie Sportswear Cycling Team) 4:13:58
3. Gavin Mannion (Dedham, Mass./Bontrager Livestrong Team) 4:13:59
4. Lawson Craddock (Austin, Texas/Bontrager Livestrong Team) 4:15:00
5. Steve Fisher (Bellingham, Wash./Hagens Berman Cycling-Lake Washington Velo) 4:15:00
Juniors Men 15-16 – 72 kilometers
1. Ethan Reynolds (Boise, Idaho/BYRDS (Boise Young Rider Dev Squad)) 1:49:04
2. Efren Flores (San Diego, Calif./Donny’s Cafe Cycling Club) 1:49:04
3. Adrien Costa (Los Altos, Calif./Slipstream-Craddock Junior Development) 1:49:04
4. Jonathan Brown (Covington, Tenn./Hot Tubes Development Cycling Team) 1:49:04
5. Eric Oien (Escondido, Calif./ACQUA AL 2-San Diego Bicycle Club) 1:49:04
Juniors Women 17-18 – 72 kilometers
1. Alexis Ryan (Ventura, Calif./Team TIBCO II) 2:08:40
2. Grace Alexander (Boise, Idaho/BYRDS (Boise Young Rider Dev Squad)) 2:08:46
3. Kayla Sterling (Allen, Texas/Exergy TWENTY12) 2:11:01
4. Allison Arensman (Rutherford College, N.C./Pepper Palace/Spin-Tech Training) 2:11:01
5. Ellen Noble (Kennebunkport, Maine/C.F. Racing p/b Trek Portsmouth) 2:11:01