The U.S. national road championships came to end in Knoxville, Tennessee, on Sunday, June 26th with two exciting road races in temperamental weather.
In the men's race, Human Powered Health played a tactical game all day. With strength in numbers, the orange team stacked the breakaway and fired one attack after another until Kyle Murphy was able to catch his breakaway companions off guard and ride to a solo victory. In doing so, he takes over the Stars & Stripes jersey from teammate Joey Rosskopf who was unable to attend the race today.
“This is just a special race for everyone racing,” Murphy said after the race. “Obviously it’s nationals, but for our team especially. We’re over in Europe racing but we’re still an American team and it’s like a homecoming every year. You go get your butt kicked at Tour De Suisse and you come here with the form of your life.”
Tyler Stites (Project Echelon Racing) came in second and Ineos Grenadiers' Magnus Sheffield rounded out the podium.
How the race unfolded
Thanks to the cloud cover and light rain from earlier in the day, temperatures weren't as high as expected when the men’s field took the start, which was a relief for many. And with the defending champion Joey Rosskopf coming down with COVID, the race was wide open for a new rider to take the title.
Ben King (Human Powered Health) got the proceedings underway with a solo attack, until Spencer Miller and Patrick Welch joined him, both from Kelly Benefits Strategies Elite Cycling Team. That move would not survive, however, and a mixed bag of six riders, including King, were next to emerge at the front of the race. Along for the ride with King were Michael Hernandez (Best Buddies), Cooper Johnson (Aevolo), Lance Haidet (L39ION), Kaler Marshall (Expeditors Elite Cycling Team), Matthew Riccitello (Hagens Berman Axeon) and Christopher Uberti of 3T/ Q+M Cycling. That group hovered out in front of the peloton with about a 30 to 40-second advantage for nearly seven miles until Zach Gregg of Project Echelon Racing joined them after jumping the gap.
That group grew larger still, and the peloton seemed unsure of how to deal with the expanding escape. It wasn’t until a reshuffling occurred and another break emerged that things settled down out on the road. The new move, which amassed over two minutes on the field, included Gregg and his teammate Hugo Scala Jr., Kent Ross (Wildlife Pro Cycling Team), Jared Scott (Aevolo), Hernandez and Ben King and Gavin Mannion, both representing Human Powered Health.
At the midpoint of the race, riders in the peloton began to peel off the back of the Sherrod Road climb, while up ahead, the break was suddenly flirting with a three-minute lead. This would remain the situation on the road until the disarray in the chase ignited some hopes for a catch which sent the gap tumbling down to just 1:40 at one point. Sean Quinn (EF Education – EasyPost) began to lead a serious chase to reset the table.
Hernandez was forced to abandon, and with 60km left to race, there seemed to be little doubt that the break would ultimately not survive.
With five laps to go, a total of 43 riders had called it a day, and now it was just a matter of when the chasers would start to commit to ending the breakaway’s hopes. Tanner Ward (Best Buddies), Kyle Murphy (Human Powered Health) and Colby Simmons (Team Jumbo Visma) made a serious attempt to bridge up to the race leaders, but eventually, they would have to surrender and return to the field.
With a little more than 40km left of racing, the sun finally emerged over Knoxville, and the lead group was cut down to five when Zach Gregg was dispatched on the 13th time up the Sherrod Road climb.
Sherrod would claim another two victims with less than 14 miles to go, and as a result, the Human Powered Health duo saw an opportunity to shake up things by attacking their breakaway companions. It was an effective move, as Mannion and King wound up with only Kent Ross and Hugo Scala for company.
With one lap to go and less than one minute on the chasers, things began to look dire for what remained of the day’s breakaway. On the final time up the Sherrod climb, King redoubled his efforts and would leave everyone but Kent Ross behind. And as per the script, that last climb was all it took to blow the race apart completely. Attacks began to fly, but only Human Powered Health had the numbers to really put the group in dire straits.
Murphy, who had been bidding his time in the pack, made the right move at the right time and avenged Rosskopf’s absence by attacking with approximately 3km of road left. Despite continued efforts by Scala, Murphy cruised across the line.
“Initially, I put my hand up to try to be active on the first lap,” Murphy said. “Which I think I kind of needed as just a little kick in the pants. But, I actually felt pretty horrible until the last lap."
Emma Langley drops breakaway companion in the last 500 meters to win the Stars & Stripes jersey
In women's race dwindled down to a mano a mano showdown when, after spending some 50 kms in the breakaway, Emma Langley (EF Education - Tibco – SVB) gave a last-minute burst of speed to pass Lauren de Crescenzo (CINCH Rise) and ensure that the Stars and Stripes jersey stays within the EF Education squad.
"You never know what's gonna happen, and I don't think it was until the last lap that I really believed we'd stay away but it was pretty cool," Langley said. "We were getting time gaps, and the gap was sizable. That felt pretty neat."
The 26-year-old former swimmer waited until she and De Crescenzo got inside the final 500 meters of racing to launch her sprint against her breakaway companion to secure victory.
"I wanted to play to my strengths, and I know that Lauren De Crescenzo is just so strong," Langley said. "And if I was going pull for pull with her on the last lap, I knew I wouldn't make it, so we had to get tactical and let her do a little more work."
Langley was born in England and has dual American and British citizenship. She lived in five countries growing up, but calls Richmond, Virginia home.
At the start/finish line, nearly all the riders again took a knee to protest the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v Wade before the race. Despite a rest day between events, the struggle up the Sherrod Road on the first of 10 11-km laps, seemed to indicate a touch of fatigue from the heat.
Cinch Rise tried to draw out the competition early on by sending Andrea Fasen up the road, but that attempt was short-lived. The second time around the course, a large split in the field threatened right before the feed zone. But that group proved to be too big, and the riders sat up fairly quickly to allow the peloton to reform. Alexis Ryan (L39ION of Los Angeles) and defending champion Lauren Stephens also flirted with an escape with about 45 miles left to go, but neither team was ready to commit to a move just yet.
Rain began to lightly pelt the road as Langley, Skylar Schneider (L39ION of Los Angeles), and Lauren De Crescenzo (Cinch Rise) rolled away from the peloton with 54km to go. That break quickly accumulated nearly a minute on the field, and they maintained that advantage as they worked their way up Sherrod Road in unison. Former national champion Coryn Labecki (Team Jumbo-Visma), racing without any teammates, came to the front of the group to pick up the chase. Nevertheless, the leaders pushed out that advantage to a full 1:49 with four laps of racing remaining.
At that point, both EF Education and L39ION pulled most of their support in the break. De Crescenzo was left to fend for herself, as the chase group was largely disorganized and indecisive behind them.
Langley and De Crescenzo were able to abandon Schneider the next time over Sherrod Road, but that effort also took a solid 15 seconds out of the gap. The peloton was whittled down to just about 20 remaining riders with two laps left to go, and De Crescenzo led Langley up the second to last trip up the climb.
"That's all I wanted, to get in a breakaway and ride as hard as I can," De Crescenzo said after the race. "I just wanted to keep the gap. I just wanted to go as hard as I could. I was out there riding my own race. I was looking at my power meter, and it said good workout."
Coming through the start/finish line for the bell lap, it was clear that EF Education had let Langley off the chain and told her to prepare to contest the finish. Behind them, Labecki, made a last-ditch effort to not her chance at the stars and stripes jersey completely disappear up the road. Still, last year's champion Lauren Stephens leapt past her to provide EF Education with a little insurance to capture the bronze.
Langley, who had been sitting in for the majority of the final two kilometers, was in a perfect position to jump De Crescenzo as the pair approached the short, punchy climb up Clinch Ave. Langley came across the line with a healthy gap.
The U23 riders were mixed in the field but scored separately. Following up on her performance in the time trail, up-and-coming star Zoe Ta-Perez (LUX-CTS p/b Specialized) was the first U23 rider across the line in downtown Knoxville, adding yet another medal to her week's haul. The 20-year-old won bronze in the elite time trial, thereby securing gold among the U23 time trialists and today won another U23 gold medal. Rounding out the U23 road race podium were Marije Bemis (Roxo racing) and Kaia Schmid (Human Powered Health).
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