Once the day's early break was established in Sunday's TD Bank International Championship, on the second of ten big circuits out to Manayunk and back along the Schuylkill River, a battle royale ensued between Alex Hagman (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda) and Quinn Keogh (Team Exergy) for King of the Mountains supremacy.
Hagman was the first of the five-man escape to focus on the KOM opportunity, but Keogh rallied strong to only concede top honours by one point, 45 to 44 at the end of the day.
"I saw that nobody was going for the KOM points so I figured I'd make it happen," Hagman told Cyclingnews. "It just kind of worked out, I got lucky. Our team plan was to get somebody in that breakaway. Being a televised race it's good to get some exposure for the Jelly Belly team.
"In the first couple of laps he [Quinn Keogh] just wasn't going for them for whatever reason, but he was super-strong today. I said I kind of got lucky because he didn't go for them early on, but he was just crushing it the last couple of laps."
There was plenty of KOM opportunities throughout the 250km race with the top three finishers on both the Manayunk Wall and Lemon Hill earning points each lap. In the final three mini-circuits between Lemon Hill and Logan Circle the points were doubled. In total, the elite men's peloton faced 23 KOMs for the race's entirety.
Once it became clear that Hagman and Keogh were waging a two-man climbing clinic, the duo were kept abreast of their respective KOM tallies.
"The team car would come up and talk to us and the commissaire was pretty good. we'd ask him [for the points totals]. They knew there was a battle going on for the KOM so we talked to them and they would give us some live updates."
That being said, at first Hagman wasn't even aware that there was a second KOM line in addition to the Manayunk Wall. "Actually, at first I didn't realize that Lemon Hill was having KOM points, too, until I saw some officials writing the numbers down," said Hagman. "Then I realized I'd have to go for KOM points every lap on both hills, which definitely puts some burn in the legs."
The five-man break had spent more than 100 miles off the front when a trio comprised of Francisco Mancebo (Realcyclist.com), Frank Pipp (Bissell) and Andrès Diaz (Team Exergy) bridged to the leading quintet, injecting new life and new levels of pain into weary legs.
"When those guys caught us they were just cooking, going really, really hard," said Hagman. "We had two [big] laps to go at point and they were in a do-or-die move for sure. When we had our break we were maintaining the pace, but we weren't crushing it like they were.
"When Mancebo, Pipp and Diaz were pulling through it was really fast. We were pretty smoked at that point and just trying to hold the wheel."
On the penultimate big lap both Hagman and Keogh were dropped from the break. Hagman gutted out the final large lap in the peloton, but cracked on the finishing circuits. "At that point, pretty close to the finish, I thought 'I just gotta finish here and not detonate too hard'," said Hagman.
In order to claim the KOM, a rider must finish the race inside of the 5 percent time cut which Hagman accomplished with his 101st place finish, 6:06 off the pace of race winner Alex Rasmussen.
One of the members of the early five-man break, Bruno Langlois (Spidertech Powered By C10), made an impression on Hagman for his grit and perseverance which saw him stay with a raging Mancebo and Diaz through to the final short circuit.
"Bruno Langlois was able to come out of the break and stay with those guys for the rest of the race which was a really good ride for him. I was stoked to see Bruno have a good ride like that. In terms of just being in the break and staying alive as long as he did, he definitely takes top honours for that."
While the Fort Collins, Colorado resident was please to put his climbing acumen on display, August's USA Pro Cycling Challenge stage race in the 27-year-old's home state is where his true talents can be put to the test.
"I'm a Colorado native, I grew up on the Western Slope just outside of Aspen," said Hagman. "I like the mountains. Today wasn't exactly a climber's climb, but it helped to be good on the uphills.
"I really hope our team can get in that. We have some riders, myself included, that could do really well at altitude. I know the roads in Colorado and one of the stages ends in Aspen so it's kind of a hometown finish. For a race of that caliber, to be able to finish in your home town would be a big deal."