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When Hincapie Sportswear's Joey Rosskopf dropped the cream of the US domestic peloton at the Redlands Bicycle Classic last week on his way to winning the final stage and taking the overall, it was the natural progression in a steady stream of better and better results. Now he has his team director's home town race, the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic, firmly in his sights.
The new UCI 1.2 takes place on Friday, April 18, in team director Thomas Craven's home town, giving Hincapie Devo extra motivation to perform, and after winning Redlands and going on to take two races at the Sea Otter Classic, momentum is on their side.
"[Craven] keeps saying, 'The race course goes by where I grew up, it goes down my street, by my house,'" Rosskopf said. "We have to win."
Rosskopf will go into the race as one of the favorites. Despite a 2013 season that was easily his best so far, the overall win at Redlands – Rosskopf's first in a National Race Calendar event – has been a breakthrough for the 24-year-old from Athens, Georgia.
"For whatever reason – Redlands is always the first race of the NRC – there's always a ton of excitement around it and a lot of publicity," Rosskopf said. "It seems like more publicity than any other NRC race, so it's awesome to be able to come out at the start of the season, when none of us really knew where our fitness was, and be able to do so well."
Although more casual fans of US cycling may be taking their first notice of Rosskopf following his Redlands performance, the 6-foot-1-inch rider has been knocking at the door for several seasons after a slow start at top-level racing. Rosskopf's father got him into cycling at an early age, and Rosskopf showed enough promise as a junior to gain the attention of USA Cycling's development program. Trips to Europe followed, but they were a flop.
"It sucked," Rosskopf said. "I had only been in cycling a couple of years, and I didn't really train. The training I did was a couple group rides per week; I was still in high school. It was sort of last minute with the two month-long stints that I did over there, so I didn't have much to show for it. I was pretty bad, and I never got invited back."
Rosskopf continued to race at the elite level and signed his first pro contract with the Mountain Khakis-Jittery Joe's UCI Continental team in 2010 when he was 20 years old. He transferred to the Team Type 1-Sanofi Development squad in 2011, and then in 2012 he moved to Team Type 1's Pro Continental team, competing in UCI races around the world.
He finished second in the prologue at the Tour of China in 2011. He also finished second in the prologue of the Tour of Rwanda that year and was second overall. In 2012 he was second during a stage of the Tour of Tiahu Lake, a UCI 2.1 race in China.
But when Team Type 1 switched to an all-diabetic roster last year, Rosskopf moved to Hincapie Sportswear for the 2013 season.
The move was good for Rosskopf, who found himself on the podium at a handful of UCI and NRC events. He won a stage and the overall at the two-day Paris-Arras Tour, took the individual time trial at the Tour de Beauce, finished third at the inaugural Philadelphia Cycling Classic and won the final stage of the Cascade Cycling Classic, where he finished second overall. Rosskopf also finished second to Francisco Mancebo in the final NRC individual rankings.
But his first NRC stage race crown at Redlands was an obvious attention-getter, proving Rooskopf has developed the patience to follow a plan and the strength to carry it out. Rosskopf limited his losses throughout the five-day race, finishing in the top 10 during the Big Bear time trial and coming into the final stage seventh overall, just 22 seconds behind race leader Travis McCabe (Team SmartStop).
While multiple attacks and moves went up the road from the beginning of the Sunset Road Race, Rosskopf bided his time in the ever-diminishing peloton and waited until the end of the last trip around the Sunset Loop to make his winning move.
With Jamis-Hagens Berman riders Ben Jacques-Maynes and Luis Amaran up the road along with Bissell's Clement Chevrier and James Oram, Rosskopf jumped away from McCabe and a lead group of about 30 riders on the last steep pitch before a long descent off the Sunset Loop. Just as Rosskopf caught the leaders during the rapid run to the finishing circuits downtown, Amaran flatted out of the group. One less rider in the break improved the odds for everyone left, but Rosskopf was the first to pounce.
"We came off the Sunset Loop with four guys, and I hit them right when we turned onto Olive Street into the tailwind to get a gap before the circuit," Rosskopf told race announcer Chad Andrews after the stage.
The strategy worked, and Rosskopf entered the finishing circuits alone. Oram soon bridged up to him, but in the sprint the Bissell rider was no match for the larger, faster Rosskopf. The stage win and a 10-second time bonus were Rosskopf's, and when McCabe's group crossed the line more than 30 seconds later, Rosskopf had the yellow jersey as well.
"All week everyone on our team kind of had in mind that everything could change on Sunset," Rosskopf said. "We wanted to get results all week, but it was also important to keep in the back of our minds how big a role in the overall Sunset could be. So we were all trying to save a little bit for that, and it's nice to see at the end of the week that I was able to do that."
With his first NRC overall win added to his palmares, Rosskopf is eager to keep moving forward. His long-term goals for cycling are fairly simple: After having switched teams every one or two years recently, Rosskopf would like to ride for the same team for awhile, make a good salary and compete in the big races. He said that could happen with his current team if it decides to compete in more European events.
"It's either that or trying to get on a division-one or division-two team for next year or the year after," he said. "That's the goal. I want to do as many big races as I can every year."
But for now, Rosskopf is focused on this season, targeting the US pro championships in May and the bigger UCI races that lie ahead.