The home team rose to the occasion Sunday in Richmond for the World Championship road race, with US riders infiltrating most of the major breakaways and road captain Tyler Farrar throwing a late hail Mary that animated most of the last lap.
In the end, Alex Howes grabbed the top US result with a 12th place finish in front of the partisan and boisterous US crowd.
"It was absolutely unbelievable," Howes said of the six-hour day in the saddle. "Once in a lifetime."
The US team lived up to its plan to ride aggressively and put o a show for their countrymen lining the streets. Richmond native Ben King was first to throw his hat into the ring when he infiltrated the first break of the day that sneaked away as the peloton made its way from the start at the University of Richmond to the 16km downtown circuit.
"I covered a few attacks," King said immediately after the race. "Five guys went up the road, and in the meeting we said anything from eight to 10 riders, so I was waiting for someone else to go, like come on, come on, come on. Two more guys jumped and I attacked and went across with them. And that was it.
"They never really gave us too much slack," he said. "Ordinarily they'd let us go out to eight, 10 minutes, but they kept us pretty close. They brought us back with just under 100km to go, so that was pretty surprising."
Taylor Phinney was next to put his hand up for the US team, but first he had to overcome a mechanical issue with his bike that necessitated a bike change.
"It was related to gearing," Phinney said. "I thought I fixed it, didn't fix it, went back to the car, tried to fix it, couldn't quite get it and then had to change my bike. But it's alright, this thing is so much stiffer than my other bike, it was kind of fun."
That fun ride propelled Phinney into a move with Guillaume Boivin (Canada), Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia) and Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus). The breakaway lasted until 36km to go, where they were caught just before the ascent up Libby Hill with two laps remaining.
The Americans missed the next move, which included Bauke Mollema, Tom Boonen, Andrey Amador, Michal Kwiatkowski, Ian Stannard, Dani Moreno and Elia Viviani, but that group was caught just before the peloton took the bell for the final lap.
Farrar slipped away next with Siutsou and squeezed out an advantage of 10 seconds with 7km to go. The pair held off the bunch for most of the circuit, but a chase form the Italian and Belgian teams brought them back at the bottom of Libby Hill with just over 4km to go.
"My tactic was like, well if they hesitate just long enough that they catch me with the front group at the top of Libby Hill, then I'm in with a shot there," Farrar said. "Sometimes you have to gamble big, but it doesn't always work. Instead they caught me at the bottom of Libby Hill and it was game over."
It wasn't over for Howes, however, as the 27-year-old was well placed over the final two cobbled climbs and the ascent of Governor Street in the final kilometre.
The Colorado native hung on through the chaos of the finale to finish with the bunch three seconds behind Sagan, coming in immediately after Philippe Gilbert and Tom Dumoulin.