Alex Howes (EF Education First) won a three-up battle in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, on Sunday to take his first USA Cycling Pro Road Championships Elite Men's title. Howes beat Stephen Basset (First Internet Bank) and Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma) for the title after the trio escaped from a select group near the end of the 190.7km circuit race.
Howes gutted out the final two uphill kickers leading to the downtown finish line, bringing back Powless and then Bassett just before the final left-hand turn onto the slightly downhill finishing straight. The rider who has finished on or near the nationals podium multiple times but never on the top step had room to celebrate emphatically as he crossed the line to take his first-ever elite stars-and-stripes jersey.
"I can't put the feeling into words," Howes said. "Neilson Powless is probably one of the best guys in the United States now. This isn't necessarily his course, and Stephen Bassett - the hometown hero - he was unbelievably strong and riding with full heart. He was hard to get around.
"I thought it might be a little quicker on that bottom corner - he had a gap going into it. I was able to run up on him a little, but when he came out of it, he came out with a full head of steam. I thought he was gone, but I managed to just time it right as it levelled out and hit him with some speed," Howes said.
"I was in tears."
Bassett was philosophical in defeat, recognising the astonishing feat of going up against two WorldTour riders and being able to challenge for the win.
"I trained really hard, and we don't get to do all the races - we didn't do Beauce," Bassett said. "I just hunkered down at home, it's kind of been the theme of the last few months - keep your head down and keep working."
Bassett headed into the race with confidence, knowing that his two-minute power, critical for the course's major feature, the steep Sherrod Road climb, was on par with the best.
"It was just about getting into the right moves and a lot of hurting," he said. "I took my shot, and Alex is really fast, so you can't shake a stick at that. I saw the pace lull and took my chance. Always you want to win, but it was a pretty good ride."
Bassett also had the advantage of being a hometown rider, with ample support in the feed zone.
"I think we had six in the feed zone for five riders. I took an ice sock every lap," he said. "Fifteen ice socks over four-and-a-half hours make a pretty massive difference."
With such a performance, it wouldn't be surprising to see Bassett snapped up with his first pro contract, but as of now, he has nothing solid in the works.
"I really hope to," he said. "Hopefully today helps."
Powless was the only rider of the three to be without teammates in the bunch, and he was forced to go on the offensive to make the decisive move.
"I kept missing the moves. I bridged a couple of times, but that's what I had to do because if I tried to go with all the moves I thought were dangerous, I probably would have been dropped with six to go. I had to wait until moves were established and then bridge across," Powless said.
"It took a little more out of me than I would have liked, but I couldn't have asked for a better group of guys. I think we were all working together pretty well. The heat was pretty brutal for all of us. My legs were cramping, and I'm sure everyone else's were cramping. Every effort felt like it was your last. But we had to recover and keep it going because we had a group of guys coming from behind."
How it unfolded
With 190km ahead and the heat and humidity soaring, the 102 men who lined up in Knoxville for the road race championships were prepared with ice socks and plenty of cold water in the team car, some for drinking, some for dousing.
The racing was as hot as the air above the tarmac, and it took no time before the first escape went up the road, with Mike's Bikes Andrew Shimzu going clear almost immediately, although his move didn't last long.
The second lap saw another move from EF Education First's Sean Bennett and Aevolo's Gage Hecht in what was only a foreshadowing of what was to come. The pair were reeled in before the third lap, when a larger group with defending champion Jonny Brown (Hagens Berman Axeon), Michael Hernandez (Aevolo), Camden Vodicka and Kent Ross (Wildlife Generation), Cameron Beard and several others pipped away.
If the previous moves were too small, that move proved too big and they too were brought back before another move went with Edward Anderson (Hagens Berman Axeon) and Nate Brown (EF Education First) jumped clear.
Again, too small, the breakaway was brought to heel and another one shot out of the field: Evan Huffman (Rally UHC), Hecht, Noah Grannigan (Floyd's), Eric Hill (Project Echelon) and William Cooper (CS Velo), but again, they found no success.
Finally, the right formula came together on the fifth lap, with Jonny Brown, Robin Carpenter (Rally UHC), Alex Howes (EF Education First), Hecht and Oliver Flautt (Team Dauner Akkon) making the first breakaway to stick for multiple laps. They managed to gain 1:45 at the halfway point.
That expanded to 2:00 as Floyd's Pro Cycling led the chase. With 80km to go, Sean Gardner (Gateway Devo) jumped clear and sparked a furious reaction that cut into the breakaway's advantage, bringing it back to 1:45. With five laps to go, their lead was hovering just over one minute.
Hecht was distanced on the climb with Flautt, but they managed to claw their way back on - but the gap was tumbling and the peloton splintering behind. On the long highway stretch, the leaders were caught by a group led by Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma), but as the front group looked around, Rally UHC's Ty Magner shot out the front solo.
He was soon brought back by the group, which was down to maybe 20 riders with Warbasse, Powless, Stetina, Alex Hoehn (Aevolo), Hecht and former champion Greg Daniel (DC Bank).
Carpenter then countered, taking Logan Owen (EF Education First) along, and they were soon joined by Jonny Brown and Stephen Bassett (First Internet Bank). The heat was on, and as they were caught, Bassett and Sean Bennett (EF Education First) countered, sending the cat amongst the pigeons.
From the fractured field, Carpenter attacked with Jonny Brown to bridge across to Bennett and Bassett. Soon Howes powered across on the climb with Colin Joyce (Rally UHC), and then Powless joined in, making it seven away coming into three to go.
Chasing beind were Nate Brown, Hoehn, Magner, Revard, Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale), Brendan Rhim (Arapahoe-Hincapie), Daniel and Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo), and with 40km to go the two groups came together.
Rhim put in a testing move, but was quickly covered and countered by Jonny Brown and Magner with three laps to go. On the third-to-last time up the climb, Howes drilled it and only Powless and Bassett could follow, a delight to Bassett's hometown fans.
With two laps to go, the trio's gap was up to 50 seconds and the chase was greatly reduced in both numbers and power.
The lead trio started the final lap with a gap of nearly a minute as the chasing group behind appeared to lack impetus going through the start-finish line. The winner would almost assuredly come from this group. Howes led up and over the Sherrod Hill climb, putting in a testing dig near the top but failing to dislodge his fellow escapees.
The chase group started to fracture as riders began to attack each other and its cohesiveness fell apart. Stetina, Warbasse and Magner took the reins as the first chase group on the road and pulled the gap down to 30 seconds with 6km to go.
Powless obvious wasn't happy taking Howes and Bassett to the line and fired the first shot from the group, accelerating away inside 5km to go to drop Howes, while Bassett was able to just hang on and cling to his wheel. Howes eventually fought his way back inside 3km to go, and the cat-and-mouse games began as the chase behind started to grow.
Warbasse launched from the chase group and quickly had the leaders in sight, while Powless saw the move and made a jump of his own. Basset countered inside the final kilometre and got a gap, but Howes tracked him down on the short kickers to the finish to take his first elite national championship.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Alex Howes (USA) EF Education First||4:37:05|
|2||Stephen Bassett (USA)||0:00:03|
|3||Neilson Powless (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma||0:00:04|
|4||Tyler Magner (USA) Rally UHC Cycling||0:00:05|
|5||Lawrence Warbasse (USA) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:08|
|6||Brendan Rhim (USA) Arapahoe | Hincapie Powered By Bmc||0:00:11|
|7||Thomas Revard (USA) Hagens Berman Axeon||0:00:12|
|8||Kiel Reijnen (USA) Trek-Segafredo||0:00:17|
|9||Nathan Brown (USA) EF Education First||0:00:21|
|10||Gregory Daniel (USA) Dc Bank Pro Cycling Team||0:00:58|
|11||Alex Hoehn (USA) Aevolo||0:00:59|
|12||Sean Bennett (USA) EF Education First||0:01:10|
|13||Samuel Boardman (USA) Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis||0:04:14|
|14||Edward Anderson (USA) Hagens Berman Axeon||0:04:18|
|15||Colin Joyce (USA) Rally UHC Cycling||0:04:33|
|16||Cameron Beard (USA) Team Differdange Geba||0:05:59|
|17||Conor Schunk (USA)|
|18||Chad Hall (USA)||0:06:00|
|19||Lance Haidet (USA) Aevolo|
|20||Zachary Nehr (USA)||0:06:08|
|21||Robin Carpenter (USA) Rally UHC Cycling||0:06:32|
|22||Sean Burger (USA)||0:06:53|
|23||Scott Mcgill (USA)|
|24||George Simpson (USA) Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling||0:06:55|
|25||Andrew Vollmer (USA) Aevolo|
|26||Eric Brunner (USA) 303 Project||0:06:58|
|27||Tim Mcbirney (USA)|
|28||Logan Owen (USA) EF Education First||0:07:04|
|29||Jarret Oldham (USA)|
|30||Oliver Flautt (USA) Team Dauner | Akkon|
|31||Griffin Easter (USA) 303 Project||0:07:05|
|32||Peter Stetina (USA) Trek-Segafredo|
|33||Emerson Oronte (USA) Rally UHC Cycling|
|34||Cullen Easter (USA) 303 Project|
|35||Travis Mccabe (USA) Floyd'S Pro Cycling||0:07:17|
|36||Jonathan Brown (USA) Hagens Berman Axeon||0:10:26|
|37||Taylor (T.J.) Eisenhart (USA) Arapahoe | Hincapie Powered By BMC||0:10:48|
|38||Ben Schmutte (USA)||0:50:31|
|39||Hugo Scala Jr. (USA)||1:10:53|
|40||Eric Young (USA) Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling||1:13:29|
|DNF||Cole Davis (USA) Hagens Berman Axeon|
|DNF||Ian Garrison (USA) Hagens Berman Axeon|
|DNF||Sean Quinn (USA) Hagens Berman Axeon|
|DNF||Kevin Vermaerke (USA) Hagens Berman Axeon|
|DNF||Gavin Mannion (USA) Rally UHC Cycling|
|DNF||Brandon Mcnulty (USA) Rally UHC Cycling|
|DNF||John Murphy (USA) Rally UHC Cycling|
|DNF||Kyle Murphy (USA) Rally UHC Cycling|
|DNF||Evan Huffman (USA) Rally UHC Cycling|
|DNF||Cade Bickmore (USA) Aevolo|
|DNF||Gage Hecht (USA) Aevolo|
|DNF||Michael Hernandez (USA) Aevolo|
|DNF||Riley Sheehan (USA) Aevolo|
|DNF||Noah Granigan (USA) Floyd's Pro Cycling|
|DNF||Keegan Swirbul (USA) Floyd's Pro Cycling|
|DNF||Camden Vodicka (USA) Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis|
|DNF||Maxx Chance (USA) Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis|
|DNF||Finn Gullickson (USA) Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis|
|DNF||Ryan Jastrab (USA) Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis|
|DNF||Ryan Kingsolver (USA) Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis|
|DNF||Quinten Kirby (USA) Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis|
|DNF||Kent Ross (USA) Wildlife Generation Pro Cycling p/b Maxxis|
|DNF||Ethan Overson (USA)|
|DNF||Sean Gardner (USA) Probaclac/Devinci|
|DNF||Isaac Bryant (USA)|
|DNF||Evan Bausbacher (USA)|
|DNF||Ryan Knapp (USA)|
|DNF||Christopher Uberti (USA)|
|DNF||Evan Hartig (USA)|
|DNF||Brandon Feehery (USA)|
|DNF||Timothy Savre (USA)|
|DNF||Eric Hill (USA)|
|DNF||David Greif (USA)|
|DNF||Richard Arnopol (USA)|
|DNF||Matthew Zimmer (USA)|
|DNF||Patrick Collins (USA)|
|DNF||Andrew Giniat (USA)|
|DNF||William Cooper (USA)|
|DNF||Camden Black Ingersoll (USA)|
|DNF||William Gleason (USA)|
|DNF||Taylor Warren (USA)|
|DNF||Tim Weigelt (USA)|
|DNF||Sam Andersonmoxley (USA)|
|DNF||Christopher Craig (USA)|
|DNF||Cooper Shanks (USA)|
|DNF||Andrew Shimizu (USA)|
|DNF||Miguel Bryon (USA) Arapahoe | Hincapie Powered By BMC|
|DNF||Andrew Dahlheim (USA) Arapahoe | Hincapie Powered By BMC|
|DNF||Seth Jones (USA) Arapahoe | Hincapie Powered By BMC|
|DNF||Justin Alexander Oien (USA) Arapahoe | Hincapie Powered By BMC|
|DNF||Benjamin Wolfe (USA) Arapahoe | Hincapie Powered By BMC|
|DNF||Kyle Swanson (USA) Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling|
|DNF||Samuel Bassetti (USA) Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling|