Gavin Mannion is a rider who has been knocking on the door of a big victory for a while. In April he took his first UCI win on the final day at the 2.2 Tour of the Gila, taming the Gila Monster in front of overall winner Rob Britton (Rally Cycling) and finishing second overall.
The win he took on Friday in the Vail Pass time trial at the 2.HC Colorado Classic, however, was in front of riders who have raced Grand Tours and competed in top races all over the world. It was by far his biggest win to date, and it came as part of a UnitedHealthcare one-two finish with teammate Serghei Tvetcov at a time when the team is searching for new title sponsor.
"I knew this course suits me well, and I pretty much go into every time trial thinking I can win or at least giving myself a fair shot," Mannion said in the post-stage press conference. "Normally it doesn't pan out, but today it did, so I'm really happy with that."
After starting stage 2 in a large group that was 18 seconds down on overnight leader Gage Hecht (Aevolo), Mannion covered the iconic Vail Pass course in 25:41, 21 seconds faster than previous leader Hugh Carthy (EF Education First-Drapac). Only Tvetcov came close to Mannion after that, finishing 11 seconds behind his teammate and new race leader.
Behind Mannion was a long list of riders who have scored results in the biggest races in the US and in the world.
"For me, personally, this is huge," he said. "I've never won a race at this level before. Gila was my first professional victory earlier this year, so to continue that trend and finish the season strong is awesome for me and just goes to show that I'm continuing to develop. Hopefully, I can continue this for the next few years and take a few more victories."
Where Mannion might get the opportunity to contest for more victories is uncertain at the moment. His team is currently looking for a new title sponsor for next season, and team owner Thierry Attias set a deadline of August 30 to find that replacement.
At this late date, the prospects aren't looking good for the team, but Mannion told Cyclingnews after Friday's post-stage press conference that he has been in communication with other teams about next season.
Getting over the final mountains
Before worries about where he'll be riding next season take centre stage, however, Mannion has business to attend to in Colorado. Saturday's queen stage will be his biggest obstacle to keeping the leader's jersey, as Sunday's mostly flat final stage in Denver will be a difficult day for any GC riders to make a move.
Saturday's stage 3, however, includes three KOMs as the peloton makes its way from Denver to the category 1 climb up Lookout Mountain, then takes on the category 2 climb up Deer Creek in Cragmont and the category 4 climb in Indian Hills before heading back to Denver for the finish.
"[Stage 3] is going to be really hard," Mannon said after Friday's stage. "Obviously, the time gaps aren't that big after today, so anyone who came here trying to win the race is going to try and win it tomorrow. I can't say I've really thought too much about it. I wasn't really expecting to be leading the race, but I think we have a really strong team. If we ride well we should be able to defend the lead tomorrow."
Mannion has previous experience with Lookout Mountain, and he said his team will be key to holding the jersey.
"I've ridden it quite a bit, actually," Mannon said. "I've actually ridden a local time trial a bit earlier in the year and took Phil Gaimon's prize Strava KOM, so yeah, I'm familiar with the climb, but there's a lot of stuff to go on after the climb that's pretty crucial as well. Having a strong team will be the most important thing tomorrow."
And with the final KOM topping out more than 50km from the finish, Mannion believes UnitedHealthcare will get some help from other teams that have strong sprinters in the race.
"I think the middle section of the race is really hard, but it's kind of tough to predict because there is a lot of downhill toward the finish," he said. "It's one of those stages that could be a reduced field sprint, or if things go really crazy in the middle of the stage it could be a climber's stage.
"I think we have a really strong team, and there a few other teams here that have really strong sprinters and might be motivated to try and keep things a bit more controlled. But we'll find out tomorrow."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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