US-based ProTeam Rally Cycling knew it had its work cut out to win the elite men's road race at the USA Cycling Pro Road Championship – it had been trying for 15 years – so it began running through the numbers and planning a strategy several months ago, beginning with a nine-rider roster.
Some of the other numbers to consider included the 15-lap, 190.9km course in Knoxville, Tennessee, the 90-degree southern heat with humidity, a 146-rider field – the largest number of entries in the men’s event in the last 15 years – and the tally of big WorldTour names that would be part of the mix.
Rally Cycling was up for the challenge.
They came away with the overall victory after a powerful ride by Joey Rosskopf, a third place with Kyle Murphy, a seventh from Gavin Mannion, and with five other riders finishing the race. Only 28 riders in total completed the event.
“We have five team directors that we've been talking about this with for the last, probably, two months .... We knew we were going to have nine guys here. We were going to be one of the stronger teams and numbers as well, too,” men’s Team Director Clark Sheehan told Cyclingnews after watching two of his riders step up on the podium.
“We knew that we wanted Joey to win solo. That was what we were talking about. And he got caught [6.5km to go], now what? Then he was able to attack again when ... he saw everybody looking at each other. It was crisp and clean.”
The result was Rosskopf’s first stars-and-stripes jersey in the road race to accompany a pair he won in the time trial in 2017 and 2018.
“And sometimes, you know, you have these fantastic elaborate plans and as soon as the race starts, you just take those things and crumple them up,” Sheehan added.
That, however, didn't happen this time.
“You know, I was talking with Jonas [Carney, performance manager] just after the race and said, ‘We've been trying to win this race for 15 years and we've got second how many times?’ So this is why we put a lot of emphasis on trying to win it this year.”
Rosskopf explained that all nine riders had roles to play over the course of the four-and-a-half hours of racing.
“We divided the team into the first and second half of the race. Just to give an opportunity to a few guys to try to float as much as possible, you know, without taking themselves out of the race. But just save, conserve, conserve, conserve until the second half. It worked amazingly,” Rosskopf said.
“It’s hard to win this because if you don’t have the numbers, all the strongest guys are just staring at each other. We just had such good numbers all day. The team was amazing.”
Setting the stage
Colin Joyce and Magnus Sheffield were the first two Rally teammates to be part of an eight-rider breakaway on the third lap of the race, which also included two EF Education-Nippo riders, Lawson Craddock and Tejay van Garderen, as well as Chad Haga (Team DSM).
After swelling to 11 total riders, the peloton scooped up the group with 138 kilometres to go and triggered a more dangerous attack, this time by Rally’s Kyle Murphy with Sam Boardman (L39ION of Los Angeles) and reinforced with George Simpson (Project Echelon).
For five full laps in the middle of the long, hot race, the trio maintained their lead and extended the gap to over four minutes. When all four riders from EF Education-Nippo churned out a vicious pace at the front of the peloton to bring the margin down to under a minute, Rally teammates Robin Carpenter and Nathan Brown took a turn at the front with Team DSM’s Haga to mediate the move, but also fracture more of the peloton on the 11th ascent of the punchy climb of Sherrod Road.
Soon, six riders had caught the trio to form a formidable nine, with Rally representing one-third of the firepower. That group of nine emerged as the crucial selection of riders from which the next US Pro road champion would emerge with two and a half laps to go. It contained Brent Bookwalter (Team BikeExchange), former Lotto-Jumbo rider Alexey Vermeulen (Canyon-Shimano – Q+M), Haga, Craddock, Simpson, Boardman and the Rally trio of Murphy, Sheffield, and Rosskopf.
With just under 17 kilometres to go, Rosskopf attacked and went into time trial mode to power solo for the next 10.5 kilometres, when the group came back together it looked like his day was over.
"In the finale it came back together and we had numbers, and then it was just a matter of throwing bombs and following moves,” Murphy said about the final 6.5km, which saw Rosskopf launch another attack at the end and win solo on Gay Street in downtown Knoxville.
“The last lap was just anyone’s race. Kyle was unbelievable; he was out there all day. I have no idea how he had the legs to do that, and he even got on the podium. It was just unbelievable,” Rosskopf said of his teammate.
Murphy's efforts for the team were described by Sheehan as “superhuman” after the race.
"He just came off the Tour of Switzerland and as the race progressed he was getting stronger and stronger and he said that he felt like he was on incredible peak form,” said Sheehan, who added that Murphy was key in the mid-race attack and breakaway.
“There was a group of like, what was it, 10 that had gotten away and we had to bring it back because we weren't represented in it. He said he felt like absolute garbage but then every lap after that, he started feeling better and better.”
Murphy was proud to be on the podium, but couldn’t say enough about his team leader.
“I’m over the moon. I’m so happy Joey won. It’s just the best. It’s what we are supposed to do. We are one of the strongest teams here,” Murphy told Cyclingnews.
“Joey is such a classy rider, and we had total faith in him. We knew he was on good form, and he made the right move. Then it was just a matter of making sure no one else could get up to him.”
Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling for people of all abilities and ages. Tyson has been recognized for communications excellence with 10 Phoenix Awards, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp - and was recognized by a national media outlet as the first female depicted in a pro baseball card set (Ft. Myers Royals). She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times. Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in Provence (France). Her favorite mountain bike rides are in Park City, Utah (USA).
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