Riding for the USA Cycling National Development Program, Brendan Rhim won the overall classification on Sunday at the 2013 Tour de l’Abitibi Desjardins in Québec, Canada. The 17-year-old Norwich, Vermont resident took a two-second victory over Australia's Owen Gillott while Canada's Olivier Brisebois finished third overall at 10 seconds.
The Tour de l’Abitibi is North America's premier stage race for juniors and the only North American road race for junior men with a UCI sanction. The 2013 race, the event's 45th edition, encompassed six days and seven stages of racing in northwestern Québec from July 16 to 21.
The US national team won the event in 2012, courtesy of Taylor Eisenhart, but the US team director Barney King knew it would be a challenge to duplicate that performance.
"The prior year, 2012, we had an exceptionally strong team and we won virtually everything that was up for grabs," King told Cyclingnews. "We placed riders stacked at the top of the GC but it was kind of expected because of the depth of the team that we had.
"This year, 2013, I had high expectations but they were tempered because of the previous year and the success that we've had. Also this year was a very big year for the Canadian national team program because Abitibi was a selection team for their world championship pool so they were picking riders out of this race to fall into their talent pool. Plus the depth of the field amongst the regional teams and the club and trade teams had gotten much deeper.
"I was pretty convinced it was going to be a tight race and it was going to come down to seconds."
Rhim assumed the Tour de l’Abitibi's brown jersey of the overall race leader after crossing the line second in the 103km stage 5 road race from Timiskaming First Nation to Lorrainville on Saturday as part of a five-rider break. Once the time bonuses were factored in Rhim now led stage 5 winner Olivier Brisebois by four seconds and Canada's Jack Burke by nine seconds.
The penultimate stage 6, 114.8km in Rouyn-Noranda, was decided by a field sprint but time bonuses picked up throughout the race by Rhim increased his overall lead to seven seconds on Brisebois and 12 seconds over Burke.
The final stage, 97km from Mont-Brun to Rouyn-Noranda, was won in a solo break by Owen Gillott who finished four seconds ahead of the peloton. The Australian started the day in fourth overall, 15 seconds behind Rhim, and picked up 12 seconds in time bonuses as well in the final day of racing. Rhim, however, earned three seconds of time bonuses himself in the stage to retain the leader's jersey by two seconds over Gillott. Brisebois dropped from second to third overall at 10 seconds.
"Owen [Gillott] came very, very close to pulling off the win," said King. "But there's a point in every stage race where the leader had to take responsibility to take the race into his own hands and Brendan went to the front when Owen went away. He pulled him back and ended up salvaging the victory."
Rhim's teammates on the US national team also delivered solid results at the 2013 Tour de l’Abitibi with William Barta claiming the best young rider classification winner while the squad won the overall team classification.
"We did definitely have the strongest team in the race and the guys rode brilliantly in support of both Will and Brendan," said King. "Because of their efforts and their sacrifice it really took a load off of Brendan so he could perform at the times that he had to and also for Will because he was in a very tight race for best young rider.
"Brendan had been to Europe previously this year and they (US national team) won Tour du Pays de Vaud with Geoffrey Curran so he had been in a role of support. Brendan had been on the receiving end of doing all the work and now he got the benefit of being the race leader."
With his overall victory, Rhim follows in the footsteps of previous American Tour de l’Abitibi champions such as Tyler Farrar (2002) and Taylor Phinney (2007) and delivers a repeat victory for the USA following Taylor Eisenhart's win in 2012.
"He's just a really quiet, respectful kid and very much a delight to direct," King said of Rhim. "He's part of the Killington Mountain School program that Peter Vollers runs up in Vermont and he was very well prepared, very easy to travel with and he did a great job."