Hincapie Sportswear's Joey Rosskopf took a major step in his cycling career this week at the Tour of Utah, surviving as one of the last protagonists on stage 2 and finishing second to 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans (BMC) during the queen stage that finished at Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.
The 24-year-old Redlands Bicycle Classic winner first showed his form in Utah during the stage 2 run from Panguitch to Torrey. The stage included four classified climbs before a long descent to the finish. After several shake-ups and reshuffling, a group of five escapees formed that included BMC's Michael Schär, Trek Factory Racing's Jens Voigt, UnitedHealthcare's Ben Day, Drapac's Darren Lapthorne, Funvic-Brasilinvest's Ramiro Rincon Diaz and Rosskopf.
The Hincapie rider made the final lead selection of the day when he and Schär escaped again on the second-to-last climb of the day. Schär, the powerful Swiss rider who was just coming off the Tour de France, dropped Rosskopf on the final climb over Boulder Mountain, but Rosskopf continued to chase into the final kilometers. The peloton eventually swept up Rosskpf near the finish before Schär took the stage win just meters in front of the field, but the Rosskopf had made his mark on the stage and earned some fans in high places.
“He's certainly got a lot of potential,” Evans said of Rosskopf later in the week. “What I admired about him, when we caught him with 10km to go on stage 2, was that he going absolutely flat out to the last meter. Even though the group was 100 meters off him, he was still riding flat out. So he seems to have a lot of ambition. I think with ambition and talent, when it's combined, a rider can go a long way with that.”
Rosskopf wasn't quite finished standing out in Utah; he put in his most impressive ride during the penultimate stage to Snowbird. The Hincapie rider once again infiltrated the breakaway and was one of four final survivors who made it to the top of the second-to-last climb up Guardsman's Pass.
“It was great,” Rosskopf said. “I have never climbed that well in my life, so it's just a cool experience. I was really doubting myself; I was so scared of Guardsman. We stayed in Park City this year and last year before the race started, and I avoided going up Guardsman at all cost because it was too steep.”
The Guardman's climb may have intimidated Rosskopf in training, but he handled it with panache during this year's race. On the final climb, Rosskopf rode in the lead group with Evans, Trek factory Racing's Riccardo Zoidl and UnitedHealthcare's Lucas Euser. Rosskopf attacked and in the final kilometers, leaving all but Evans in his wake.
“It might not have looked like it, but I was all in,” Rosskopf said of the attack. “I didn't really have the confidence maybe to give it 100 percent until two kilometers to go. I glanced back and I could see the next group coming up. We'd been out there all day, so I might as well sprint and get third or fourth rather than get caught by however many were behind us.”
Rosskopf had a slight lead as the duo closed in on the finish, but a cagey Evans played the slightly downhill half kilometer to perfection and slipped past Rosskopf to take the win.
“I actually thought I might have him when I kicked with the last steep pitch where I could see the driveway where we turned down to the finish,” Rosskopf said. “He'd been lagging a little bit on the accelerations, but he knew exactly what he was doing and he came over the last little hump just close enough to get around my wheel and basically coast in for the win.”
Coming so close to a career-highlight win and then seeing it slip away is heartbreaking for any athlete, but Rosskopf's spirits were buoyed by the way he rode and what the result said about the development steps he's taken this year.
“Last year I could have come to that climb with a group of 20 and me sitting on all day and I would have gotten dropped on the climb,” he said. “So this is a huge step for me.”
At the post-race press conference following the stage and the podium ceremony, where he donned the mountains classification jersey that he would eventually win outright on the final day, Rosskopf said that despite his breakout season, he hadn't yet heard from any WorldTour teams about a possible 2015 contract. But if he can continue riding well at the upcoming North American UCI races in Colorado and Alberta, it might be a good idea to stay close to a phone.