Joey Rosskopf, the Hincapie Sportswear rider who won this year's Redlands Bicycle Classic, is one of a handful of new riders that the BMC Racing Team is hoping can bolster its aging roster. The 25-year-old from Decatur, Georgia, signed a one-year deal with the team.
BMC broke the news about Rosskopf's signing on September 25 as part of a three-rider announcement that also included newly-crowned under-23 time trial world champion Campbell Flakemore of Australia and Manuel Senni of Italy.
The team appears to be on the lookout for new riders entering the off-season after recent retirement announcements from veterans Thor Hushovd and Cadel Evans. Turns toward riders like Greg Van Avermaet in the Classics and Tejay van Garderen in the Tour de France earlier this season also signalled the team's change of focus.
President and General Manager Jim Ochowicz said that Rosskopf, along with 22-year-old riders Flakemore and Senni, will complement the signings for 2015 of Switzerland's Stefan Küng, 20, and Belgium's Dylan Teuns, 22, both of whom raced for the BMC Development Team this season.
Teuns was the best young rider at the Tour of Utah during his first outing with the WorldTour team, and he later finished 10th overall at the Tour of Britain. Küng won the under-23 time trial and road race at the European championships in July, and he finished third in the under-23 time trial world championship in Spain last month.
“All of these fine young athletes fit with our strategy of bringing younger riders into the BMC Racing Team and helping them reach their potential,” Ochowicz said in a team statement.
Rosskopf, for one, is anxiously waiting to prove himself on the sport's biggest stage.
“I hope I can be part of the up-and-coming crowd,” he told Cyclingnews earlier this week before heading out to a friend's North Carolina cabin for some well-deserved rest and relaxation. “I'm super excited. It will be a big thing, for sure.”
Turning heads in Utah and Colorado
Rosskopf said he first gained the BMC's attention during stage 2 at the Tour of Utah, when he was the last of the protagonists behind eventual winner Michael Schär after a long day off the front. The stage included four classified climbs before a long descent to the finish.
Of the five other breakaway riders, which included UnitedHealthcare's Ben Day and Trek Factory Racing's Jens Voigt, only Rosskopf could stick with Schär when the powerful Swiss rider attacked over the final climb.
Rosskopf eventually lost Schär's pace but he continued to chase into the final kilometres. The peloton eventually swept him up near the finish before Schär took the stage win just metres in front of the field. But Rosskopf had made his mark on the stage and earned some fans in high places.
“He's certainly got a lot of potential,” BMC's Cadel Evans said of Rosskopf after the development rider finished second to him during the queen stage 6.
“What I admired about him, when we caught him with 10km to go on stage 2, was that he was going absolutely flat out to the last metre," Evans said. “Even though the group was 100 metres 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 had given Evans all that he could handle during the stage 6 finale at the Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort. 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 Pass. 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 in the final kilometres, leaving all but Evans in his wake. He had a slight lead as the duo closed in on the finish but Evans played the slightly downhill half kilometre like the cagey veteran he is and slipped past Rosskopf for the win. Even though Rosskopf didn't get the win, he confirmed that his gusty ride during stage 2 wasn't just a matter of luck.
Rosskopf continued to ride well at the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, where finished in the top 10 on four of seven stages and took sixth overall.
“I think the biggest thing was Colorado actually,” Rosskopf said. “I think maybe I got their attention in Utah, but showing that I could be consistent the whole week in Colorado and stay up there, that at least showed that stage 6 [in Utah] wasn't just about making it into a lucky break.”
Early-season performances set the stage for later success
Rosskopf's performance in August mirrored the form he had at the start of the season, when he won the NRC-opening Redlands Bicycle Classic with a daring solo attack on the final day. The overall win was his first in a National Racing Calendar (NRC) event. He followed the Redlands triumph with silver medals in both the time trial and road race at the Pan-American Championships in May. The results would have pleased many riders but Rosskopf felt let down by his self-described slump after Redlands.
“I didn't really do that well for the rest of the season after Redlands,” he said. “I was pretty disappointed about that after winning Redlands because after that I should pretty much be able to win just about every race I went to. But I didn't really race that well the rest of the early summer.”
During a break from racing following the Tour de Beauce in June, won by Hincapie's Tom Skujins, Rosskopf refocused his efforts toward the big US races in August.
“I just went and stayed on top of Mount Lemon [outside of Tuscon, Arizona] at altitude by myself for a few weeks,” Rosskopf said. “It made me commit to doing everything right for the second half of the year, after expecting more after Redlands.”
With a WorldTour contract in hand, Rosskopf appears to have gotten plenty right at the end of the season, earning an opportunity to write the next chapter of cycling story that started more than a decade ago as a junior.
Rosskopf signed his first pro contract with the Mountain Khakis-Jittery Joe's UCI Continental team in 2010 when he was 20 years old. He transferred to the Team Type 1-Sanofi Development squad in 2011, and in 2012 he moved to Team Type 1's Pro Continental team.
He finished second in the prologue at the Tour of China in 2011. He also finished second in the prologue of the Tour of Rwanda that year and was second overall. In 2012, he was second during a stage of the Tour of Tiahu Lake, a UCI 2.1 race in China.
Rosskopf moved to Hincapie in 2013 and found himself on podiums at a handful of UCI and NRC events. He won a stage and the overall at the two-day Paris-Arras Tour, took the individual time trial at the Tour de Beauce, finished third at the Philadelphia Cycling Classic and won the final stage of the Cascade Cycling Classic, where he finished second overall. He also finished second to 5-hour Energy's Francisco Mancebo in the final NRC individual rankings.