Fan favorite Tom Zirbel (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) finally won his long sought after National Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee after coming up short in Greenville, SC in 2008 and 2011. Zirbel outpaced Brent Bookwalter (BMC) and Tennessee-native Nathan Brown (Bontrager Cycling Team) to win his first national championship and cross off the biggest item he still had on his bucket list.
"It's a cliché but it's going to take a while to sink in," said the soft-spoken Zirbel. "I'm just kind of worked over right now. I'm spent both physically and emotionally. I don't know how I would be feeling if I was third or second again this year because I try not to put too much pressure on myself. I just want to get the most out of myself, and I felt like I did that today but it's nice to be validated with a victory."
The course, which wound around race sponsor Volkswagen's acclaimed new eco-friendly manufacturing plant, was set with open rolling roads, slight wind, and sunny skies. Humid weather, which had bothered riders earlier in the week, gave way to temperatures in the 70s and 80s for a picture perfect day.
Chad Haga (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) set the fastest intermediate time as the first wave of riders set off only to be eclipsed by Lawson Craddock (Bontrager.) Craddock would hold onto his lead and move into the hot seat with his time of 38:57.92, a handful of seconds faster than Haga. As the second wave of riders started coming through, it was clear from Zirbel's split time of 19:06 that he was having a special ride, and barring disaster, would be the man to beat. Bookwalter was only 17 seconds behind the leader, but Zirbel held strong to finish in 38:16.03 and win his first national championship. Craddock was knocked of the podium by close friend and teammate Nathan Brown, who finished in 38:57.15, a fraction of a second faster than Craddock.
Brent Bookwalter was looking to improve on his third place finish of last year and take home a championship title. Bookwalter was feeling stronger than prior years after his team's strong showing at the Amgen Tour of California where teammate Tejay van Garderen won overall and the squad claimed the team title as well. "It's not a great course for me, I knew that coming in," said Bookwalter. "That didn't change the belief that I was coming here to win, and I thought I could. I prepared well for it in the days leading up to it, was still confident, had a good race plan, stuck to it, and even gave some more, but Zirbel was really good today."
Zirbel, who like Bookwalter had been close to the podium in the past, has had to fight battles on many fronts in his pursuit of a cycling career, including a controversial doping suspension in 2009, which was subsequently reduced. "I've definitely had my lows in the sport where I almost walked away. I do love riding my bike, I love racing, I think I was made to race a bike," said Zirbel who is a popular rider within the racing community. "I'm glad I stuck with it, and I'm glad I found a home on Optum, This is definitely a career highlight, but I know that you have to keep the highs at a medium, and the lows at a medium, because you can't swing to far either way."
At twenty-two years-old Nathan Brown's career is just unfolding and his excitement for a championship race so close to home was clear. "It's an honor to come back here and race in Tennessee in front of all my old friends and all my family," said Brown. Brown who won the Most Courageous rider jersey on Stage 4 at last week's Amgen Tour of California, is hoping to get to the WorldTour next year. "My goals are definitely to go to the next level, to the WorldTour, and with the guidance of Axel [Merckx] and the team behind me I think I can do that."
Both Bookwalter and Zirbel spoke eloquently in support of holding the women's championships races along with the men's at the post-race press conference. "It just feels right, doesn't it?" said Zirbel when asked how having the women's race has affected the championship experience. "They are some of the best athletes in the world and they are winning races in Europe. I think they belong, and deserve their own tours right alongside us."
The Professional US Championships continue on Monday, May 27 when the men take the road at 1:15pm EDT.
|1||Thomas Zirbel (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)||0:38:16.03|
|2||Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team)||0:00:17.28|
|3||Nathan Brown (Bontrager Cycling Team)||0:00:41.10|
|4||Lawson Craddock (Bontrager Cycling Team)||0:00:41.88|
|5||Chad Haga (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)||0:00:46.07|
|6||David Williams (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda)||0:00:48.89|
|7||Matthew Busche (RadioShack Leopard)||0:00:53.92|
|8||Benjamin Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman)||0:01:24.16|
|9||Scott Zwizanski (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)||0:01:38.60|
|10||Joseph Rosskopf (Hincapie Sportswear Development Team)||0:01:40.64|
|11||Ian Burnett (Jelly Belly Cycling)||0:01:41.28|
|12||Nathaniel English (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda)||0:01:46.78|
|13||Carter Jones (Bissell Cycling)||0:01:57.84|
|14||Adrian Hegyvary (UnitedHealthcare)||0:01:57.92|
|15||Benjamin Wolfe (Jelly Belly Cycling)||0:02:00.43|
|16||Robert Sweeting (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda)||0:02:05.16|
|17||Jason McCartney (Bissell Cycling)||0:02:14.60|
|18||Julian Kyer (Bissell Cycling)||0:02:16.42|
|19||Philip Mooney (Jamis-Hagens Berman)||0:02:17.80|
|20||Adam Farabaugh (Equipe Garneau - Quebecor)||0:02:27.82|
|21||Taylor Shelden (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda)||0:02:28.67|
|22||James Stemper (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda)||0:02:30.85|
|23||Phillip Gaimon (Bissell Cycling)||0:02:36.57|
|24||Andrew Baker (Hincapie Sportswear Development Team)||0:02:50.79|
|25||Mac Brennan (Bissell Cycling)||0:03:02.24|
|26||Oscar Clark (Hincapie Sportswear Development Team)||0:03:04.96|
|27||Christian Parrett (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda)||0:03:28.89|
|28||Benjamin Zawacki (Hincapie Sportswear Development Team)||0:03:49.17|
|29||Gregg Brandt (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda)||0:05:36.47|
|30||Robert Squire (Ceramica Flaminia - Fondriest)||0:05:40.61|
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