When Kirk Carlsen, Peter Stetina, and Tom Peterson came to the line in that order at the end of the men's U23 road race on the final day of the USA Cycling Junior, U23, and Elite Road National Championships, it wasn't the result of an exciting sprint. Rather, all three were side-by-side, having carefully lined up just prior to the finish so that Carlsen would roll over first.
The three are teammates - VMG/Felt is the development arm for the Garmin/Chipotle squad - and wanted to be sure that the 21-year-old Carlsen took the top step of the podium after being on a solo break for nearly 40 miles of the 6-lap, 115-mile course.
The field of 127 began attacking and counter-attacking early in the first lap and breakaway groups of varying sizes formed, disintegrated, and then reformed while the main field was whittled down repeatedly. The argyle-clad men of Garmin/Chipotle and VMG/Felt were consistently in the mix, and took turns being in important moves.
During the fourth lap, Carlsen was in a large chase group that caught a five-man break that included teammates Peterson, Stetina, and Caleb Fairly. Because his teammates had been working out front, when the break was reeled in, Carlsen said, "It was my turn to go." It was mile 80, and he took off on a flyer, riding by himself and gaining a gap as large as 1:15 on an assortment of chase groups. In the sixth lap at mile 105, the closest chase consisted of two riders: Peterson and Stetina. At this point, Fairly had been out on his own for roughly 25 miles.
"I just put my head down and kept going," he said. "I didn't know they were coming." Peterson and Stetina caught their teammate at mile 112, just a few miles before the finish. "I was dying, so I was so happy when I looked back and it was two teammates there," Fairly said.
As the three men made the turn into the final climb to the finish, Fairly said that they talked about how to handle crossing the line. "Yeah, we talked about it, and I guess it was my turn and the guys agreed," he said.
Garmin/Chipotle team director, Jonathan Vaughters, was not only happy about the top-three podium sweep, but was impressed with the team's tactics and strength.
"They executed the plan that Chann [McRae] gave them this morning. And outside of that, I think they had the strongest seven guys in the race. So that's what made the difference," he said.
Elite Men's race
In the elite men's race, another large field - this time consisting of 131 men - also made six circuits of the same course and also engaged in a string of attacks, counter-attacks, and chases. This time there was a sprint finish, and it was James Mattis who soloed across the line eight seconds ahead of breakaway companions Andy Jacques-Maynes and Thurlow Rogers.
During the fifth lap, at roughly 85 miles into the race, Mattis, Jacques-Maynes, and Rogers were all part of a large break that held a slim 12-second lead over the nearest chase group. Mattis and Rogers attacked the break, quickly gaining a gap, and Jacques-Maynes jumped across. Mattis said that when Andy joined them, he was ready to dig in. "We just kind of got out there for about a minute, and after that, just kind of stuck it," he said.
Both Mattis and Jacques-Maynes expressed great respect for 48-year-old 1984 Olympian, Rogers.
"We were pretty smooth together because, you know, Rogers's been doing this forever," Mattis said. "He's so crafty you can't give him an inch because he'll figure out how to win." Jacques-Maynes concurred.
"I knew he was going to be really strong. He's really cagey, so he knew when to go and when to hold back, so he rode the race really smart," he said.
As the three neared the turn to the final climb to the finish, Mattis attacked.
"Thurlow chased me down," he said. "Then Andy went. Thurlow got him at the bottom, the corner of the final climb, and that's where I went. And that was that."
Mattis stayed away, gaining eight seconds by the finish, while Jacques-Maynes outsprinted Rogers for the silver.
The junior 17-18 men did 3.5 laps around the same course in their event for 69 miles, and it was Evan Huffman who earned the national champion's jersey, crossing the line five seconds ahead of Taylor Kuphaldt, and Marshall Opel.
In the largest field of the day at 138 riders, a break of seven was established early in the first lap, and stayed intact with a maximum one minute to the main group until the third lap. At mile 42, Nick Bax made a solo break and stayed out on his own for roughly 10 miles before six riders gradually bridged, forming a lead group of seven that included Huffman, Kuphaldt, and Opel. At mile 62, Bax attacked the break.
"We were working really well, trying to bring him back," Huffman explained. "We caught him and then Taylor attacked. We all sat up and let him go. Nick attacked again, I just countered back, and everyone sat up. I came across to Taylor."
As they turned the final corner into the climb to the finish, Huffman was roughly 100 meters behind Kuphaldt. "I just went as hard as I could and flew past Taylor," he said.
2008 USA Cycling Junior, U23 and Elite Road National Championships
Orange County, California: August 6-10
Men's U23 Road Race
1. Kirk Carlsen (Sandown, N.H.) 4:34:05
2. Peter Stetina (Boulder, Colo.) s.t.
3. Tom Peterson (Boulder, Colo.) s.t.
Men's Elite Road Race
1. James Mattis (Mountain View, Calif.) 4:28:39
2. Andy Jacques-Maynes (Capitola, Calif.) +0.08
3. Thurlow Rogers (Simi Valley, Calif.) s.t.
Junior Men's 17-18 Road Race
1. Evan Huffman (Elk Grove, Calif.) 2:40:27
2. Taylor Kuphaldt (Yuba City, Calif.) +0.05
3. Marshall Opel (Missoula, Mont./Hammer Nutrition-Montana Junior Cycling)
© BikeRadar & USA Cycling 2008