Joey Rosskopf wasn’t sure he even wanted to go to road nationals this year.
After enjoying his year in the stars and stripes jersey, Rosskopf, 29, knew that defending his title in the individual time trial would require weeks of specialized preparation and stress. For an American rider with specific job requirements on the WorldTour, Rosskopf did not know if it was in his best interests to travel to Knoxville, Tennessee in the middle of the season for the national championship race.
“My mind wanted to find a reason not to go to nationals, like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to do the travel,’ just because you take on serious pressure if you say you’re going back to defend the title,” Rosskopf says. “I would say that was the only time this year that I felt that kind of nervous energy at a race.”
Rosskopf decided to compete in the national championships, where he secured his second straight title in the race against the clock. Last year’s victory was among the biggest results of his career. His repeat victory was proof that he is perhaps the best American time trialist of the current generation.
Rosskopf spoke to VeloNews about the work and effort that went into his time trial defense.
A whirlwind trip
One might assume that a WorldTour rider like Rosskopf would easily win a time trial against his countrymen. In truth, winning nationals presents a challenge for any rider, Rosskopf included. The U.S. has a tradition of producing strong time trialists, and the current generation includes experienced veterans, such as Chad Haga (Sunweb), Brent Bookwalter (BMC), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), and Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue), as well as talented up-and-comers like Brandon McNulty (Rally) and Neilson Powless (LottoNL-Jumbo).
Rosskopf is a proven time trialist, yet his primary job with BMC is to support his team leaders at stage races. Squeezing a trip home for the national championships into the busy WorldTour calendar is hard enough; crafting a training regimen to peak for one 40-minute race is simply impossible.
“I can’t really build my whole season around targeting one race. I don’t have that luxury or even the capability,” he says. “I’m more valuable if I’m consistent and reliable rather than telling the team, ‘I’m going to make all these sacrifices and I’m probably not going to be good at this handful of races just so I can target one build-up period.'”
The June 21st race date also came at a challenging time. Rosskopf was coming off three consecutive stage races, including the punishing Criterium du Dauphiné, which ended just 11 days before the national championships.
“At that point I was worried way more about trying to be as skinny a climber as I could, just because that’s the style of racing,” he says.
Rosskopf helped teammate Damiano Caruso secure a 5th place finish at the French race, and immediately traveled to his home in Girona, Spain for some last-minute training. For an entire week he rode his time trial bike with a training regimen that worked “all the different body systems.”
“I do eight or 10-minute threshold efforts or even accelerations,” he says. “Instead of a real sprint workout it’d be all seated accelerations, but still pretty similar [to normal training].”
Rosskopf traveled to the United States a week before the race. There was no time to visit home in Georgia; Rosskopf instead traveled to Asheville, North Carolina, to finish preparing alongside teammate Brent Bookwalter. With the Appalachian terrain and no distractions, the BMC riders completed their final preparation for the race. Proximity to Knoxville is an added bonus to training in North Carolina — when nationals arrived, Rosskopf and Bookwalter simply drove the two hours to the race.
Despite the challenging travel plans, Rosskopf looked forward to nationals due to the relaxed racing atmosphere and the presence of American fans. At European races BMC employs dozens of staffers and managers to oversee anywhere from six to eight riders. Stress levels are high. At U.S. nationals, by contrast, BMC’s lineup included just Rosskopf, Bookwalter, and a staff of three. Rosskopf had friends and family at the event, which added to his enjoyment.
That said, Rosskopf was still stressed about his title defense. He was unsure whether his last-minute preparation was good enough to win. And as the defending champion, Rosskopf felt pressure to perform.
“I probably felt the most pressure or nervous energy going into nationals, just because I didn’t have any secret formula the year before,” he says. “It was just a whirlwind weeklong trip to the U.S. Show up, try to get over jet lag, barely get a chance to train, and then go out and go as hard as I can. I didn’t really know if I could replicate that.”
Rosskopf says his uncertainty turned to confidence by race day. A light rain fell as Rosskopf exited the starting ramp. His legs felt great as he pushed on the pedals.
The time trial comprised three laps of a course around Melton Lake Reservoir for a total of 33 kilometers.
“You can tell immediately if you’re at least going to have a shot,” he says. “It’s just sort of the sensation of how easy it is to sit on your good power. If it doesn’t feel easier than it should at the beginning, then you have to worry, because it always gets harder and harder.”
Sunweb’s Chad Haga, who set off roughly halfway into the start order, posted the time to beat, completing the course in just over 40 minutes. Rosskopf was the final rider on course. His fast start gave him a three-second advantage on Haga at the first time check. He continued to take time out of Haga as the race went along, gaining an eight-second advantage on the second of three laps.
The rain tapered off on the final lap, and Rosskopf put in a surge, completing the lap in his best time split to post a finishing time of 39:46, a healthy 28 seconds faster than Haga.
The first word that came to Rosskopf’s mind when asked to describe the winning feeling? Relief.
“I was proud to see that challenge all the way through and not just take the easy way out and say, ‘I don’t want to take the pressure this year,'” he says.
As a domestique, Rosskopf is rarely put in a position to win. The nationals race was his sole victory of 2018.
“Any win is huge as far as my results sheet goes because they don’t come very often,” he says. “Nationals has to be one of the most rewarding because you get to wear the jersey.”
Rosskopf is the first American man since David Zabriskie to go back-to-back as the national time trial champion, and just the fifth American elite man to defend his title in the race.
“Winning a WorldTour race would rate higher on your palmares, but nationals just keeps on giving, and keeps reminding people that you did win at least one race in the past year,” he says.