By Neal Rogers
At the start line of next weekend’s International in Altoona, PA, there will be new faces sporting the stars and stripes jersey of national champion.
Team Saturn’s 24 year-old Jessica Phillips took her first win of the year– and the biggest of her young career– in downtown Nashville Sunday, winning the women’s USCF Elite national championship in a two-up sprint. In the men’s race, Scottie Weiss, 30, of the West Virginia/GoMart squad won a hot and sweaty 118.8-mile race, breaking away from a five-man split to cross the line alone.
Taking home the title of women’s national Espoir champion was Megan Elliot, 20, who finished in the main field, while racing without a team. The top placed Espoir was Mark Fitzgerald, 22, of the Under-23 national team, who placed fourth, 15 seconds back. The men’s national Espoir championships are held August 1-2, in Clemson, SC.
87 riders began the women’s 67.3-mile, 3-lap circuit race at 9 am, and temperatures were well into the mid-80’s at the start. Two teams—Saturn and T-Mobile—quickly went to the front of the field, and took control of the race. USA Cycling’s national squad T-Mobile was clearly the favorite, with six riders in the race, including former national champions Dede Demet-Barry and Mari Holden, Kim Anderson, and Amber Neben, while the largely foreign-based Saturn team was represented with just three—Suzanne Sonye, Phillips, and defending national champion Kimberly Bruckner.
Atop the main climb of the first lap, an officiating snafu caused the back half of the field, already several minutes down, to be misdirected off course. By the time the group of twenty-five was turned around, they had lost several more minutes and were effectively out of the race.
The USCF’s National Events Manager Matt Murphy blamed the situation on simple human error. “The motor official inadvertently led the riders off course.” Murphy explained, “Then, when they corrected the mistake and got them back on course, they were so far off the back that– ordinarily if they were that far off the back, we would have dropped them from the caravan– but since wecaused them to do that, we left them in, and by doing that it strung the caravan out so far that it deluded the security of the caravan.”
At the front of the race, a winning break formed, consisting of Bruckner, Phillips, Demet-Barry, Neben, Laura Van Gilder (Trek), Tina Mayolo – Pic (Diet Rite) and Heather Albert (Goldy’s). As the gap quickly grew to nearly two minutes, and many frustrated riders at the back dropped out, it became clear that the race would be won from within the selection.
Surrounded by sprinters, Saturn’s pair of climbers saw no way out but to attack, and atop the final lap’s climb, Phillips did just that, followed only by another climber, T-Mobile’s Neben. With 7 miles left, the pair rode away from the group, gaining a maximum lead of 20 seconds.
Without teammates, sprint specialists Albert, Mayolo-Pic and Van Gilder fought hard to bring back the pair, as the last few miles were generally flat or downhill, but had simply worked too hard on the climbs.
“I was committed to working, because I was really riding for the win,” Van Gilder explained. “I didn’t want to ride for third. I didn’t want to sit on. I had to lay it on the line.”
The chasers fought hard, but it was too little too late, as Neben and Phillips managed to stay away by a mere six seconds. Neben’s silver medal in the road race matched her silver in Thursday’s time trial, while Mayolo-Pic won the sprint in for third, consistent with her bronze in the TT.
After the women’s awards ceremony it was time for the men’s race, beginning at 1pm at ending nearly five hours later. Temperatures hovered in the mid-90’s, and the southern humidity demanded hydration at every aid station.
The pace was fast, and the attacks began early, but the size of the field (approximately 180 riders) and the distance of the race dictated that the early attempts would not last.
Halfway into the race, Chris Walker (RPM/Zombies), the 41-year-old Goleta, CA, resident that won his age-group at Masters Nationals last week, escaped from the pack and began a two-hour, fifty-plus-mile solo breakaway that nearly stuck. His gap hovered around two minutes, until a chase group of nine formed on the final of six laps.
In the chase group were three riders from the West Virginia/GoMart team– Peter Baker, Scottie Weiss, and 1997 elite national champ Paul Martin. Also in the chase was the U-23 national team’s Mark Fitzgerald, as well as a pair from Wheelworks Cannondale– Jon Hamblen and Shawn Milne.
Baker made an attempt to bridge to Walker, forcing the others in the chase to drive, but after gaining no more than 20 seconds, was reabsorbed. Next was Fitzgerald, and after dangling in between many long minutes, he finally joined Walker. With a full 19 years separating them in age, the pair worked together in an effort to stay away, but behind them Martin, Weiss, and Hamblen drove the chase, joining and then passing them with only three miles left.
Entering the downtown, Hamblen could only attack so often, outnumbered as he was two-to-one. As they descended into town, Weiss attacked on the final turn onto Nashville’s Riverfront, crossing the line alone, seven seconds ahead of Hamblen and Martin.
For Martin, a former pro who rode with the Navigators, his team’s victory was as sweet as any.
“Scottie helped me win a stage race in Ohio earlier this year, and I wanted him to win today” Martin explained, flanked by a jubilant West Virginia/GoMart team. “I just like to see our team win, that was all I cared about. It’s great to see an amateur team ride like a pro team.”
For Weiss, who came a close third at nationals in 1999, the victory was sweet. “I owe everything to my team,” he said after the race, wearing his new stars and stripes jersey. “My legs were definitely hurting, but I know Paul is super strong. When he looked at me and said ‘Attack,’ I went.”
USA Cycling Elite National Road Race Championships
1. Jessica Phillips, Saturn, 2:42:43;
2. Amber Neben, T-Mobile, at same time;
3. Tina Mayolo-Pic, Diet Rite, at 0:06;
4. Heather Albert, Goldy’s, at s.t.;
5. Laura Van Gilder, Trek Plus, at s.t.;
6. Dede Demet-Barry, T-Mobile, at s.t.;
7. Kimberly Bruckner, Saturn, at s.t.;
8. Nicole Freedman, Rona, at 4:04;
9. Catherine Bearce, CCB/Volkswagen, at s.t.;
10. Mari Holden, T-Mobile, at s.t.;
11. Charm Breon, Freddie Fu, at s.t.;
12. Megan Elliot *, unattached, at s.t.
* connotes top-placing Espoir, crowned Espoir national champion
1. Scottie Weiss, West Virginia/GoMart, 4:39:04;
2. Jon Hamblen, Wheelworks/Cannondale, at 0:07;
3. Paul Martin, West Virginia/GoMart, at same time;
4. Mark Fitzgerald, USPS U-23 Team, at 0:15;
5. Chris Walker, RPM/Zombies, at s.t.;
6. Shawn Milne, Wheelworks Cannondale, at 52:30;
7. Peter Baker, West Virginia/GoMart, at s.t.;
8. Chandler Weekes, Fairway/Cyfac, at 1:03;
9. Michael Voigt, Evolution Cycling Team, at s.t.;
10. George Menard, Team Snow Valley, at 1:08;