By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
On a day when a tireless 40-year-old animated the action all day long, it was an up-and-coming 26-year-old on a first-year team who stole the show at the elite men’s national road race championship in Redding, California, on Saturday. A teary-eyed Remi McManus of the Boise Stars team accepted the national championship jersey after outsprinting four breakaway companions at the end of the 111-mile race.
The finish came down to McManus and four others: Brice Jones (Mercy Fitness), Patrick Heaney (Lombardi Sports), Tim Unkert (Capital Velo Club) and Chris Walker (Triathlete Zombies).
Of those, Jones and Heaney were likely candidates, backed by well-stocked teams and each with a little history – Jones the 2000 U-23 national champion and Heaney a former elite national road champion.
Unkert was a last-minute contender, joining the break in the closing miles, but providing the horsepower that carried it to the finish.
Walker, meanwhile, had been on the attack all day long, a fact that didn’t surprise Heaney at all. “Chris Walker, that guy’s a mutant,” said Heaney. “He shows up at a race and I go, ‘This is trouble.’”
Walker, who rode for John Wordin’s Nutra Fig-Colorado Cyclist and Colorado-Cyclist Comptel teams in the mid-1990s, was seemingly in every breakaway on the day, beginning with a 10-man group that formed at around 22 miles, under the impetus of cyclo-cross standout Jonny Sundt (Broadmark Capital). That move stayed off nearly an hour, and when it was absorbed by the peloton, Walker remained off the front, soon joined by Jamis’s John Cipolla.
That pair remained out front together for nearly another hour, and were joined by five more: Matt Svatek (Cannondale-Wheelworks), Sean Nealy (Kissena), Andrew Bajadali (Excel Sports), Scott Konicki (Mercy Cycling) and Colby Farrel (Lombardi Sports). But by the beginning of the final circuit, and after a short solo stint by Nealy, the main field, now down to about 40 from the original 144 starters, was all back together.
Once the field made the right turn onto the fast, twisting Honey Bee Road for the start of the final circuit, team leaders Heaney and Jones made the winning move, joined by Walker and McManus.
“Two laps to go, I talked to my director Alex Gardner, and said ‘Should I go now?’ He said, unless you’re feeling great, just sit in the pack, and wait,” said McManus. “Then with one lap to go, three guys were off the front up the road, and [Gardner] went to the front with me on his wheel, and he said, ‘Go get ’em.’”
Only 19 miles remained, and with the peloton unable to organize an effective chase, the leaders were able to maintain a tenuous 45 second lead on the final lap, while Unkert chased solo behind before joining the group on the finishing tail heading back into town.
With Heaney and Jones playing a little bit of cat-and-mouse at the rear of the break, Unkert proved to be the locomotive in the closing miles, as the break held off two chasers, Gareth Jones (Hanseatic-Oschner) and Dario Falquier (WEBCOR-Alto Velo), to set up the five-man sprint finish.
The five leaders wound their way into downtown Redding, and onto the long, straight finishing straightaway on California Street. Unfortunately, Jones’s rear tire rolled off in the final 150 meters, leaving the sprint to Heaney and McManus, who teammate and Boise Stars director Alex Gardner said, “has gone from an all-out sprinter to an all-arounder.”
McManus’s sprinting ability was what clinched the title. “I knew he could do it if he stayed off,” said Gardner.
Heaney came close in second, with Unkert taking third, Walker fourth and Jones fifth, while THF’s Alex Candelario led in the field for sixth place.
“I can’t believe it, I can’t,” said McManus, crying tears of joy and disbelief. “This was our main goal, and I told the guys before today, if I get top 30 I’m gonna be the happiest guy in the world …. I just can’t even believe it.”
1. Remi McManus, Boise Stars, 111 mi in 4:45:40; 2. Patrick Heaney, Lombardi Sports; 3. Tim Unkert, Capital Velo Club; 4. Chris Walker, Triathlete Zombies; 5. Brice Jones, Mercy Cycling Team, all s.t.; 6. Alex Candelario, THF Racing, at 0:10; 7. Ryan Lane, Triathlete Zombies; 8. Jonathan Wirsing, Team Snow Valley; 9. Russell Hamby, Park City Mountain Resort; 10. Steve Cate, Mercy Cycling Team; 11. Heinrich Weibe, Boise Stars; 12. George Menard, Team Snow Valley; 13. Ken Toman, Schroeder Iron; 14. David Smith, Lombardi Sports; 15. Daniel Doornbos, Zia Velo-NMBRA; 16. Jackson Stewart, Olympic Club; 17. Bradley Saul, YMCA-Sun & Ski Sports; 18. Sandy Perrins, Logan Race Club; 19. Ian Dille, Mercy Cycling Team; 20. Andrew Bajadali, Excel Sports, all s.t.