They never saw Eric Marcotte coming.
As the 2014 national road race ticked off its final kilometers on the streets of downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee, few would have predicted that the podium’s top step would be occupied minutes later by a full-time chiropractor from Scottsdale, Arizona. Especially not with a gaggle of WorldTour pros including Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes and Ben King (himself a prior winner) eyeing the stars and stripes for themselves.
But Marcotte, 34, who splits his time between patients and racing as a member of Team SmartStop, had other plans, narrowly outkicking teammate Travis McCabe and Howes to take one of the race’s more memorable upset wins.
“I mean, even I underestimated myself that day,” Marcotte recalls of the race. “I just wanted to play a role and keep us in the game. I knew when I got in the break that it was good for our team, but I had no idea that the day would end the way it did. I mean, who did?”
At the post race press conference, a glowing Marcotte reflected on the symbolism of his win.
“I’m not going to toot my own horn, but I represent America,” he told those assembled. “I’m a full-time working guy who just won a freakin’ national championship. I mean, what more could you want?”
America’s fastest chiropractor will return to Chattanooga this weekend as the city hosts its third Volkswagen USA Cycling professional road and time trial national championships. The event — which will again feature both men’s and women’s racing — begins with Saturday’s national time trial championships and concludes with a pair of Memorial Day road races.
Marcotte will be the weekend’s only defending champion. Current women’s road and TT winner Allison Powers retired from competition at the end of last year. BMC’s Taylor Phinney, winner of men’s 2014 time trial, suffered a horrific leg break during the road race after encountering an errant race moto on a descent of Lookout Mountain
While Phinney’s injuries stand out as the weekend’s low point, Marcotte’s surprise win was domestic cycling’s feel-good story of the 2014. As he prepared to return to Tennessee this week, the national road champion took a moment to reflect on both his reign and the day-to-day realities that keep him grounded.
“It’s pretty crazy that it’s already been a full year. But it’s been really fun,” Marcotte told VeloNews.
“To get to a certain place where you get to sort of represent what cycling is and what it means to wear the jersey is kind of awesome. But then there’s also the balance of coming back to work here [at his Scottsdale practice] and realizing that life goes on, and people need your help. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping my wits and staying humble. I really never thought that this was something I’d have happen to me.”
He also never imagined that lightning would strike twice. In April, Marcotte sprinted to victory at USA Cycling’s national criterium championships in Greenville, South Carolina — becoming the first American man to hold both titles concurrently. As in Chattanooga, the win took him by surprise.
“I mean, if you look at my skillset it wasn’t out of the question, I guess. I’m pretty powerful, I can handle my bike and I’m crafty. But it certainly wasn’t something where I was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to write this down as a goal for the year.’ I never really even thought about winning.”
Asked what went through his mind as he crossed the line to claim his second national title, Marcotte is typically self-effacing.
“It’s just a story of making the most of the opportunities you’re given, I guess. I’m an example of the importance of showing up and doing you’re best and being ready for it. And when those opportunities arise, you make the most of it.”
Marcotte will bring that same attitude to Chattanooga this weekend, where — despite his status as returning champion — he will again ride in support of teammate McCabe.
“There’s actually never been a race where [SmartStop] has lined up and they said, ‘This is for you Eric.’ I know my role with the team and I accept that role. If there’s an opportunity to get a result for the team and it happens to be me, then I’ll take it. But other than that, I’m always there for the other guy.”
But then there’s something American about that too.
Editor’s note: VeloNews’ Dan Wuori will be on-site in Chattanooga all weekend. For updates on the Volkswagen USA Cycling professional road and time trial national championships follow him on Twitter at @dwuori.