RICHMOND, Virginia (VN) — American fans have had plenty to write home about at the 2015 road world championships in Richmond, with riders from the host country landing notable performances nearly every day of the week so far. Only a few hours after Chloe Dygert and Emma White went one-two in the junior women’s road race, however, the wheels came off for Team USA in the under-23 men’s road race.
Road captain Daniel Eaton was the team’s highest-placed finisher Friday afternoon, crossing the line in 48th place, 48 seconds behind France’s Kevin Ledanois, who soloed clear of the pack in the lumpy finale and just managed to stay clear to win the race.
Although the American squad felt confident most of the afternoon, things went south very quickly as the race neared its conclusion, offering the developing talents of the U23 squad a lesson on just how quickly fortunes can change in a bike race.
The team had intended to set up Logan Owen or Colin Joyce for a fast finish, but the pre-race plan went out the window in an action-packed finale.
As the peloton rode into the final 16.2km lap, Joyce felt the hard day taking its toll, and decided to shift his focus to supporting Owen and Eaton, the only other Americans still near the front. Then, Owen was hit with cramps.
“It was good up until the final lap for myself,” Owen said. “I had a while to kind of ride into it because it was really hard. It was fast all day … so it took me a while to ride into it.
“Towards the end, I was starting to feel pretty good, and then, the first time I’ve cramped all year, I cramped right before the bottom of the climb. I was really disappointed with it because the team was doing a good job keeping me up there. I had to tell Danny, our road captain, to go for it. He was riding for me too, and it was disappointing because I feel like I let him down because my body, my legs, just kind of shut down.”
Plans A and B might have gone out the window, but Eaton was ready — and well-positioned — to take over as the third option. However, his shot at success ended in the blink of an eye in the run-in to the cobbled Libby Hill climb.
“About a kilometer to go to Libby Hill, Colin Joyce put me in perfect position,” Eaton said. “I was sitting fourth wheel, and the guy in third wheel slid out. I had to slam the brakes and ran into him. I didn’t crash, but I lost 50 wheels. At that point the race was over for me. I did what I could on Libby Hill, but when guys are stopping in front of you there’s nothing really you could do.”
With Eaton stuck behind a crash at a critical moment, the American squad saw any chance of landing a strong result go down the drain, but most of the American riders tried to stay upbeat as they trickled across the finish line, well behind the top finishers. It is the under-23 world championship, after all, among the best learning experiences a young rider can have under his belt. If nothing else, Friday’s race was a reminder of how frustrating a sport cycling can be.
“You always learn things in races and sometimes bike racing can be disappointing, but I’m not the only guy who had bad luck,” Eaton said. “I saw multiple top guys who had mechanical problems. It’s a classics-type course, and the stars really have to align, and unfortunately they didn’t really align for us today. But hopefully we were able to keep the crowd happy and show off for the USA.”
Ahead of the elite-level races on Saturday and Sunday, opinions among the U23 peloton on the difficulty of the course were mixed, with some noting that the pack didn’t quite thin out as much as expected despite the demanding route. However, several riders acknowledged that the rain in this weekend’s forecast could make for hectic, unpredictable racing on the technical circuit.
“I thought it was going to be a little bit more split up,” Owen said. “We got through the first three hours, I know I was tired, I know everybody else is pretty tired, but I was looking around and we still had a lot of guys left. It’s going to be a lot different in the rain though. It’s basically ‘who doesn’t crash.’ Who doesn’t crash, and has the best luck, is who is going to do well.
“To even ride up the cobbled climb, it’s kind of like a cyclocross race. You have to set up for it and make sure you hit the right line, and there’s only so many right lines that everybody can take. It’s going to be carnage tomorrow and the next day.”