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U.S. rider Garrison scores Gent-Wevelgem podium in U23 debut

The 19-year-old finishes second in the under-23 version of Gent-Wevelgem, the Nations Cup.

Call it beginner’s luck for American racer Ian Garrison.

In his first race within the under-23 ranks, Garrison finished second in Sunday’s Gent-Wevelgem in a close sprint with Great Britain’s Jacob Hennesy. Garrison scored the impressive result after riding for nearly 150 kilometers in the day’s early breakaway for USA Cycling’s U23 national team.

“It was pretty unexpected,” Garrison told VeloNews. “I came into the race as a protector for Logan [Owen] and didn’t think this would happen.”

The early breakaway separated itself just 30km into the 186km race. After USA team co-leader Neilson Powless crashed early, the Americans rode the front to slow the pace and allow their leader to chase back on. When riders began to attack the Americans, Garrison sprinted up the road to cover the move. The breakaway soon swelled to more than 20 riders after additional attacks leapt from the peloton. Teammates Zeke Mostov and Sean Bennett joined the breakaway after covering other attacks.

“We had the largest representation of guys so it was up to us to keep everybody motivated,” Garrison said.

The U23 race featured two hilly circuits that included ascents of the Banenberg, Monteberg, and Kemmelberg climbs. Garrison attacked on the first ascent of the Kemmelberg and whittled the group down to 15. After he attacked on the final ascent of the climb, the group was down to eight.

On the ride back to the finish, Bennett suffered a flat tire, leaving Garrison to contest the sprint by himself.

“Zeke did a ton of work and got popped off and Sean double-flatted, so it was just me,” Bennett said. “People were exhausted.”

The result marks a steady progression for Garrison, 19, who comes from Decatur, Georgia. Garrison finished 3rd at the 2016 UCI Road World Championships in the junior men’s time trial, and before that he scored multiple impressive international results in the junior ranks, including a stage win at Canada’s Tour l’Abitibi and a podium finish at Germany’s Trofeo Karlsberg.

Garrison picked up cycling in his early teens and began to focus on road racing after participating in USA Cycling’s national road championships in 2011. He raced with the Atlanta-based Junior Fires cycling team and then progressed through the Mission Source Cycling and Hincapie Jr. teams. He joined the USA Junior National team in 2015 and began participating in European races that summer.

This year, Garrison makes his debut with the Axeon Hagens Berman squad.

In a release, USA Cycling U23 manager Nate Wilson called the result a “product of team execution.”

“This is probably our best result in one of these cobbled classics in a while,” Wilson said. “A lot of times we have the guys coming in from the trade teams and they are really strong. But getting them to work cohesively as a team usually takes some time. So I am really proud of everyone and how they worked together today.”