Road

Brad Huff is a popular crit champion

Brad Huff just won the U.S. national criterium championship. But who is the man wearing the Stars and Stripes?

With a fast pass on the inside line of the final turn in U.S. Pro Criterium Nationals, Brad Huff sprinted to a stunning win, ahead of pre-race favorites John Murphy and Luke Keough, earning his second Stars and Stripes jersey. Many were sure that the national champion would come out of UnitedHealthcare’s train of riders, likely Murphy, since his team has dominated U.S. crits for years, but Huff and his Rally teammates had a different idea. The team was instructed to attack and animate; “We wanted to derail the ‘ol blue train, and keep UHC on their back foot for the duration,” Huff said.

Huff may have been an unexpected winner, but he’s certainly a popular one.

The 37-year-old Rally Cycling sprinter grew up in Fair Grove, Missouri, a small town about 25 minutes outside of Springfield. “Home is still my favorite place to ride,” Huff says. In high school, he ran track, and bought a mountain bike to help work on his endurance for running. By commuting to school every day, he saw his running times improve. His first race, on a BMX track in Springfield, hooked him on cycling.

Huff turned professional in 2006, and that year, he was second to then-Australian Hilton Clark at U.S. Pro crit nationals. Since Huff was the first American, he took the champion’s jersey. He came out of the gate fast in that rookie season, but Huff didn’t made winning a habit. Before last Sunday’s criterium, Huff had amassed a total of three UCI wins, all of which came at least six years ago in China’s Tour of Hainan.

Often, it’s his personality, not palmares, that wins over most, if not all of the professional peloton. “Without characters like Brad in the peloton, the sport just becomes a job. And a cutthroat one at that,” said Huff’s old teammate Kiel Reijnen, now riding for Trek – Segafredo. Rally Cycling team director Pat McCarty said, “Brad is a good teammate on and off the bike. He’s fun to be around and is willing to do whatever he needs for his teammates. He’s a stand-up guy.”

Huff is certainly a role model for many in the domestic peloton. He and a few friends have tattoos of bars of soap on their arms to signify racing clean. “If one of us tests positive, we say that we will go over there with a cheese grater and scrape that tattoo off,” Huff joked in an earlier interview. His advice for younger races is, “race clean or don’t race at all.”

In his first year as a pro, Reijnen was inexperienced and enthusiastic. “Brad took me under his wing. Buying me coffees and feeding me with constant advice. Without Brad, I may not have survived my first year as a pro. Brad is a consummate teammate, an incredibly hard worker, graceful in defeat, and modest in victory,” Reijnen said.

To this day, Reijnen still gets texts from his old mentor; especially on the days when the race was so bad that mom is sometimes the only one to send a message. “Even though we haven’t been teammates for many years now Brad still believes in me as a person and an athlete and he makes sure I know that,” Reijnen says. “We all work hard and sometimes that results in a victory, and most of the time it doesn’t.”

Following the criterium championships, Huff took a trip to France for the Tour de Bretagne before coming back to the States for more races, including the Tour of the Gila and, hopefully, the Tour of Utah.

Huff’s crit nationals victory in Greenville, South Carolina was certainly hard-fought. He was bouncing back from illness and even crashed in the race. But above all, his win was likely a popular one in the tight-knit peloton. “Brad is as deserving as anyone,” said McCarty, who is also a former professional. Reijnen echoed the sentiment, “the Stars and Stripes can be proud of the shoulders they are resting on.”

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