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Power Analysis: US Pro Nationals men’s road race

Rally Cycling's well-executed team tactics put two riders on the podium. Joey Rosskopf averaged 500w for two minutes in his winning attack — after 4.5 hours of hard racing.

The US Professional Championships is one of the hardest races of the year. Not only do WorldTour riders return with European-racing legs, but in the recent Knoxville editions there’s also the heat and humidity of a Tennessee summer, and a steep 600-meter climb to be tackled 15 times. Very few riders even finish the race, let alone compete for the win.

In this column, we dive into the power numbers of the riders who earned their way onto the podium: Joey Rosskopf, Lawson Craddock, and Kyle Murphy.

I raced the US Pro Championships in Knoxville in 2019 with Project Echelon (I finished 19th), so I know first-hand just how hard it is. This year, I enjoyed the race from afar, and watched as the WorldTour teams blew up the race with the help of Rally Cycling, L39ION of Los Angeles, Project Echelon, and Aevolo. In the end, an endless string of attacks and brilliant team tactics from Rally Cycling saw Rosskopf come out on top.

Knoxville is not your typical road race course. Instead, it’s more of a circuit race, with 15 laps of a 12.6km loop that includes the ultra-steep Sherrod Road climb, a flat out-and-back section of highway, a number of rollers, a quick jaunt through an underpass, and the final steep climb up Clinch Avenue before the finish in downtown Knoxville.

Temperatures ranged from 30°C to 40°C (86°F to 104°F) throughout the day, with little wind to help cool down the riders. It seemed as though riders grabbed as many ice socks as they did water bottles from the feed zone, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky all afternoon.

With the Sherrod Road climb coming less than two miles into the race, the fight for the early breakaway began as soon as the flag dropped. Murphy, who would go on to finish third, was already doing a huge amount of work for Rally Cycling in the first thirty minutes of the race.

  • Murphy – Laps 1 and 2
    Time: 37:32
    Average Power: 345w (5w/kg)
    Normalized Power: 399w (5.7w/kg)
    Peak 6min Power: 442w (6.4w/kg)
    Peak 6min Normalized Power: 498w (7.2w/kg)

In those first two laps, a breakaway went away that contained Will Barta (EF Education-Nippo), Chad Haga (Team DSM), and a handful of other riders, but they were kept on a short leash and brought back within the first hour of racing. A counterattack then went with Haga, Barta, Tejay van Garderen, Craddock (both EF Education-Nippo), Colin Joyce and Magnus Sheffield (both Rally Cycling), Ty Magner (L39ION of Los Angeles), Gage Hecht (Aevolo), and Matt Zimmer (Project Echelon). This was one of the biggest and most dangerous moves of the race, but with a motivated peloton and almost 100 miles to go, they were brought back on the next climb up Sherrod Road.

It’s difficult to describe how hard and how steep the Sherrod Road climb is. The uphill actually begins with the right turn onto Atchley Street, where the road then pitches up to 6 percent on Mimosa Ave, before finally turning left onto Sherrod Road. That means you’ve already lost your momentum by the time you hit the bottom of Sherrod Road, when the steepest pitch of 18 percent comes in the first 200 meters. Sherrod Road’s average gradient of 10.7 percent is a bit deceiving, because as you near the top, the road ebbs and flows between 2 percent and 10 percent just before you crest the climb.

The first 200m of Sherrod Road averages 15 percent, and this is where the attacks fly. On lap 5, Murphy and Sam Boardman (L39ION of Los Angeles) attacked over the top of Sherrod Road to form the breakaway of the day. George Simpson (Project Echelon) would eventually make it across after a 20-mile chase.

Believe it or not, this middle section of the race was the “easy” part — at least for the riders not in the break. Once the early selection had been made – over half the peloton was dropped by now – the survivors called a temporary truce with about 80 miles to go, letting the lead group of three gain a few minutes’ advantage. It would be a while until we saw more major action, which would come courtesy of EF Education-Nippo on lap 12 of 15.

  • Murphy – Break of the Day
    Time: 2:14:42
    Average Power: 287w (4.1w/kg)
    Normalized Power: 317w (4.6w/kg)

The cameras missed it, but lap 12 on Sherrod Road was the WorldTour show. Haga, Brent Bookwalter (Team Bike-Exchange), and EF Education-Nippo riders blew up the peloton on the steepest climb of the day. Craddock attacked on Mimosa Ave, and flew up the climb at over 600w. By the time they descended down the other side, the lead group was down to 10, with just Murphy and Boardman up the road, and Simpson absorbed in the chase group.

  • Craddock – Lap 12 on Sherrod Road
    Time: 2:25
    Average Power: 524w (7.4w/kg)
    Peak 1min Power: 587w (8.3w/kg)

It seemed like the action was up the road in the breakaway and lead group of 10, but just a few hundred meters behind, the race was nearly being lost. Rosskopf got dropped on Sherrod Road, and ended up in no-man’s-land between the lead group of 10 and a large chase group. For the rest of lap 12, Rosskopf chased solo, eventually regaining contact with the lead group right at the bottom of Sherrod Road. If only his rivals would have known: one counter attack and he would’ve been gone for good.

  • Rosskopf – Lap 12 Chase
    Time: 14:36
    Average Power: 302w (4.1w/kg)
    Normalized Power: 395w (5.4w/kg)

The lead group worked together for the next lap and a half, until it was Rosskopf himself who attacked with 18km to go. Haga and Bookwalter started bringing the Rally rider back, but then the gap went out again, and Rosskopf led solo through the finish line with one lap to go in what proved to be foreshadowing.

  • Rosskopf – Lap 14-15 Solo Attack
    Time: 16:40
    Average Power: 371w (5w/kg)
    Normalized Power: 426w (5.8w/kg)

Already a two-time national time trial champion, Rosskopf is no stranger to going it alone, and over the top of Sherrod Road for the fifteenth and final time, he still held a gap of 10 seconds over the chase group. On the final section of highway with 8km to go, Rosskopf was finally reeled back in, but it wasn’t long before Gavin Mannion (Rally Cycling) countered straight over the top. With three riders still in the lead group – Rosskopf, Murphy, and Mannion – Rally Cycling had the numbers advantage over a host of current and former WorldTour pros who were all without teammates.

The next few minutes were intense chaos: Mannion attacked, Haga countered, Craddock chased, Murphy countered, Bookwalter attacked, Haga countered, Murphy chased, Craddock countered, Rosskopf countered; and then, coming off a downhill section, Craddock and Murphy countered, and that looked like it might be it. The pair quickly earned a 5-second gap, while the remaining four looked at each other.

  • Murphy – Closing gaps on the final lap
    Time: 9:35
    Average Power: 332w (4.8w/kg)
    Normalized Power: 361w (5.2w/kg)
    Peak 2min Power: 409w (6w/kg)

After a few moments of hesitation, Bookwalter jumped and committed to closing the gap. Then, as smooth as silk, Rosskopf latched onto the draft, and then went straight over the top as soon as Craddock and Murphy were caught. That was the move.

Rosskopf entered the finishing straight solo, and posted up to take his first national road title. Bookwalter crossed the line in second, and, after spending the majority of the race in the breakaway, Murphy still managed to outkick the rest of the group to earn the bronze medal.

  • Rosskopf – Winning Attack
    Time: 1:51
    Average Power: 505w (6.8w/kg)
    Peak 10sec Power: 1,000w (13.5w/kg)

One big difference between WorldTour pros and elite amateurs is the ability to go faster in the fourth hour of racing. We’ve seen it time and time again: it’s usually not the rider with the best peak power who wins, but rather the rider who can repeat their peak power for four, five, or six hours, and then go even faster at the end.

There are elite amateur and semi-pro riders who can do 5w/kg for 20 minutes, and 7w/kg for two minutes – but there are very, very few who can produce those same wattages after four and a half hours of racing under the Tennessee sun. And that’s what it takes to become the national champion.

  • Rosskopf – US Pro National Championships Road Race
    Time: 4:38:31
    Average Power: 257w (3.5w/kg)
    Normalized Power: 343w (4.6w/kg)
    Energy Burned: 4300kJs
  • Murphy – US Pro National Championships Road Race
    Time: 4:39:12
    Average Power: 294w (4.2w/kg)
    Normalized Power: 339w (4.9w/kg)
    Energy Burned: 4922kJs

***
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava

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Photo: Sam Wiebe/Rally Cycling