Rodriguez Sprints to Fourth US Pro Road Race Champion Title

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05/28/2013| 0 comments
by Mark Watson

Rodriguez Sprints to Fourth US Pro Road Race Champion Title

Surging out of a final bunch sprint to the line, "Fast Freddie" Rodriguez crossed the line less than a wheel’s width ahead of BMC Racing Team's Brent Bookwalter and UnitedHealthCare's Kiel Reijnan.

The men’s race began with four fast circuits around downtown Chattanooga. Several early attacks eventually led to a four-man breakaway leading the way as the race headed out on the first of four long circuits. Tyler Wren (Rensselaerville, N.Y./Jamis-Hagens Berman Pro Cycling p/b Sutter Home) led the group over the initial climb up Lookout Mountain to collect the first King of the Mountain points. Following the third ascent, Wren had built up a big enough lead in the KOM classification to earn the polka dot Volkswagen King of the Mountain jersey for the second year in a row.

"The tactic was we wanted to be out front and ahead of the action on the climb and get into a good group on the final time over Lookout Mountain," said Wren. "As it turned out it was kind of a smaller breakaway, so I changed my tactic and I went for the KOM jersey again. I had success with that last year and it feels good to defend it."

Wren’s lead group also included Chris Jones (Bend, Ore./UnitedHealthcare), James Stemper (Wauwatosa, Wis./ 5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda) and Saturday’s pro time trial winner Tom Zirbel (Boulder, Colo./Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies). After holding a lead of around three minutes at one point, the breakaway was reigned in during the final climb up Lookout Mountain.

As the peloton made its way back into the downtown area for the three short finishing circuits in and around downtown Chattanooga, a few short-lived attacks came one after another. Launching himself off the front with about 15 miles to go, Phil Gaimon (Athens, Ga./Bissell Pro Cycling) built a lead of up to 32 seconds at the bell lap. But with several teams, including UnitedHealthcare, driving the chase in an effort to set up their sprinters, the peloton brought Gaimon’s lead back to 15 seconds with a mile to go. Gaimon couldn’t maintain his monumental effort, and was caught within the final kilometer. The race for the Stars-and-Stripes jersey came down to a drag race to the line.

"It was perfect for me. The speed was high and you just follow a wheel,” said Rodriguez. “Ben Jacques-Maynes (Corralitos, California/Jamis-Hagens Berman Pro Cycling p/b Sutter Home) attacked and got a little gap, and I chased him down. It was a little rough going through the corners and no one could pass. By the time I caught him at the last corner he had put his effort in, but he was as fresh as I was. He did the leadout and it worked perfect, and I came around him with 150 meters to go."

The win is the fourth professional road race national title for the 39-year-old Rodriguez, his other three coming in 2000, 2001 and 2004.

"This is amazing," Rodriguez added. "At my age of 39, cycling is one of those sports where as long as you have passion and enjoy what you're doing, you can do it for a long time."

For Bookwalter, he collects his second silver medal of the event after finishing second on Saturday in the time trial. Gaimon’s time off the front earned him the Erlanger Children’s Hospital Most Courageous Rider award following the race.

"I'm always really motivated for this event and I came here with the goal of being on the top step of the podium, so I'm a little frustrated to miss it twice," Bookwalter said.

Bookwalter explained he got gapped a bit with 500 meters to go when third-place finisher Reijnen dropped his chain near the front of the group of 17 riders that came to the finish together. "So I lost those guys a little bit there," Bookwalter explained. "I was telling myself to go into the sprint in front of Freddie because I knew it would be really hard to come around him. But to hold him off is something else. I got out of the last corner and started my sprint about the same time as him. I was coming up along side him, but didn't quite have enough road."

The course showcased downtown Chattanooga along with the tough climb up Lookout Mountain.

Both the men’s and women’s races started with a 5.1-mile start circuit, which had to be contested one time by the women and three times by the men. The same circuit would be used for three final circuits for each group at the finish of each race.

The course then took the riders on a relatively flat run along Broad Street to begin the climb up Ochs Highway, a climb of approximately three miles, which gained 1,150 feet of elevation on each lap. The race topped out at the summit of Lookout Mountain and descended on Scenic Highway to return to downtown via Broad Street. The men completed four laps up the climb, while the women did two laps. The “long lap” spanned 16.1 miles in distance.

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