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