OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Joey Rosskopf and Amber Neben solved the new and somewhat unique time trial course at USA Cycling’s road national championships without much problem.
Unlike the course, the result Thursday was nothing new at all.
Rosskopf and Neben defended their titles in the individual time trial on a rainy, humid day just west of Knoxville. Rosskopf covered three laps of a seven-mile course in 39 minutes, 46 seconds, and Neben was among two women to break the 30-minute barrier in covering two laps in 29:43.
“It’s super special. There’s no way I can show up to a race and expecting it to happen,” said Rosskopf, who edged Team Sunweb’s Chad Haga and BMC Racing teammate Brent Bookwalter to take the gold.
“You saw the weather shape up the last lap, which was a big advantage for me,” Rosskopf said. “It’s hard to show up here and know that (Neilson) Powless, Haga and Brent have all done better time trials than me so far this season. So something special came together this year and last year at nationals.”
Especially considering Rosskopf was coming off a hard race at the Criterium du Dauphine in France.
Rosskopf opened a 3-second gap on his nearest rivals after the first time check on the course, which was unique for a time trial in its 180-degree hairpin turns. The gap had doubled by the second time check before Rosskopf powered to a 28-second gap on Haga by the time he reached the finish line.
Bookwalter was another six seconds back to finish on the podium for the fourth time in his career.
“At nationals I’ve had a lot of seconds, a lot of thirds, fourths, fifth, just about everything except a win. It’s bittersweet,” he said. “The goal is always to come here and win. I’m always consistent, and that’s kind of my trend. I’ve had a career of consistency. I will always be fighting and always in the hunt, even if I haven’t gotten the big win, I’m proud of being right there and close.”
The rain that slickened the tarmac held off for the women’s time trial, where Neben – a two-time world champion in the discipline – only had a four-second edge on Tayler Wiles at the intermediate check.
The 43-year-old Neben showed off her experience over the second half of the ride, putting more time into the field despite having no updates on time splits. She wound up finishing 15 seconds ahead of Wiles and 38 seconds ahead of Emma White to win her second straight national title and third overall.
“I don’t race with a radio. I go in with the strategy of racing my race, and riding the course the way I need to ride it,” explained Neben, a two-time Olympian. “I have different strengths and different weaknesses than other riders, so my approach is different.”
One of her weaknesses is accelerating out of near-dead stops, which made the U-turns that highlighted the course in Tennessee difficult. Neben had to make up the time on the long straights between them.
“I liked this course a lot better than last year. It’s more of a pure time trial course where you have to really focus and stay in the moment and pace yourself really well,” Wiles said. “I started to fade a little bit and really had to just push and mentally dig a little bit deeper. I had nothing in the last one-K and so I was just trying to get to the finish line as fast as I could.
“Amber Neben is world-class, a multi-world champion and I really respect her,” Wiles added, “so losing to her is still pretty good.”
The road cycling national championships resume Friday night with the men’s and women’s criteriums in downtown Knoxville, followed by the men’s and women’s road races on Sunday.