OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Ian Garrison knew that the heat wave in Tennessee could wreak havoc on the field at the U.S. time trial championships, particularly when riders were on their final lap.
Turns out he paced himself perfectly.
The 21-year-old from Decatur, Georgia, finished in just over 42 minutes, 58 seconds on Thursday, making up a slight deficit to Neilsen Powless over the third and final lap. Garrison’s cushion wound up being 19 seconds over Powless, while George Simpson took bronze.
“The heat was going to be a big factor because it really gets you toward the end,” said Garrison, who rides for the U.S.-based Hagens Berman Axeon team. “You feel fine at the beginning and at the end it’s so much easier to blow up in the heat.”
Also mastering the heat? Amber Neben.
She cruised to her third consecutive title in the women’s time trial, finishing two laps over the same course in 30:19 to top Chloe Dygert Owen by 36 seconds. Leah Thomas finished third.
As usual, many of the biggest names in American cycling were absent in anticipation of a possible Tour de France start. That includes two-time and defending champion Joey Rosskopf, three-time winner Taylor Phinney and time trial specialists such as Chad Haga and Brent Bookwalter.
Garrison, who finished 11th in the race against the clock a year ago, took advantage of it.
He was fourth from the end rolling out but quickly laid down a fast time, and Garrison was still in the mix when Powless and Warbasse hit the course after him.
Powless had the fastest time at the first checkpoint, nearly 10 seconds faster than Garrison, but watched his lead dwindle to 1.36 seconds by the completion of the second lap. Powless faded even more on the final lap, allowing Garrison to win his first elite national championship.
“I didn’t have a radio but they said in the car that my split was good,” Garrison said, “and then the last lap they said I was 1 seconds behind Neilson, so in my head it kind of freaked me out a bit. But I tried not to think about it too much and tried to push what I could for the last lap.”
It turned out to be enough as Garrison made a bold statement to the selectors who will begin to scrutinize results in advance of the world championships and next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“So much of it was preparation,” Garrison said. “You just go out there and do the best you can. It’s all the work the past few months of coming out here, reconning, thinking about it. It’s trying to make sure you don’t blow up, don’t overthink it and do the best you can.”
As the reigning champion, Neben was the final rider out of the starting gate for the women’s race, and she already led Thomas by more than 20 seconds by the intermediate time check.
Not that Neben, a two-time time trial world champion, would have known.
“I don’t time trial with a radio,” she said. “My philosophy is essentially, `I’m going as hard as I can, so what can someone tell me? Go harder?’ It’s more a distraction for me.”
Neben’s second lap along the Melton Hill Reservoir near Knoxville was only slightly slower than her first, and that was more than enough to deliver her fourth national title.
“I didn’t feel very good,” said Neben, who also has eight runner-up finishes. “It’s a special day to win. It’s really hard to win. So I don’t take anything for granted.”
Owen has struggled with injuries since her breakout performance at the 2015 world championships, but she’s finally feeling healthy again. And while she had aimed for the top step of the podium, the heat combined with a malfunction of her race radio conspired against her.
“Those aren’t excuses. I did what I could with how I prepared,” she said. “Of course I’d like to be on the top step, but this is the first season in three years I’ve been injury-free. This is a goal, but the end goal is obviously the world championships and next year’s Olympics.”
The road world championships continue Friday night with the men’s and women’s criteriums through downtown Knoxville. The men’s and women’s road races take place Sunday.