Brown solos, Rivera sprints: New US road champions crowned in Knoxville

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In hot, humid conditions, two new national road champions were crowned Sunday in Knoxville, Tennessee, having earned their stars-and-stripes jerseys in very different fashion.

In the women’s nine-lap, 114km race, pre-race favorite Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) out-sprinted three-time national champion Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) to take her first elite road title from a small group of contenders. Guarnier’s late attack was marked by Rivera’s teammate Ruth Winder, forcing a sprint from the select group.

Emma White (Rally Cycling) rounded out the podium while earning the U23 national title, just as she did Thursday in the time trial championship, where she finished third and took the U23 TT title.

Though Rivera, 25, has racked up more than 70 junior, U23, and collegiate national titles across road, track, cyclocross, and mountain, this was her first as a road pro following three years of second-place finishes,

“All championship events are about attrition,” Rivera said. “It’s so awesome to have a teammate [Winder] here. She made the difference. I’ve been second so many years in a row, it’s been a long time coming and I’m really happy to take the win now.”

White, who finished fourth in the national criterium championship on Friday, earning her that U23 title as well, could only be satisfied with sweeping the U23 TT, criterium, and road championships over a four-day stretch.

“I’m really, really happy with three top-fives, and two podiums,” White said. “I don’t think I can ask for more. Of course, we always head into these big races looking for a win, but the competition was so, so strong here. To be up against WorldTour riders, I feel so fortunate.”

Youngest US road champion in history

In the men’s 15-lap, 191km race, 21-year-old Jonny Brown (Hagens Berman-Axeon) rode into a late-race breakaway of four riders with around 70km remaining before going it alone 20km from the line to become the youngest elite road champion in U.S. history.

Of the other three from the breakaway, Robin Carpenter (Rally Cycling) finished second, 45 seconds off the winning time, and 32 seconds ahead of Jacob Rathe (Jelly Belly), who rounded out the podium, meaning there were no WorldTour riders on the podium of the U.S. national road championship. Gavin Mannion (UnitedHealthcare), who had initiated the decisive breakaway, finished fourth, four seconds behind Rathe.

The top WorldTour finisher on the day was 2010 national champion Ben King (Dimension Data), who finished fifth, 2:41 back. The last time the U.S. champion’s jersey was seen at the Tour de France? Back in 2009, on the shoulders of George Hincapie.

Jonny Brown became the youngest US road champion in history, winning in his home state of Tennessee. Photo: Wil Matthews.

The decisive four-man break of the day escaped with nine laps to go. They gained more than four minutes over a chasing group of pre-race favorites, including defending champion Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue Sport), Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team), Brandon McNulty (Rally Cycling), Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), Thomas Revard (Hagens Berman Axeon), and King. The chase group shuffled and re-shuffled, but was not able to close the gap to the four leaders, who would go on to battle for the victory.

It was an emotional hometown victory for Brown, the younger brother of Nathan Brown (EF Education First-Drapac), who was born outside of Nashville. The Brown brothers grew up in Memphis, and both moved to Austin, Texas, however Jonny moved to Knoxville just one month prior to the national championships.

The win was also the second elite road title in three years for the Hagens Berman-Axeon team, following Gregory Daniel’s win in 2016. The older Brown brother rode for the same program from 2010-2013, winning the Tour de Beauce on the development team before signing with Slipstream Sports, where he’s been since.

Also noteworthy — Brown won aboard an aluminum frame, a Specialized Allez.

“This is just unbelievable,” Brown said. “I moved here a month ago, so it makes it even more special. I’m just so excited. All year, I’ve been training for this. I’ve had a rough last two years, this is just unbelievable. We’ve been working for this for a long, long time and it feels amazing.

“It was giving me goosebumps every time I made a lap, to hear my name. Then going into the last lap I said ‘I can do this.'”

Carpenter said finishing second was bittersweet. “It’s my first time on the podium for nationals. It feels pretty good. But, it’s definitely a disappointment, considering how the race went,” he said. “We had a little more of a gap to make up than we wanted. We lost some time and eventually on the hill [Sherrod Road], Jonny still had 50 seconds and I knew it was time to go. I rode the last half lap as fast as I could, but didn’t have enough to catch him in the end.”

Reflecting the difficulty of the day, only 63 of 119 starters finished the race. In the bunch was 46-year-old Chris Horner, winner of the 2013 Vuelta a España, riding for Team Illuminate; Horner did not finish the race.

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