Ieper, Belgium – In his first race in the Under 23 ranks, Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team's Ian Garrison surprised even himself with a runner-up result at Gent-Wevelgem Sunday while competing for USA Cycling.
Garrison finished about a bike length behind race winner Jacob Hennesy (Great Britain). Rasmus Tiller (Norway) was third in the 186-kilometer cobblestoned classic Nations Cup event in Belgium.
"Honestly, it hasn't quite hit me yet," the 18-year-old from Decatur, Georgia, said. "The caliber of it all and this being my first time to race U23. I am just really excited and taking it all in."
Garrison said he was simply hoping to fulfill his assigned duty, which was to look after team leaders (and Axeon Hagens Berman teammates) Logan Owen and Neilson Powless. But with 70 kilometers still to race, he suddenly found himself on the front.
"A guy attacked and Logan told me to hop onto his wheel," Garrison said. "So I just tagged along and followed him. I didn't pull through and he kept rolling. Two or three minutes later, a group of five or six guys rolled up to us with (USA Cycling U23 teammate) Zeke Mostov and then another group with (teammate) Sean Bennett in there. That is how the breakaway formed."
Onto the finishing circuit, which included two trips up the cobblestoned climbs of the Baneberg, the Kemmelberg and the Monteberg, the bronze medalist at last year's junior world time trial championships switched from follower to aggressor.
"Each time up the Kemmelberg, I hit the front and put in an effort there, which got rid of a lot of the smaller country guys who were starting to sit in," Garrison said. "Unfortunately, Sean double-flatted and we lost Zeke the second time up the Kemmelberg, so there were about seven of us who came to the line together."
USA Cycling Under 23 Manager Nate Wilson, who rode for Axel Merckx's development team himself in 2013, said he was most impressed with the teamwork from the mixed, six-member squad. Joining Bennett (Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis), Mostov (Aevolo Cycling), Garrison, Owen and Powless (all of Axeon Hagens Berman) was Curtis White (Rally Cycling).
"This is probably our best result in one of these cobbled classics in a while," Wilson said. "So as a nation, that is exciting. For me, the thing that is most exciting is how it happened as a product of great team execution. So to start the season off on that foot is terrific. A lot of times we have the guys coming in from the trade teams and they are really strong. But getting them to work cohesively as a team usually takes some time. So I am really proud of everyone and how they worked together today."
Powless was the team's next-best finisher, in 14th place, 19 seconds back. Riding for the Irish national team, Eddie Dunbar finished 16th, at 23 seconds.