Knoxville, Tennessee - Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team’s Jonathan Brown became the youngest U.S.A. Cycling Pro Road Race National Champion on Sunday after attacking from a breakaway late in the race and soloing to victory.
“When I attacked, it just felt like the perfect moment,” said an elated Brown. “Gavin [Mannion] really set the pace hard up the climb and I was really hurting. Like, really hurting and barely hung on. Once we went down the descent everyone was just looking at each other. So I saw my time to capitalize. I knew they might just look at each other if I attacked. So I went for the long shot and it paid off.”
The Hagens Berman Axeon riders worked hard throughout the early part of the 15-lap, 190 kilometer race to be involved in breakaway attempts. Cole Davis, Sean Bennett, Thomas Revard, and Christopher Blevins were all in breakaways in the first four laps of racing. Temperatures in the 90’s, high humidity, and a late rain shower made conditions difficult.
“The race today was very intense,” said sport director Jeff Louder. “It was impressive to see the race go that hard for that long before things settled down. It could have been a six lap race and there would have been a worthy winner. I've personally never seen a National Championships with that much early attrition.”
It was not until late in the sixth lap that a decisive 4-man breakaway, initiated by Axeon alumnus Gavin Mannion (UnitedHealthcare), got clear of the main field. After working well together to maintain what ultimately became a three minute advantage over the chase pack, Brown made his decisive move with 20 km remaining in the race.
“Even with 1 km to go I was still super nervous and wasn't really sure how far of a gap I had,” said Brown. “Even though Clinch Ave wasn't long, if your legs are dead and you have a group of 3 charging from behind you can lose a lot of time. Not until I took the final turn at 150 meters to go did I know that I had just won US Pro! It was an unreal feeling having my fiancé and brother right there at the finish line. It just made it that much more special.”
For 2018, Brown elected to race mostly in Europe. Opting to do so meant a big change in not only the venue, but the type of racing he experienced for much of the year. Tough, one-day races added the experience and opportunity that he was looking for, finishing Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 14th place and Paris-Roubaix Espoirs in 7th. Brown is coming off a recent 2nd place finish on stage 3b at Tour de Beauce, his best finish of the season.
“To have Jonny race as aggressively as he did after being in the action all day and still have the legs to solo the last 20 km is very impressive,” said Louder. “The fact that he's the youngest rider to ever win the Stars and Stripes just makes it all the better. I’ve known he had a breakout ride like this in him, but to have him do this today, in front of his family and adopted home, is very special and I couldn’t be more happy for him.”