Winston-Salem, North Carolina – Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team's Greg Daniel couldn't believe his late attack Saturday at the USA Cycling Volkswagen Professional Road National Championships was the one that would win him his first professional national title.
With no radio to tell him if anyone else was ahead, Daniel said he kept hammering his Specialized S-Works Tarmac up the final rise to the finish.
"I didn't want to make a fool of myself because I didn't know if there was a group up the road," the 21-year-old native of Sylva, North Carolina, said. "So I looked at the clock and saw zero. And I saw zero laps to go and the time was zero. I couldn't believe it. It is still sinking in."
Thrusting both arms in the air, Daniel earned the right to wear the stars-and-stripes jersey for a year with a five-second win over Alex Howes (Cannondale Pro Cycling). Travis McCabe (Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team) was third.
Daniel's teammate, Logan Owen – the only other Axeon Hagens Berman rider in the race – finished eighth after also figuring prominently in the final lap of 12 of the 187-kilometer race through Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
"I was talking to Greg going into the final lap and he said he was feeling good and wanted to go for it," Owen said. "I trusted him and he trusted me to follow through on what we were going to do and it worked out perfectly. Either Greg or I could have won today. We had perfect teamwork. It could not have gone any better just working with two of us."
Owen actually made the first move on the final lap, attacking through the start-finish line. Only Taylor Shelden (Jelly Belly presented by Maxxis) could follow and the pair built a 15-second advantage before being reeled in with fewer than 10 km to go.
From there, Daniel and four others – Oscar Clark (Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team), Daniel Eaton (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team), Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) and Shelden – slipped away not long after a group of fewer than two dozen riders re-grouped.
"When we hit that final climb up Manly Road, I just sat on, expecting a move," Daniel said. "There wasn't a move that went, so I thought maybe everyone else was tired. So I just decided to test my legs and no one followed. I tried not to look back, but when I looked back and saw a gap I just thought I needed to go full gas. I knew at that point I couldn't sprint. So I just kept going to the line."
Daniel's victory was his first of the season and the 10th of the year by an Axeon Hagens Berman rider. One year ago, Daniel competed in the Under 23 division at the national championships, finishing runner-up in the road race and third in the time trial. Now in his fourth year in the Under 23 developmental program headed up by Axel Merckx, Daniel's previous biggest result was a runner-up finish on Stage 4 of the 2014 Amgen Tour of California.
"It was aggressive all day, which played to my strength," Daniel said. "When the pace slows down, I just like to keep going hard. I just felt good all day and made sure to keep hydrated. I was worried about cramping and knew it was going to be humid and hot. So the best thing for me was to get in the break because I am not a sprinter. Then, Logan was going to stay back and sprint for the finish."
Daniel's win adds to two others at professional nationals in Axeon team history, both in 2010. Taylor Phinney captured the individual time trial and Ben King soloed to win the road race.