CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (VN) — After a string of narrow misses, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies time trial specialist Tom Zirbel smashed the elite men’s field Saturday, winning his first national TT championship.
Zirbel finished the rolling 19-mile course in 38 minutes and 16 seconds, besting BMC’s Brent Bookwalter by 17 seconds. Bontrager Cycling’s Nate Brown finished third at 41 seconds.
Saturday’s Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Time Trial National Championship was the first such event to include both the elite men’s and women’s fields.
Carmen Small (Specialized-lululemon) narrowly topped the women’s field in 42:38, besting Exergy 2016’s Kristin McGrath by only a second. Alison Powers (Now and Novartis for MS) took third at 12 seconds.
For Zirbel the win was a long time coming. The 34-year-old native of Clear Lake, Iowa, is a three-time runner-up in the event, making the chance to don the champion’s jersey especially sweet.
“I’ve been close a lot of times,” Zirbel said. “I think in 2008 I was like five seconds behind the winner and at that point I was like, “Okay, well, maybe next year will be the year I get it.
“And then the years go by and you’re like, ‘Oh, God. That wasn’t [the year], was it?’ So it’s a great feeling, I’m really excited to be able to wear the stars and stripes for a full year.”
For Small, the win came as an unexpected surprise.
“You know I didn’t have, like, stellar preparation,” said the 33-year-old. “I certainly didn’t come here with an attitude like ‘Hey, I’m going to win nationals.’ I wanted to do well and definitely thought I might be able to podium, but this is really amazing.”
As a teammate of pre-race favorite Evelyn Stevens, Small said she’d never expected the outcome.
“I really thought Evie was just going to come here and stomp,” Small told VeloNews. “But that’s the way cycling goes. You have good days and you have bad days. It just goes to show that anything can happen.”
Stevens finished fourth at 43:18.
After the race, BMC’s Bookwalter spoke of the chance to ride in the championship field.
“It’s always a special weekend and I take a lot of pride in being an American and coming and racing against my countrymen,” Bookwalter said. “I always come here with my game face on and try to give my best performance.”
Both the men’s and women’s defending champions were unable to start Saturday. Garmin-Sharp’s Dave Zabriskie broke his collarbone while doing course recon at the Amgen Tour of California. Likewise, Amber Neben (Pasta Zara) suffered a broken hip and ribs during the event’s invitational time trial.
“I was disappointed to hear that Zabriskie wouldn’t be here this weekend,” Zirbel said of the seven-time national TT champion. “I always want to race against the best.”