CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee (VN) — Dr. Eric Marcotte of Scottsdale, Arizona, is known to his chiropractic patients as an advocate for healthy living. But on Monday, “Dr. Eric” became known to a worldwide audience of cycling fans as something else entirely: the U.S. professional road race champion.
Marcotte, who rides for SmartStop Pro Cycling, outkicked teammate Travis McCabe and Garmin-Sharp’s Alex Howes to win the men’s Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road Race Championship in Chattanooga. SmartStop’s Julian Keyer took fifth, giving the upstart road team three of the day’s top five finishers.
Asked if he could have imagined standing atop the podium just that morning, Marcotte admitted he could not, but paused to recognize the symbolism of his unexpected Memorial Day win.
“I’m not going to toot my own horn, but I represent America,” said the 34-year-old chiropractor. “I’m a full-time working guy who just won a freakin’ national championship. I mean, what more could you want?”
With 34km to the finish in downtown Chattanooga, Marcotte bridged to join the remnants of the day’s early breakaway, including Ben King (Garmin-Sharp), James Stemper (5-Hour Energy) and Keyer. Race favorite Howes would join the group shortly thereafter.
A chase group including McCabe, Jacob Rathe (Jelly Belly), Carson Miller (Jamis-Sutter Home), Matthew Busche (Trek Factory) and Scott Zwizanski (Optum-Kelly Benefits) made contact with the leaders with approximately 15km remaining, setting off a battle for the line.
In the end, McCabe says the peloton may simply have underestimated the SmartStop riders.
“I don’t think people were really aware of our abilities, especially with two laps to go,” McCabe said. “We got a gap and did everything we could to hold them off. There was a little bit of cat-and-mouse. I knew that if I could come into the bottom of that last corner first that I had a good chance of winning, but then all of a sudden Eric [Marcotte] just bombed past me. He took that corner harder than anyone else and opened up a gap and went for the sprint. It was pretty awesome.”
After the race, SmartStop director Michael Creed attributed Marcotte’s win to the rider’s strength and tactics.
“I told him that he could win in that situation,” said Creed, who ended his riding career with Optum-Kelly Benefits in the summer of 2013. “Eric’s a lot like me as a rider. He can go and put power out. He doesn’t have a lot of acceleration, a lot of pop, but he can get in a real silverback contest.
“I called him last night and said, ‘You’re going to get in that early break and I don’t need you to make it a silverback contest until you get off [Lookout Mountain] the fourth time. Every time I pulled up to him on the climb I told him, ‘Hold back, do not go hard.’ You saw today how fresh he was at the end.”
Marcotte agreed that patience paid dividends.
“When I went over the last climb and came back to the group, I thought, ‘I can’t believe my legs are this good yet.’ I knew there was still a group chasing, so I didn’t want to go into the red, but as we got closer and closer and the closing circuits got [fewer and fewer in number], I knew [I could win]. I mean you’ve got to believe in yourself.
Under Creed’s leadership, the SmartStop team has shifted its attention to road races in 2014 after a year focused primarily upon criteriums. The newly configured team has seen surprising success, with McCabe currently leading USA Cycling’s NRC standings.
Sitting beside third-place finisher Alex Howes and his Garmin-Sharp teammate Ben King at the post-race press conference, Marcotte noted the disparities between his own squad and the WorldTour powerhouse.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “These guys [Howes and King] are incredible athletes and to race with them and have the opportunity to do this? For our team, it’s huge. I hope we can get to [the UCI ProTeam] level.
Creed — who was demonstrably ecstatic over his riders’ win — admits he has big plans for the team, but is taking things one step at a time.
“I hold the guys to a high standard, but a very reasonable standard,” he said. “I don’t tell them ridiculous things like, “Get first and second at nationals.’ I would never have said that to them.”