SNOWBIRD RESORT, Utah (VN) – He didn’t win, but he doesn’t really care.
Joey Rosskopf (Hincapie Development Team), the young man his team calls King Joey, rode out of his mind on the queen stage of the Tour of Utah Saturday, putting in a second head-turning performance of the week.
But the humble 24-year-old from Georgia wasn’t so much blown away with his narrow loss to Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), a former world champion and 2011 Tour de France champion; he was just pleased with the fact that he was riding like he never had before.
“[It was] kind of a heartbreak, but a lot less so than Tuesday when I was off the front and just got caught by the field with 3K to go,” Rosskopf said. “Actually, it’s not a disappointment. Cadel was the only one to beat me. It would have been awesome to win; it would have been unbelievable. But I’m super pleased. If I got caught by [the chase group] and got 10th on the stage, I still would have been pretty pleased. But I was okay doing a little more work in the last K or two, staying away from those guys, to take it down to three riders and sprinting for the win. I have to be pleased with that. I’ve never done this before.”
His performance on stage 2 was the first after which the question started to percolate: Was that a career-changing ride?
“I’ve heard a few stories about him,” stage 6 winner Evans said. “He’s certainly got a lot of potential. I admired him when we caught him with about 10K to go on stage 2; he was going absolutely flat out until the last meter even though the group was 100 meters off him. He seems to have a lot of ambition. I think with ambition and talent, a rider can go a long way with that. I may have to go and speak with Mr. Hincapie about his future there.”
Though Rosskopf said he hadn’t been talking to any teams, hadn’t heard anything about a contract, two massive rides in one week, in one of the highest-profile stage races in the U.S., can only lead to good things.
“He deserved every bit of the attention he got today. He rode well,” Euser said. “You know, the Trek guys sat on all day, so did Jens. I’ve lost all respect for those guys. Jens was cursing at me up Emigration Canyon; he’s lost respect for the sport. And guys like Joey Rosskopf have all the respect in the world for it. And he’s going to go a long ways. It’s time for the Jenses of the world to leave, and it’s time for the Joeys of the world to step up.”
His physique isn’t that of your typical climber; he’s thicker, stronger in the upper body and arms. In fact, he’s known as a time trialist. But it was his two performances on incredibly challenging terrain – stage 2 covered 130.7 miles and over 10,000 feet of climbing, while stage 6 traversed 107.2 grueling miles with 12,643 feet of elevation gain – that turned heads.
“He spent a lot of time up at altitude down at Mount Lemmon in Arizona before Cascade,” said teammate Robin Carpenter, another young Hincapie rider who has had a stellar performance in Utah, wearing the King of the Mountains jersey, and swapping it back and forth with Rosskopf nearly the entire race. “He got really skinny, and he’s always had the power to just go at it when he chooses to. Everybody says he’s a time trialist, but he’s really just a hammer.”
His talent in the hills is, however, a newfound ability. Last year, he noted, if he had come to the base of the Little Cottonwood Canyon finishing climb of stage 6, even if he had been with a group of 20 and sitting on all day, he would have gotten dropped on the climb. He has made huge strides in his development as a strong rider.
Not that his performance is a surprise to anyone that knows Rosskopf. From those in the peloton, to his sport director that has worked with him for the past two seasons, everyone is certain that Rosskopf is going places — fast.
“Not in the least [am I surprised],” said Hincapie sport director Thomas Craven. “I’ve known this guy just for a couple of years, and seen him…the way he races, the way he rides, and the way he trains, and his commitment to it. We call him King Joey because he’s the strongest guy on the team. The ride that he had at Redlands earlier this year, the rides that he had last year, we didn’t even chase the NRC points at all and he ended up second. Back to the question: No, [I’m not surprised], he’s a Superman.”