Greenville, S.C. — Rock Racing’s “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez predicted it. Tyler Hamilton made it happen. But ultimately it took a photo to decide it.
Hamilton edged Blake Caldwell (Garmin-Chipotle presented by H3O) by two-thousandths of a second Sunday at the Greenville Hospital System USA Cycling Professional Road Race Championship. The thrilling finish capped the 115-mile (185 km) race that earned the 37-year-old his first national title to go along with the Olympic gold medal he won at the individual time trial in Athens in 2004.
“This was all about redemption for Tyler,” Rock Racing Team Owner Michael Ball said. “Winning the most prestigious one-day race in the U.S. almost a year to the day after he pretty much retired was what this team is all about – giving guys second chances.”
Caldwell’s teammate, Danny Pate, earned third place from a chase group of three riders. But the winner of the race – who will wear the stars-and-stripes jersey for the next year – was not immediately known until the finish line photo was carefully reviewed.
However, Hamilton said he had a feeling his last-second slingshot out of Caldwell’s draft had earned him Rock Racing’s 38th win of the season in front of thousands of fans in Downtown Greenville.
“It was so close, either it was a tie, or I got it,” the Boulder, Colo., resident said. “I wish there was another five feet before the finish line (because) the finish came up really fast.
“This is a special day and a win for the team. Sure, I get to wear the jersey, but it was really a team effort.”
Rodriguez – a three-time national road champion himself – accurately forecast Hamilton’s victory at the pre-race press conference two days earlier (saying he had never seen Hamilton so motivated coming into a national championship race). But few others were predicting it would be Hamilton – and not Rodriguez – who would deliver Rock Racing its third individual national title of 2008 (and fourth overall when counting the team’s win at the junior national track championships in the team pursuit).
In early and mid-August, Rock Racing sprint specialists Rahsaan Bahati (men’s professional) and Justin Williams (under 23) won their respective divisions at the U.S. professional criterium championships. It is believed to be the first time two African-Americans have simultaneously held the title of national criterium champions.
Hamilton said he drew additional motivation for going after his third win of the season from the death of his grandmother. The Marblehead, Mass., native has won more than 30 races since turning professional in 1995.
“She was 102 (years old),” Hamilton said. “My dad has been pretty down, and I was like, ‘I want to do this for her.’ I felt something special over the past couple of days.”
All photos copyright: Vero Image