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Cooper Johnson held back tears as he climbed off his bike to hug his mother, and then team director Mike Creed.
The Aevolo rider had just won the U23 national road title – the biggest victory in his young career – and he did it from a solo breakaway, striking out 60km from the finish of a hot and muggy 187km race.
Initially, he didn’t know if the move would stick, but the possibility of the “stars and stripes” jersey soon became a reality as the weary peloton shut down all hope of chasing.
Johnson won with a three-minute lead over Lucas Bourgoyne (WB-Fybolia Morbihan) and Liam Flanagan (Kelly Benefits Strategies), who finished second and third in the bunch sprint.
The 20-year-old from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has had a series of firsts come his way in 2022.
Aevolo’s February team camp was his first time in California. Spring marked his first glimpse of the European racing scene, and this past weekend he was the first rider across the line at the U.S. U23 national road championships in Roanoke, Virginia.
“I’m a Tennessee guy,” Johnson said. “I’ve always stayed in the Southeast pretty much. The scene is pretty good around where I live and I have a great community of support around me. But what’s been so great about racing with Aevolo is that I get to race my bike and see the world. I’m 20 and already have seen some pretty cool places.”
Things are happening quickly for Johnson, who started racing mountain bikes with the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) when he was 16 years old and then progressed to road after connecting with the folks at his local bike shop, Moab Bicycle Shop.
Johnson says the shop took him under its wing, introducing him to group rides and, eventually, taking part in the mid-week local criterium series.
🗣 ”Today was beautiful for the Aevolo cycling boys…I still can’t believe it’s real. Thanks to our director, Mike Creed, all staff today, and our great sponsors and the boys in the race.”
~ Cooper Johnson, 2022 U23 National Road Champion 🇺🇸 🏆
📸: Susan Wienke pic.twitter.com/mSY4yn4CrJ
— Aevolo Cycling (@Aevolo_Cycling) July 1, 2022
After signing with Aevolo, a U.S. U23 team designed to help young elite athletes transition into the pro ranks, Johnson went from becoming a known name in the local Southeastern scene to quickly adapting to the rigors of a European spring schedule, starting with the Tour of Normandy in March. In fact, U.S. Pro Nationals in Knoxville, Tennessee was the first time he’d taken the start of an American race the entire year. But already, Johnson is hungry to get back to Europe.
“The team has been adapting so fast, and we’re doing so much better each race we go to,” said Johnson, who is the fourth rider from the Aevolo team to win the U23 road championships. “I’m ready to get back, honestly. I enjoyed being home, but racing there has created new opportunities, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.”
Johnson will head back to Europe in the next few weeks to prepare for Giro Ciclistico della Valle d’Aosta as part of the US national team.
Two days after his win in Roanoke, however, he says he’s still stunned he’s a national champion, despite the ‘stars and stripes’ jersey hanging over a chair in his hotel room.
“I’m just happy to be here with the team,” he said. “We like hanging out together and having a good time. Maybe it’ll sink in when I get home. I’m home for a couple of days after this, but I’m already excited to see what we can do in the criterium. I am hoping we can win that too.”