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Was it inevitable that Human Powered Health would come out on top? The North American pro team put two riders in the break of the day at the U.S. Professional Road National Championships, but still had five riders left in the field halfway through the race. In the end, Kyle Murphy came out on top, and it wasn’t just because Human Powered Health had the numbers.
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But to understand how we got to the finish line in Knoxville, we have to go all the way back to the start and the first climb up Sherrod Road.
The U.S. Professional National Championship Road Race has been held in Knoxville, Tennessee, for the past few years, on an oddly-shaped circuit that is less technical than it seems. The right half of the course consists of an out-and-back highway section, which offers a unique glimpse of real-life time gaps between the breakaway and the peloton.
In 2022, the course was shortened to exclude a rolling section just north of town — this year, the course would head straight from the highway back into downtown Knoxville, climbing the same right-left chicane used in the national criterium course.
The drastic effect of the route change meant an additional two laps that included Sherrod Road, a 600m climb with an average gradient of 10.7%. The first section is the steepest, with an average of 15% for nearly 200m. The road hardly levels off before the false crest, and it is finally relieved with a 55+mph screaming descent down towards the highway.
It is always hot in Knoxville in June, which is another reason why the U.S. Pro National Championships is a race of attrition. When Ben King initiated the early breakaway, there were still over 100 riders left in contention.
King – Early Breakaway (Kilometer 0-55)
Average Power: 299w (4.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 348w (5w/kg)
Lap 1: 363w (5.3w/kg) for 17:16
About halfway through the race, the main break of the day had fully formed. The seven-man group included King, Gavin Mannion (Human Powered Health), Hugo Scala Jr. and Zach Gregg (Project Echelon Racing), Michael Hernandez (Best Buddies), Kent Ross (Wildlife Pro Cycling Team), and Jared Scott (Aevolo).
Their lead would grow to three minutes before riders began attacking from the peloton. Magnus Sheffield (Ineos Grenadiers), Lawson Craddock (Team BikeExchange-Jayco), Colby Simmons (Jumbo-Visma Development Team), and Sean Quinn (EF Education–EasyPost) were among the instigators, putting their WorldTour legs on display for all to see.
During this section of the race, we can see the difference in riding styles between the breakaway and the field. King helped keep things smooth in the break, while Kyle Murphy helped shut down moves in the peloton whilst conserving as much energy as possible. With nearly the same average power, Murphy had a normalized power almost 30w higher than King during this section of the race.
King – Riding in the Breakaway (Kilometer 105-167)
Average Power: 279w (4w/kg)
Normalized Power: 308w (4.5w/kg)
Murphy – Riding in the Field (Kilometer 105-167)
Average Power: 270w (3.9w/kg)
Normalized Power: 335w (4.9w/kg)
As the field continued to dwindle, the breakaway’s lead fell from three minutes to just under 90 seconds with three laps to go. However, the field stalled and the break’s advantage grew again — with one lap to go, the break still had over a minute’s lead.
But on the final climb up Sherrod Road, only King and Ross could hold the pace. The field began closing in, and by the bottom of the descent, it was all back together with 18 riders in contention.
Murphy timed his attack perfectly, launching just after the U-turn on the highway and holding nearly 450w for three minutes. With 500m to go, Murphy had victory in sight. However, the field hadn’t given up yet — Sheffield, Luke Lamperti (Trinity Racing), and Tyler Stites (Project Echelon Racing) started sprinting into the final set of corners, but it was all too late.
Murphy – Final Lap of US Pro Nationals
Average Power: 371w (5.3w/kg)
Normalized Power: 407w (5.9w/kg)
Winning Attack: 422w (6.1w/kg) for 4:50
Peak 3-min Power: 442w (6.4w/kg)
Murphy took the win three seconds ahead of Stites, marking the second time that an amateur rider has finished second at the U.S. Pro National Championships. Sheffield rounded out the podium in third, while Ben King finished off an incredible ride to earn 4th after spending nearly 200km in the breakaway.
Stites – Final Sprint at US Pro Nationals
Average Power: 695w (11.2w/kg)
Peak 10 sec Power: 1020w (16.5w/kg)
In comparing Ben King’s and Kyle Murphy’s data, we can see why so many riders try for the breakaway at the U.S. Pro National Championships. Typically, the early breakaway is suicide — it means sitting in the wind for 3-5 hours, with less than a 1% chance of taking the win. But at the U.S. Pro National Championships, it is just as hard to “sit in” in the field as it is to ride in the breakaway. The course is hard, hot, and hilly, with very few places to recover in the draft of a pack.
In fact, riding in the breakaway is much smoother than handling the ebbs and flows of the peloton, and some riders prefer it that way. Over the course of nearly five hours, Ben King and Kyle Murphy finished with average powers within 1w of one another. The real difference can be spotted in their respective normalized powers.
One of these riders was attacking from the gun, infiltrating the early breakaway, and motoring out in front of the field for hours. They kept it smooth and only got caught with a few miles to go, where they still managed to finish in the top five.
The other rider sat in as much as possible on a course like this. With their teammates out front, they had no obligation to chase, and thus they sat in the draft for most of the day. However, they were not immune to the slinky effect of the pack, and they marked a number of moves throughout the race. In the end, they initiated a singular attack when it counted most, and that’s how Kyle Murphy won the U.S. Pro National Championships.
King – US Pro National Championships – 4th
Average Power: 286w (4.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 328w (5w/kg)
Murphy – US Pro National Championships
Average Power: 285w (4.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 347w (5w/kg)
Power Analysis data courtesy of Strava
Strava sauce extension