In Philly, versatile Skujins lands on another podium

The Latvian riding for Hincapie Racing nabs third place in Sunday's Philadelphia International Cycling Classic

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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Just over two weeks after taking a brilliant breakaway stage win in the Amgen Tour of California in May, Toms Skujins won again at the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic. Exactly one week later, he has found himself on a race podium again, this time landing third in the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic.

The versatile Latvian is in his second season with Hincapie Racing, and he has delivered both of the team’s UCI-level race victories this season, quickly earning himself a leadership role in the squad.

“California was a big win and I got a lot of confidence from that,” Skujins told VeloNews after Sunday’s race. “The team has been amazing, and after California we just rested up and focused on the next couple races. This was the plan, so apparently it’s going pretty well.”

Skujins has rolled the dice in each of his three podium performances in the last 30 days, and things have fallen into place every time — he made a bold move to get clear of the peloton in the Tour of California and took advantage of a lack of cohesion to take his victory there, he soloed to victory again in Winston-Salem, and he latched onto the winning breakaway move in the final lap Sunday in Philadelphia, crossing the line behind race winner Carlos Barbero (Caja Rural) and Michael Woods (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies).

“It’s always unpredictable in one-day races because anything can happen,” Skujins said. “The plan was for me and Dion [Smith] to kind of see where we’re at in the last couple laps, and I just followed guys with one to go, and it turned out to be the right move. Too bad Dion missed it because he probably would have won, but still it’s a pretty good result for us, for the team.”

Defending champion Kiel Reijnen missed the move as well, and Barbero’s win denied him a third straight victory in Philadelphia. Reijnen told VeloNews the race conditions and the race length made for a slightly different story this year compared to previous editions: “It was a shorter race, and without the heat I think a lot of guys were fresher,” he said.

“With a shorter race it’s more chaotic, harder to control.”

The combative racing suited Skujins just fine. “We tried to make it as hard as we could, because if it all came, as last year did, to the bottom of the climb altogether, Kiel is really good at this and he might have won,” he said. “So we needed to put pressure on everyone else and just race aggressively, and it turned out well for us. Not as well as we had hoped but still, third place, not that bad.”

Having earned a string of nice results with that aggressive riding, Skujins has been doing everything in his power to garner attention from teams at higher levels.

“All I can do is try to get those results and hope that someone really notices me and a team offers me a ride,” Skujins said. “We’ll see what happens, I’ve got no idea so far.”

In fact, despite his strong showings over the past month, the 23-year-old wearing the kit of Continental-level Hincapie Racing notes that he has yet to hear anything from teams in the upper echelon of the sport.

“The phone has been so quiet, it’s been insane,” Skujins said.

Still, transfer season is rapidly approaching: most pro cycling contracts are signed in the early August to late October window. As summer heats up, Skujins should be able to entertain a realistic possibility that the phone will finally start to ring. Until then, he can only continue to do what he has done so far—take (smart) risks and put his good form to use with every opportunity he gets.

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