Jelly Belly’s Mannion chasing success in the peloton

The 24-year-old American has returned strong from a crash last season and is a GC contender wherever he races.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alberta (VN) — Gavin Mannion has been among the emerging American cyclists this season. But the Jelly Belly-Maxxis rider from Austin, Texas, is actually re-emerging.

With sponsor changes, folding and merging teams, and the recovery from one of the more ominous crashes in the sport last season, Mannion is riding for his sixth differently configured squad in his fifth professional season.

A strong climber after transitioning from an earlier career sprinter pigeonhole, Mannion is seeking improvement in the general classification with two consecutive days of climbing in Jasper National Park in the six-day Tour of Alberta.

After a pack finish Thursday in the cold and rainy stage 2 road race, Mannion is 73rd overall in the tightly packed standings in the field of 120 riders. He trails Australian race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) by 1:31.

Last year while riding for Garmin-Sharp, Mannion rode in support of Ramunas Navardauskas at the Tour of Alberta. His Lithuanian teammate finished fourth overall.

Mannion’s still-young career has also been beset with injuries, including a broken shoulder in one race tumble and a nasty cut in a different race crash requiring 30 stitches. In the Tour of Utah last year, Mannion catapulted over his bike after hitting a fallen snow pole. Although Mannion returned to his bike, the sudden jolt of the crash prompted vast viewing of the video on YouTube.

“It’s just kind of been slow and steady improvement each and every year,” said Mannion, whose win in the opening stage of the 2012 Tour of New Baunfels is his lone pro victory. “Last year was kind of a bad year for me because of injuries and stuff like that. It looks like I came out of nowhere compared to last year maybe, but I have a few good results two years and three years ago.”

Mannion, who turned 24 on August 24, has a collection of runner-up efforts. His consistent season this year included second overall at the Redlands Bicycle Classic, which equaled his runner-up finish in stage 3 of the 2013 Tour de l’Avenir. He’s also placed second in the best young rider classification at the Amgen Tour of California (2013), Tour of Utah (2013), and USA Pro Challenge (2012).

“Jelly Belly has been a great team environment,” said Mannion, whose consistent season this year has also included third overall at the Cascade Classic, third overall at the Tour of the Gila, and fourth overall last month at the USA Pro Challenge. “We’ve had a really fun year; It’s a good group of guys getting to the races and it’s been fun. The results have come really from the nature of the team.”

Although he’s ridden with the squad periodically, Mannion has also gained knowledge from teammate Fred Rodriguez, who turned age 42 on Thursday.

“He has a ton of experience with seven Tours de France and winning a stage of the Giro,” Mannion said of Rodriguez. “Especially on a day like this when you’re trying to think of what clothing to wear or maybe what’s going to happen. He’s done it a million times and raced a lot in Belgium, so we definitely go to him for some advice and stuff like that. He’s definitely not a guy to start yelling or telling us what to do or anything like that. But if you ask him, he’ll definitely give you some good advice.”

Mannion, whose team status for 2016 hasn’t been finalized, will complete his season as part of the Jelly Belly squad competing in the team time trial at the UCI Road World Championships on September 20 in Richmond, Virginia.

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