Greg Wittwer (Sweet Spot Cycling) first saw his father Fred race Nationals in 2001 and saw the elder Wittwer take home his first National Championship in 2008. Ever since then, the younger Wittwer has dreamed of winning a title of his own.
On Friday in the Masters 35-39 race, Wittwer got a prime opportunity to follow in his dad’s Stars-and-Stripes footsteps.
“I’ve known for 20 years I was going to have to start stepping up,” Wittwer said. “I’ve known I’ve had big shoes to fill for a long time.”
Wittwer did not get off to the best start, but in a field loaded with talent and past champions, he patiently worked his way to the front, taking advantage of his exceptional climbing to power up the increasingly muddy climbs on the sides of the bowl at Joe Creason Park.
One lap into the race, Wittwer and Chris Drummond (SPCX p/b R.K. BLACK) were at the front. Then, on the second climb of the second climb, Wittwer got his opportunity.
Even though he came into the race planning to run everything, Wittwer stayed on his bike on the muddy climb up on the far side of the course. Drummond had to dismount and while he slowly ran to the top to remount, Wittwer powered away. When the lap was done, the lead was 23 seconds.
That would be all Wittwer needed to take home his long-coveted first National Championship.
“It was a journey that I started in 2001 in Baltimore when my dad finished on the podium,” Wittwer said. “Then the following five years, he finished on the podium without winning one. Then finally in 2008, he won one. It was one of those things where when he won, it felt like I won. It was just such a long journey.”
“Fast forward to now, to 2018, he just won his sixth national championship. The pressure was on for me, and damn, it happened.”
Overnight rains made the course at Joe Creason Park muddier than it was on Thursday, but still nothing like riders would experience when the afternoon rains arrived.
2017 national champion Chris Drummond (SPCX p/b R.K. BLACK) was the fast starter Friday morning, leading the way through the keyhole section and carrying a four-second lead through the sandpit. As the riders descended into the bowl for the first time, Josh Whitney (Full Cycle Cyclocross), Mark Flis (The X-Men) and Wittwer stepped up as the first three chasers. Several other riders lined up right behind them.
Wittwer is known in Virginia for his climbing, and when he hit the second climb, he showed why. Wittwer powered into the lead and set a fast pace up the second and third climbs. Only Drummond could follow him, and after the first lap, the two were off the front.
“I didn’t have the best start, I was 8th or 9th going into the sand pit. Then every time I got off and ran while others were trying to ride, I passed two guys,” Wittwer said.
Wittwer and Drummond stayed together for the first half of the second lap until the race’s biggest moment occurred.
Wittwer entered the race with a plan to ride everything in the first few laps to help minimize mistakes. “I made a decision before the race even started that I was going to run everything. It negates the possibility of making a mistake.”
However, heading up the second climb on the far side of the course, Wittwer stayed on his bike until the last steep incline. Drummond dismounted much earlier, and while he was running, Wittwer opened up a big gap.
At the end of two laps, Wittwer’s advantage was 23 seconds on a chase that now included Drummond, Corey Stelljes (Neff Cycle Service), Kevin Bouchard-Hall (Team Placid Planet) and Whitney.
In the third of five laps, the biggest change was the race for second. Bouchard-Hall and Stelljes escaped from the others for a two-man chase. After three laps, Wittwer held a 25-second advantage.
The rest of the way, Wittwer kept his advantage around 20 seconds. He crossed the emphatic fashion with the win he had been waiting for for years.
“As a 35-year-old, it’s pretty awesome to be able to set a set a goal out and accomplish something like this,” Wittwer said.
Bouchard-Hall took over solo second in the back half of Lap 4 to take the silver. Stelljes held on for bronze.
For more from the Masters 35-39 race, see the winner interview, photo gallery and results below.
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Greg Wittwer: Winner Interview
Photo Gallery: Men’s Masters 35-39, 2018 Louisville Cyclocross Nationals