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Hardly Scraping By: Norwich’s Rhim Picks Himself Up, Looks Ahead

  • Norwich native Brendan Rhim competes in the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California cycling race on May 14, 2018, near Ojai, Calif. A senior at South Carolina’s Furman University, Rhim also races professionally for Greenville, S.C.-based Holowesko Citadel Racing.

  • Norwich native Brendan Rhim competes after a crash in the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California cycling race on May 14, 2018, near Ojai, Calif. Rhim sustained a collarbone injury as a result of the crash, which ended his ATOC appearance early.

  • Norwich native Brendan Rhim engages in a training ride with his Holowesko Citadel Racing teammates in an undated photograph. A senior at South Carolina’s Furman University, Rhim also races professionally for Greenville, S.C.-based Holowesko.

  • Top: Battle scars and all, Norwich native Brendan Rhim competes in the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California cycling race last month near Ojai, Calif. Above: Rhim, left, shares a light moment with Holowesko Citadel Racing teammate Andzs Flaksis during a training ride in an undated photograph. A senior at South Carolina’s Furman University, Rhim also races professionally for Greenville, S.C.-based Holowesko Citadel Racing.



Valley News Sports Editor
Sunday, June 03, 2018

In cycling, an education sometimes comes delivered with a nasty dose of road rash.

Brendan Rhim absorbed one such lesson on May 14, during the second stage of the Amgen Tour of California. Rhim, a third-year member of the South Carolina-based Holowesko Citadel professional cycling team, was barreling down a hill in Balcom Canyon, near Ojai, after the first of three short climbs, when the teacher metaphorically called his name.

“We were coming down the other side, and the road was super steep,” the Norwich native said last week during a phone interview from Greenville, S.C., where he’s in his final year at Furman University. “There were a bunch of those yellow reflectors in the road. I was going too fast; I didn’t really have a sense of how steep it would be. Once I realized, I tried to brake and slow down on a crummy road surface. I was out of control.

“I didn’t quite go off the road, but I hit a curb or something on the inside of a turn and slid on the ground for a little bit. Overall, I came away pretty unscathed.”

The bloody scrape on the back of his left shoulder and left arm begged to differ. So did the later diagnosis of a collarbone fracture that ended his two days of racing before he would have dueled some of cycling’s brighter lights in an individual time trial.

It’s a measure of how far the Hanover High graduate has come in professional cycling that he can identify where he’s gone wrong and what he may have lost by doing so. But it also shows how much potential he has in the sport, too.

Rhim, who has split his time lately between Holowesko, Furman’s club cycling team and his studies toward a health science degree, achieved a career highlight by being selected to the team’s pro seven-man California roster. Even though he didn’t complete the weeklong race because of his crash, Rhim’s stock continues to rise with the people who run the team.

“The format of the team — or the vibe, or the way that we go about stuff — is we try to develop guys through close contact and mentorship and a family atmosphere,” said Thomas Craven, Holowesko’s chief sports director, in a phone interview. “Brendan has always been with the team; however, being at school and being a little disconnected, he’s always been on the edge. This year, he’s starting to get older and mature as any kid does. He has more confidence and is stronger and is really turning himself into exactly what I thought he would be. I’m super proud of him.”

Rhim had Holowesko in mind when he made the decision to go to Furman, since both are headquarters in Greenville, a city of 68,000 in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He introduced himself to Craven not long after entering college, and Craven made sure to watch Rhim’s progress with the Paladins.

“Obviously, George and Rich have big connections in the industry,” Rhim said. “It was clear the team had good support and, at the end of the day, even if they weren’t that good at the time, they would be on an upward trend. They were a developmental team at the time, so actually it made the most sense to go to a team that is going to focus on developmental riders and not 30-year-olds.”

Rhim’s ascent within Holowesko coincides with the team’s ascent in competitive level.

Founded in 2012 by former pro cyclist George Hincapie and run today with his brother, Rich, and Craven, Holowesko started out on the International Cycling Union’s lowest rung, the Continental Tour, before moving up to the second-tier Pro Continental level in time for this season. The latter move was necessary if Holowesko was to field an ATOC team.

Craven had 10 to 12 riders in mind for inclusion on the roster and would make some of his decisions based on 2018 form. Rhim put himself front and center for consideration by winning the time trial and finishing second in the general classification (behind teammate Ruben Companioni) at April’s Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Ark.

He topped that by winning the 151.3-kilometer final stage of the Redlands (Calif.) Bicycle Classic in early May, cementing his ATOC spot.

Craven had expected Rhim to excel in the Redlands time trial, but snow canceled the stage. Rhim made Craven’s decision easy by prevailing on the final day of the race.

“Various things happened during the race, but he won on the last day, which is a super difficult circuit,” Craven said. “It’s a super, super tough event, and it showed that he had the fitness and desire to be in the (ATOC). It was an easy not to give him that opportunity.”

Craven sees Rhim’s future in sprinting. That makes his ATOC crash disappointing; had he not been forced to drop from the race with his injuries, Rhim was set to test his mettle in a time trial against the likes of Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan, athletes who will become focal points of next month’s Tour de France.

Fortunately, Rhim’s injuries weren’t serious enough to merit a long break from training. He was back on his bike in about a week and is now pointing toward the USA Cycling national championships in Knoxville, Tenn., at the end of the month.

“This year, we did some physiological testing in a lab at Furman,” Rhim said. “We looked at the testing results, and our performance director, Bobby Julich, a former Olympian, basically told me, ‘You are super talented, and based on the numbers, you are capable of riding at the highest level.’ I’d never been told that before in my life.

“Mentally, that opened up the doors a bit. It changed my approach to this season and changed my mental approach in every race. … I won’t be afraid to take risks or race aggressively. But I still have to be careful.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.