Rider Rhim Rolls Along
Quebec Win Ups U.S. Ascent
Norwich’s Brendan Rhim stands atop the podium on Sunday after winning the Tour de l’Abitibi cycling race in Quebec. (Chris Rhim photograph)
Norwich — On the eighth day, Brendan Rhim rested. The ninth, too. The 10th, 11th, 12th and more are soon to follow.
But on the seventh, he worked his tail off.
Rhim’s progression up cycling’s competitive ladder may have gained a boost with his win Sunday in the Tour de l’Abitibi, a seven-stage race through and around the western Quebec town of Rouyn-Noranda. What Rhim called “probably the biggest win of my career” turned on Friday, when his runner-up finish in Stage 5 — a 103-kilometer ride from the Ontario First Nation town of Timiskaming to Lorrainville, Quebec — bumped Rhim into the overall lead.
He would spend the next two days defending it, eventually winning the 600-kilometer tour by just 2 seconds. Already part of USA Cycling’s National Developmental Program, Rhim is hopeful the Quebec victory will open the door to a trip to September’s junior world championships in Italy, an invitation to the U.S. under-23 program and, eventually, to cycling’s elite levels.
“Once you’re in the pool, it’s very likely you’ll get invited back so long as you can continue to prove you can get results,” Rhim said in a phone interview from his Norwich home on Tuesday. “This year, when I was still racing in New England and the Northeast region, I won a race in upstate New York, and that confirmed I was still on good racing form. I got invited back to do a trip in Europe in the spring, and during that trip I did well and got invited to go on this one.
“This could lead to the worlds trip, which starts in August and ends in late September. That would take me to Switzerland, with multiple races to do in preparation for the world championships.”
For now, however, Rhim will rest.
Assuming the brown jersey as general classification leader on Friday only guaranteed two hard days of work for Rhim over routes that were largely flat and devoid of significant elevation changes. That made wind a deciding factor, something upon which he and his U.S. teammates capitalized.
Europe’s grand races, such as the Tour de France, feature teams where one predetermined lead rider is supported by a squad of so-called domestiques. It doesn’t work that way in junior races such as the Tour de l’Abitibi, Rhim explained, leaving good fortune and timing to choose who gets support and who does the supporting.
“It also depends on what kind of race it is,” the 17-year-old said. “In Canada, the course isn’t decisive; it’s more of who made the break is the person we’d work for. We didn’t have a leader really planned out, but it would be one of us as soon as (one of us) made a break and was leading the general classification.
“Part of it is luck, and part of it is having the right team. It depends on whether or not people will let you go off the front and attack. Sometimes it’s a split-second decision. Luck plays there, but there is also having good form or strength. In order to pass, you have to be strong.”
Riding through strong crosswinds, the U.S. team used drafting techniques to halve the 130-rider field down on Friday, making Rhim’s attack effective. He would finish in a three-rider group at the stripe, tied with Quebec’s Olivier Brisbois on time but slipping 4 seconds ahead of him in the overall standings.
Rhim stayed in the main pack of 83 riders in Saturday’s 114.8-kilometer out-and-back between Rouyn-Noranda and Rollet, extending his lead on Brisbois to 7 seconds. Fourth-place rider Owen Gillott, of the Wisconsin-based Racers Against Childhood Cancer, won Sunday’s 97-kilometer finale — and the 10-second time bonus that came with the stage win — but Rhim’s peloton finish 4 seconds later clinched the tour championship with an overall time of 13 hours, 46 minutes, 34 seconds.
“That was not fun,” Rhim confessed. “My teammates spent a lot of time riding on the front and chasing everything down, especially the Canadians who were sitting right behind me. Most of them were about 10-to-15 seconds behind, which is not a very healthy lead. We had a lot of work to do, and it started to wear on us. …
“On Sunday, in the last stage, some of the attacks that the Canadians and other teams were throwing at us were getting a little out of hand, and we couldn’t control it anymore. One rider (Gillott) was able to get away … (but) it turned out the field was able to close to the last two or three seconds I needed to hold onto the jersey.”
The victory marks a further progression for Rhim, who won the criterium at the USA Cycling Junior Nationals in Georgia last summer, grabbed the Tour of the Battenkill title in New York in April and has fronted Killington Mountain School’s cycling program the past three years.
Those successes put the Hanover High School senior on USA Cycling’s radar. He joined U.S. teams in Belgium last autumn and Switzerland in the spring, and he’s optimistic — but by no means assured — that he’ll get the call for his first junior worlds appearance in the next few weeks.
Beyond that is the U.S. U23 program, which would likely mark Rhim’s ascent into professional competition. It would also inch the teenager closer to the alleged users of performance-enhancing drugs who have tarnished cycling’s image at the international level.
“It’s had an effect on me in definitely being more observant when we’re around certain people when we’re racing,” Rhim said. “It’s not quite at the junior level, but I’ve heard when you step into U23s it’s a little more advanced, that you’ll start to see it.
“It has become, you’d say, taboo; people don’t talk about it much, and it’s not used as much anymore. The penalty for it at this point is you’re not going to race again; if you get caught, you’re pretty much done. That’s a whole lot of time wasted.”
A junior worlds invitation would preclude Rhim from rejoining Hanover High’s boys soccer program, for which he has tended goal for two seasons. But then again, his athletic goals are now revolving more toward wheels than balls.
“Making the junior worlds team is pretty important to getting onto the U23s,” Rhim said. “The U23s will definitely ask or be interested in having you on a team. Obviously, if you make the worlds team and have some kind of result, you’re there. So making the worlds team is important toward making the next step.”
For the moment, however, Rhim’s next step will probably be in the direction of a couch.
Greg Fennell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3226.