Gavin Mannion had a podium in his sights in the final kilometers of the US Pro Nation Road Race Championships.
Given that result, what flavor Jelly Belly is he? Sour Cherry? Toasted Marshmallow? Island Punch, Buttered Popcorn, Strawberry Daiquiri? Considering how close he came to a monster fantastic victory and a stars and stripes jersey, we’re going with Crushed Pineapple — although Bubble gum might also be the appropriate call since he was chewed up and then spit out.
We met Gavin three years ago when he was just another hopeful kid on Axel Merckx’s Bontrager-Trek development squad. Fellow teammate Lawson Craddock graduated to Giant-Alpecin, Nate Brown went to Cannonade Garmin and Jasper Stuyven moved up to Trek Factory Racing, all big name, large budget World Tour teams.
While Mannion put in some pretty decent performances in the Tour of California that year, he went from stagiare on Garmin to the domestic Continental Jelly Belly squad. Not big name (unless you’re a kid with a sweet tooth), not big budget, far from WorldTour.
That was a story that we wanted to keep an eye on, having interviewed Mannion at the TOC. In fact one of our favorite pictures we took that season was Mannion at the finish on Mount Baldy, exhausted, cored out, snot hanging off his chin. In any case, nice kid, genuine, hard-working.
So when we tuned into the national championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee, we were excited to see Mannion at the front, then very front of the race. At one point it was just two former Bontrager buddies, Joe Dombrowski and Mannion, chase group number one, trying to catch Busche.
There was a lot on the line for plenty of riders on that rainy, humid day, arguably the highest profile day of racing in the US all year. Tyler Farrar was looking for a big success after a slow start to his season and no podiums in California. Optum’s Phil Gaimon hoped that a big result could get him back in the big leagues. And then there was Kid Mannion, the Jelly Belly boy, looking to do something massive to jump to the WorldTour.
Once Busche and Dombrowski dropped him, Mannion kept on in solitary pursuit but without too much success. With the finish line in sight, that third place, podium step vanished as Kiel Reijnen (UnitedHealthcare), Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin) and even the one-lung wonder, 43 year old Chris Horner shot past.
Mannion missed taking third by about six seconds. Count that six second out after a hard race in driving rain, knowing that six second was perhaps the difference between another year as a Jelly Bean and something less sugary and more impressive.
6th place is a fine ride in the US National Championship Road Race. Is it the kind of ride that takes you someplace special?