In a sport that values mental toughness and confidence, Max Korus and Robin Farina admitted they probably weren't the favorites going into the USA Cycling National Championships' final day of competition Sunday.
Both had to fight off a look of surprise after taking the podium as the men's and women's elite road race national champions, taming the Maj. Matthew P. Burke, M.D., Championship Course at Fort Gordon.
Farina claimed the women's title by beating two other cyclists at the stripe 3 hours, 16 minutes and 34 seconds into the 120-kilometer race.
Korus passed runner-up Jesse Moore with about 300 meters left in the men's 168-kilometer race.
"You always want to go in with aspirations of winning," Korus said. "But this is only my second year of racing, so anything top 20 would have been phenomenal. This is just out of this world."
Farina, who trains in Charlotte, N.C., said her acclimation to the South's summer heat prepared her.
"I knew I had to be patient, and I knew that this was a race of attrition, especially today with it being so hot," she said. "So I just wanted to wait, wait, wait and be patient, kind of let some early moves go and just kind of sit with a couple certain people, and it just panned out today."
Korus got a boost from younger teammate Robin Carpenter, who finished 17th in the men's U23 road race Saturday.
"He was able to give us a lot of feedback about the course, so we really tried to lay back and save our team and let the other teams do a lot of the work early on," Korus said.
"After having seen how devastated the U23 field was yesterday, all the teams were interested in keeping a short leash on the early break, keeping it kind of relaxed for the first 80 miles or so, because once you went into the red it was very hard to recover in the heat," Korus said. Korus was part of a 15-man break that built almost a minute lead over the peloton with one lap of the 24-kilometer circuit remaining. Moore took the lead on the final climb, but Korus stayed on his back wheel, then overtook him in the final sprint.
"I felt like there was nothing more I could have done. I'm thankful it turned out to be enough," Korus said. "(Moore) is a great rider, and I wasn't sure I had enough to come around him."
His winning time of 4:04:08 marked the end of the five-day cycling championships. Augusta's first time playing host to the annual event included competition in Columbia County, with the national time trials at Thurmond Dam, and in downtown Augusta for the national criterium championships. The event will return to Augusta in 2012.
"It's a great area, and it obviously shows in our registrations. We set records," national events manager Tony Leko said. "It's easily accessible. We have a strong base out here in the South and the East, and they came out in droves. The majority of the feedback I'm getting is all positive. We're happy to be back next year."