In 2011, the junior cyclist warmed up for the USA Cycling National Championships time trials on Furys Ferry Road.
A car that was traveling quickly hit her and sped off.
Van Ekdom spent a night at a local hospital with several bruises but no broken bones.
“That wasn’t exactly a lot of fun,” she said. “I decided I wanted to come back down this year, and I’m really happy that I did. I came back to win the road race.”
The 16-year-old van Ekdom accomplished her goal Wednesday afternoon, making a late charge to the finish line to claim the Women’s 15-16 national title at the Fort Gordon Junior Championship Circuit.
Van Ekdom finished the 55-kilometer course with a time of 1 hour, 43 minutes and 6 seconds. She edged JETCycling teammate Laurel Rathbun, who also finished with a time of 1:43:06. Janelle Cole finished third, Zoe Reeves placed fourth and Hannah Swan fifth.
Rathbun, of Monument, Colo., improved upon her fourth-place finish a year ago. She has two more opportunities to add medals this week with the time trials today and the criterium Friday.
“It was awesome,” Rathbun said. “I’m so happy for Claire.”
Van Ekdom was one of five winners in the day’s junior road race competition. Skylar Schneider won the Women’s Junior 13-14 race, while Megan Doherty won the Women’s Junior 10-12 class. Gage Hecht claimed the Men’s Junior 13-14, while Adam Croft took the Men’s Junior 10-12 title.
Van Ekdom, of Chevy Chase, Md., kept her race together after avoiding a crash when a rider in front of her slammed on her brakes going around a curve. Then, she and her teammates lost track of the number of laps remaining when they heard the bell for the final of five laps – they thought they had two laps remaining.
“We were a little surprised, because the team was planning to do an attack at the very end,” she said. “But that never happened.”
As van Ekdom neared the finish line, she unleashed her stored energy and started passing other riders. When she heard a random man yell “Go!” she did.
“Everyone tells me I can’t sprint,” van Ekdom said. “I just kind of went and wasn’t really expecting it. More than anything else, I’m just shocked.”