Joey Rosskopf didn’t start out his cycling career with aspirations to race in the Tour de France. He just enjoyed joining loosely organized group bike rides around Atlanta, meeting up with fellow cyclists in Avondale Estates, Little Five Points or Northlake Mall.
But more than a decade later, the 29-year-old Decatur native is spending his July riding through France in the most competitive and well-known cycling race in the world. It’s his first Tour de France, and he’s one of just four Americans competing this year.
“The attention put on the race is unlike anything I’ve experienced,” Rosskopf said in a phone interview from the French Vosges Mountains. He had just finished racing 100 miles on the sixth day of the 21-day Grand Tour. (Grand Tours are the three major European pro cycling races.) “Today was definitely the hardest stage so far. The first real mountain tests.”
Rosskopf signed with his pro cycling team when he was 25, and has raced in four previous Grand Tours. His 24-person squad, CCC Pro Team, qualified for the Tour de France and was able to send eight men.
The Decatur High School graduate has been racing around Atlanta and Georgia since he was in his teens. It helped that his father, Ken Rosskopf, 80, is a competitive cyclist who continues to race. (Just last month he won two races in his age group in the 2019 National Senior Games.)
“It’s helped our relationship and respect for one another,” Ken Rosskopf said, days before leaving for a trip to see his son race in France. “I know what he has to go through to accomplish what he’s accomplished.”
Ken Rosskopf remembers when his son first joined him on bike rides around Decatur, and occasionally struggled to get up some hills. Early on, Joey Rosskopf said, he used his father’s hand-me-down equipment.
The proud parents now plan to bring a group of 23 friends and family to France to follow the race and see Rosskopf along the way. Until then, they gathered at a friend’s house in Decatur to watch the race live on TV.
“We’ve been able to pick him out a couple of times,” his mother, Linda Rosskopf, said. With 176 riders participating, it can be tough to keep track of him, but his team’s bright orange jersey certainly helps. “It’s just really exciting to see him reach this point and be so thrilled,” she added. “This is the Grand Tour.”
As a first-timer racing in such a high-level competition, Joey Rosskopf’s goal isn’t necessarily to be wearing the winner’s yellow jersey when he crosses the finish line on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. If anyone on his team were to win a stage of the tour, he said, he would consider that a huge victory.
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One of the most exciting aspects of the race for Rosskopf has been seeing the large turnout of spectators across the French countryside. Usually, he said, long, rural road races don’t draw too many onlookers. But the Tour de France is no regular race.
“There’s just small town after small town, and the roads are lined with people coming out,” he said. “We whiz by in 30 seconds.”
When he’s not racing competitively around the world, Rosskopf comes home to Decatur and gives back to the local cycling community. He hosts annual “Ride with Joey” fundraisers, with the proceeds supporting the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition and a local junior cycling team.
After the Tour de France wraps up, he might set his sights on competing for the United States in the 2020 Olympics; he has already twice won the national title in the “Time Trial Championships,” a 20-mile road cycling race.
He didn’t compete in the national championships this year, but metro Atlanta was still well-represented. A fellow Decatur native, 21-year-old Ian Garrison, took home the 2019 gold medal.
“The water in Decatur’s really good,” Ken Rosskopf said.
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