Two riders will win the right to wear the Stars and Stripes this weekend at the Greenville Hospital System USA Cycling Professional Championships in South Carolina.
The battle of the Zs. The time trial is shaping up to be a battle between 3-time TT Champion David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) and Tom Zirbel (BISSELL). The two men went head-to-head on the same course last year where Zabriskie bested Zirbel by a bit less than five seconds. A lot has happened since then, Zirbel has been blitzing his way through prologues and time trials at NRC races, quietly gaining confidence and last week beat Zabriskie at the Tour of Utah in their only match up this year. Granted it was the first race since the Tour de France for Zabriskie and came after two hard climbing stages and Zabriskie has managed to come through in the past being the only rider to win in Greenville since the championships moved to that location four years ago.
“Preparation wise it hasn’t changed much from last year, I’ve had this date marked on my calendar since about a year ago today” chuckled Zirbel. “I feel that I prepared myself for tomorrow’s course and I’m looking for it. I have more confidence in myself and my abilities this year, I’m excited to see how it plays out tomorrow.”
Only 20 riders are on the start list as many choose to rest their legs for Sunday’s road race, such as the BMC team. Other contenders include two-time U.S. Pro Time Trial Champion Chris Baldwin who showed promising form in Utah, Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit) who won the time trials in both Tour de Beauce and Vuelta at Uruguay, Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia), Mike Creed (Team Type 1) who has stated in the past that the TT is one of his major goals and Zirbel’s teammate Ben Jacques-Maynes who targeted the Tour of Utah as preparation.
Starting at 11:30am and then at two-minute intervals, the riders face a flat 33.3 km (20.7 mile) course comprised of three laps around a 11.1 km/6.9 mile circuit.
Wide open in the road race. While the time trial seems to be a 2-man battle, the road race is up for grabs with teams showing up with roster of 8, 9, 10 and more riders in order to get their hands on the coveted jersey. The 185.1 km/115.0 miles course is really divided into 3 sections, just like a meal, the appetizer is the 3 loops around the 4.18-mile short circuit followed by the heavy hitter of the 4 times around the big lap which includes the climb up Paris Mountain and for those still in the game, it finishes with 3 laps around the same short circuit.
The first time the race was held in Greenville in 2006, the ProTour riders worked together to put pressure on the field which shattered the third time, out of five, up Paris Mountain. Only 9 riders were allowed to start the finishing circuits, and George Hincapie took the win in his hometown.
In 2007, Levi Leipheimer broke away from the lead chase group on the second of four times up the climb and soloed away to victory. Last year, a select group of about 25 riders crested together the final time up Paris Mountain which was reduced to five riders after attacks. The riders at the front were Blake Caldwell, Danny Pate and Lucas Euser, all three from Garmin, Jeff Louder of BMC and Tyler Hamilton of Rock Racing. The tactical game was on and Hamilton took the honors besting Caldwell by two-hundreds of a second – decided by photo finish. Hamilton is not returning as he retired following a doping suspensio.
Hincapie (Columbia-HTC) will be racing solo as his teammate Craig Lewis has been diagnosed with the H1N1 virus. “It’s tough, my only hope is that I get lucky, get in a good breakaway or have phenomenal legs,even with that, it’s hard to beat a team of 10 riders, 15 riders. We’ll see, you can never give up hope before starting a race.” said Hincapie who is returning from a collarbone injury. “If everything goes well, I should be there with the best guys. ”
Hincapie hopes to play off other teams but he added with a chucke, “I’m sure they’ll be playing off of me a lot more.”
The Garmin team is bringing big numbers to try and get the jersey after missing their chance last year, but they’ll have a battle on their hands from teams such as BMC, BISSELL, OUCH and Kelly Benefit who are all hoping that the hard racing in Utah prepared their riders for the big race.
The racing starts Sunday at 1:00pm.