Here we are once again in Greenville SC for the sixth year in a row, for the Greenville Hospital System USA Cycling Professional Championships, but this time it’s in May. For the first time ever the event will be contested over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to better align with the international calendar. Also back this year is a one-day break between the Time Trial and the Road Race.
With the move to May, at 42 riders the hope for a bigger field did materialize for the time trial (the one-day break probably helped more) with the field for the road race coming in at 102 riders, 20 more than last year. However, citing scheduling issues many of the ProTour riders, including Amgen Tour of California overall winner Chris Horner and his Radioshack teammate Levi Leipheimer, have declined to start. But the two defending champions Time Trial Champion Taylor Phinney (BMC) and Road Race Champion Ben King (Radioshack) are back to defend only 8 months after their victory.
It will also be interesting to see how the move to May changes the road race, with many of the domestic team coming in right after the tough race at the Amgen Tour of California and in theory, better fitness than in previous years. The domestic teams are fielding all their American riders, time to see who has recovered well.
Can anyone beat David Zabriskie in the TT? After seeing his commanding win at the Tour of California TT, the 4-time National TT Champion is definitely the favorite going into the race. The Garmin-Cervelo rider did not race at last year’s event.
BMC’s Brent Bookwalter and HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen are also men to watch, as is Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly) who finished third last year. Two unknowns are Scott Zwizanski (UnitedHealthcare) and Tom Zirbel (Jamis/Sutter Home), both could do well if on a good day. Zwizanski skipped the Tour of California due to illness and just back from a reduced doping suspension, Zirbel rode strongly up Mt Baldy after a disastrous TT plagued a nasty mechanical at California. (See TT roster)
The Road Race always brings about interesting tactics, with many looking at the ProTeams to assume the chase of the early break. A tactic that backfired on the field last year. The favorite into the race has to be BMC’s George Hincapie, a Greenville resident who has won here twice in the past. But I think Bookwalter is the man to watch on the BMC team for Sunday’s race. King will only have two teammates to help defend his title with Matthew Busche also a threat for the win. Zabriskie is riding solo and will probably be helping out the Chipotle Development team, the U23 feeder team for Garmin-Cervelo. Three riders to watch are Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) who finished second last year, Frank Pipp (BISSELL) and Tyler Wren (Jamis/Sutter Home) – all three are riding very strong, maybe with the form of their lives. With stronger Continental teams and smaller ProTeams, the dynamics of the race on Sunday may develop differently this year. (See RR roster)
Reminder that the Championships this weekend are only for American Men riding on UCI Professional teams, be it at Continental, Pro Continental or ProTeam level. All other National Titles for Elite Men, Women, U23 and Junior will be awarded on June 21-26 in Augusta, GA.
Time Trial. Same 20.7-mile (33km) course as last year. Starting at 11:30 am ET on Saturday, riders face 3 loops around a flat, technical 6.9-mile (11.1-km) circuit at CU-ICAR. Last year’s fastest time, set by Phinney, was 41:02. In 2009, Zabriskie clocked 39:37 on the same course. (See pdf map)
Road Race. Monday brings the road race and its 4-times up Paris Mountain. The 115-mile (185.1 km) course is really divided into 3 sections, starting off with the 3 loops around the 4.18-mile short circuit followed by the heavy hitter of the 4 times around the 20.8-mile loop which includes the climb up Paris Mountain and for those still in the game, it finishes with 3 laps around the same short circuit. Racing starts at 11 am ET with estimated finish time around 3:30pm. (See pdf map)
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 Hincapie took the win in his hometown. In 2007, Leipheimer broke away from the lead chase group on the second of four times up the climb and soloed away to victory. The following 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 tactical game was on and Tyler Hamilton took the honors besting Blake Caldwell of Garmin by two-hundreds of a second – decided by photo finish. Hamilton was later suspended for doping.
In 2009, an 8-rider select group escaped the fourth and final time up Paris Mountain and made their way to the 3 finishing circuits. The attacks flew on the final short lap with Jeff Louder (BMC) going on a solo flyer but he was chased down by eventual winner, and future teammate Hincapie who outsprinted Andy Bajadali (Kelly Benefit) for the win. Louder finished third. Last year, King made it into an early 3-rider break and then solo’ed for the victory in a great show of grit and determination. While King was in the break, the game of chicken in the field went full balst with everyone looking at BMC to chase. They waited. Out of the 12-rider chase group, Candelario took the sprint for second ahead of Kiel Reijnen (then with Jelly Belly p/b Kenda now with Team Type 1-sanofi aventis).
In its 5 years of racing in Greenville, the wining formula has changed every year, from a solo rider, to a late race attack from a break to a select group. What will happen this year and who will take the Stars & Stripes? What do YOU think?
Monday’s road race will be streamed live online at www.usacyclingchampionships.com. A one-hour wrap show will also air on the Versus network Sunday, June 5 at 4 p.m. EST.