This weekend brings in the U.S. Professional National Championships in Greenville, South Carolina, and the story is as much who will be there as who won’t.
George Hincapie, David Zabriskie and defending champs Taylor Phinney and Ben King top the list of starters. Chris Horner, Levi Leipheimer and Christian Vande Velde are among the country’s top riders choosing to skip nationals and focus instead on the upcoming Tour de Suisse and Critérium du Dauphiné.
With Brent Bookwalter and Jeff Louder in the mix, Hincapie and Phinney headline a BMC Racing squad with four riders capable of the win in Monday’s road race. Before that, Phinney will look to defend his TT title against a field that includes Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervélo), Tom Zirbel (Jamis-Sutter Home), Scott Zwizanski (UnitedHealthcare) and Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly-Kenda). Unlike recent years, there is a day off between races, and there should be more than three riders capable of making the podium. Guys like Danny Pate (HTC-Highroad) and Bookwalter may give a solid effort in the TT.
Hincapie, a three-time pro national champion and the only rider to win on his hometown Greenville course twice, will headline what may be his penultimate nationals. King (RadioShack) earned his 2010 title with a long-shot breakaway from the first kilometer and after a solid Amgen Tour in support of overall winner Chris Horner, he’ll be back for his first ride without the stars-and-stripes jersey in almost nine months (because of the date change from August to June, King didn’t get a full year in the jersey —unless he wins again).
The tactics that play out between the European and domestic professionals are always interesting (and often negative) in this race and picking favorites is a challenge. That said, with many of the ProTeam heavies missing, Greenville may see more dynamic racing. Bookwalter, Pate, Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth), Cole House (Realcyclist.com), Alex Howes (Chipotle Development) and Ted King (Liquigas-Cannondale) should be counted among the top men heading into Monday’s road race.
USA Cycling moved nationals to May this year for two reasons: to accrue UCI points toward Olympic qualifying and attract top European-based riders between the Amgen Tour and Tour de Suisse. With many of the top guns from RadioShack and Garmin opting out with sponsor and family responsibilities, the field in Greenville resembles that of recent years.