By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Greenville, South Carolina
Danny Pate (Garmin-Chipotle) has a love-hate relationship with the USPRO championships. Seven times before he has been in the final selection for the stars and stripes and each time he has come up just short. In 2002 he finished third, just behind Mark Walters and Chann McRae. Since then he has finished third two more times (2004, 2006) and second once (2005). On Sunday he found himself once again in the right spot, and with the best chance he has ever seen. But some late race cramping in his legs put the top prize out of reach, and he once again settled for third.
"Today is most frustrating of all because it seems today would have been the easiest for me to win of all the times I have been top five," he said, referring to his team having a clear numbers advantage with three of the final five. "Like in Philly, when Chann won... and was basically pulled to the finish line! [Ed. Chann McRae is now assistant director for Garmin-Chipotle.] I had no choice but to pull all the way to the line. But this time I really had a chance to try to win."
"All of a sudden with two laps to go I had horrible cramps which I normally don't get. Then it switched to [my teammates] racing for themselves instead of them racing for me."
The cramping was so bad he was pounding his legs with his fist to get the muscles to release. "At one point I thought I was going to have to stop."
His teammates, Blake Caldwell and Lucas Euser, were part of the five riders in the final selection. Caldwell ended up attacking the group and battling Tyler Hamilton for the win, with the photo finish going to Hamilton. Pate recovered enough in the meantime to win the sprint for third. "It ended up that I was able to get back and then get third in the sprint. It's a bummer but in my head it was the right choice to send those two guys. The other guys were keying off me the most."
There has been some criticism in recent years that his team has an unfair advantage putting so many riders on the start line – this year with fourteen registered and ten actually starting.
"Maybe we do but we're giving jobs to Americans so we should have the advantage at nationals!" he said. "We brought a good team but I think other teams brought big teams too, unlike previous years where we would have more guys than anyone. If other teams want to hire Americans then they can do that too. Finally teams like BMC are doing that and have ten good guys here, which is doing a lot for cycling in the US."
Pate himself turned some criticism around, pointing out the fact that he has never been tested at a USPRO race. "I've been in the top five seven times, and I've never been tested," said Pate. "I'm not making an implication about anyone racing here today, but I am disappointed."