US-only road race and time trial planned for 2006
By Mark Zalewski
USA Cycling has announced that the 2006 US professional championships will take place in Greenville, South Carolina with the road race on September 2, 2006 and a time trial on August 31. The 2006 races will be restricted to US citizens who must be members of UCI-registered trade teams. The move is a departure from the championships' traditional venue of Philadelphia where it has been held since its inception in 1985.
USA Cycling's Sean Petty told Cyclingnews that the contract with Threshold Sports, the promoter of the Philadelphia race, expired this year and that once the negotiation period had passed the event was opened to general bidding. "How we arrived here was that our contract with Threshold expired this year. So after their period of negotiation passed, we put it out for bid. This ended up being the best bid -- it's strong in terms of the city, corporate and organisation support."
The need for a change to the format of the championship has been debated for years, with some arguing that closing the race to foreign riders would weaken the competition -- while others have argued that U.S. riders are much stronger than they were twenty years ago. The latter was the argument used in deciding to change the format.
"When it started in 1985, there were only ten or fifteen U.S. professionals, so you couldn't have it just as a national-only championships," Petty explained. "Of course [U.S. cycling] grew quickly, but we continued to tie into the support of Wachovia the whole time, along with the support of the city of Philadelphia. But we felt the time was right to have a US only championship."
Another significant change is the date -- much different from the current weekend in June and also different from the national championships weekend of most other countries, usually the final weekend in June. "We surveyed some of the guys informally -- George, Levi and Floyd said it was a good time, that there was less pressure without the grand tours," said Petty. The hope is that with most of the season out of the way, top European-based Americans will be able to take time away from their UCI team's racing goals. In mid-June a lot of teams are recovering from the Giro d'Italia or focusing on the Tour de France.
When asked if the exclusion of foreign riders will hinder the participation of Americans on teams consisting of mostly-foreign riders, Petty responded, "A lot of the domestic teams have foreign riders too. And Freddie has won without a strong team behind him before -- he's done it because he's one of the best riders."
The weekend will also include a first-ever USPRO time trial race, increasing the chances that the stars and stripes jersey might be worn in the prologue of a grand tour. The title sponsors of the event include The Cliffs Communities, a group of gated residential communities in the heart of the Carolina Preserve, and regional cable provider Charter Communications. Medalist Sports, organisers of the Tour de Georgia, and Southern Hospitality Group Event will run the event.
The new format events will be organised by Medalist Sports and Southern Hospitality Group Event Management with sponsorship from The Cliffs Communities and Charter Communications. "This event will truly showcase the best of the best American cycling talent," said USA Cycling chief executive officer Gerard Bisceglia. "After a rich history in Philadelphia, the USPRO event has become the benchmark of one-day professional cycling in this country and with the support of The Cliffs and Charter Communications, as well as the unparalleled commitment of the folks at Medalist Sports and Southern Hospitality Group, we fully expect that the USPRO event will thrive in Greenville."
More details on the course and other aspects of the event will be in a forthcoming press conference later this month.