For the fourth consecutive year the US Professional Road Cycling Championships return to Greenville, South Carolina where the American professional peloton will compete for the stars and stripes jersey in the time trial on Saturday, August 29 and the road race on Sunday, August 30. While several of the American peloton's top riders are overseas contesting the Vuelta a España, including Garmin Slipstream's Tyler Farrar and Tom Danielson as well as Chris Horner (Astana), many of America's ProTour professionals will line up alongside the country's UCI Professional Continental and UCI Continental teams to determine the holders of the coveted jerseys for the next 12 months.
The first jersey to be awarded this upcoming weekend will be for the time trial, a 20.7-mile (33.4km) event consisting of three 6.9-mile circuits at the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research. The odds-on favourite for victory will be the three-time and defending champion Dave Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) on the flat, technical circuit. The Utah native's race schedule has been light since the Tour de France, having only competed at the Clasica San Sebastian prior to suiting up for the recently concluded Tour of Utah. Zabriskie placed second in the Tour of Utah's opening prologue, won by Brent Bookwalter (BMC), and fifth in the stage three 14.5-kilometre time trial, won by Tom Zirbel (Bissell Pro Cycling).
"Yes, it is the plan to get the cobwebs out of my legs before nationals," said Zabriskie after the Tour of Utah's prologue. "I can definitely feel some today."
Zabriskie will be facing stiff competition from 2008 runner up Tom Zirbel (Bissell Pro Cycling) who finished only five seconds behind the Garmin-Slipstream rider in 2008 and has made winning the national championship his primary goal for the 2009 season. Zirbel received a confidence boost at the Tour of Utah when he bested Zabriskie by 23 seconds in winning stage three's 14.5-kilometre race against the clock. He attributed Zabriskie's 2008 championship win to his superior technical ability on the twisting national championship circuit and Zirbel has focused on his cornering in order to claim the national title from Zabriskie.
Zabriskie's Garmin-Slipstream teammate Steven Cozza, fourth in 2008, will be back to contest for the national championship. Cozza competed at Germany's Vattenkill Cyclassics earlier and August and just wrapped up the Eneco Tour.
Other riders of note to watch out for on Saturday are Zirbel's teammate Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Pro Cycling Team), each having recently competed at the Tour of Utah. Bookwalter won the prologue and placed third behind Zirbel in the stage three time trial while Jacques-Maynes placed fourth in the prologue and sixth on stage three.
On Sunday the pros tackle the 110-mile (177km) national championship road race on the same parcours as 2008, with opening and closing circuits in downtown Greenville bookending four main loops featuring the challenging Paris Mountain. In addition to Paris Mountain, the August heat and humidity will surely play a role in the race which starts at 1 p.m. EST.
2008 champion Tyler Hamilton (Rock Racing) will not return to Greenville having retired following a doping suspension and last year's runner-up Blake Caldwell (Garmin-Slipstream) will also be absent while still recovering from a fractured femur suffered in April.
Local favourite George Hincapie (Team Columbia-HTC), a Greenville, South Carolina resident, looks to earn his third professional road title on Sunday. The 36-year-old Hincapie finished the 2009 Tour de France with a fractured collarbone, but has recovered to close out his season at the US national championships and the Tour of Missouri. Hincapie previously won in 2006, the first year the championships were held in Greenville, and in 1998 when the race was contested in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with an international field.
Another Team Columbia-HTC resident of Greenville, the 24-year-old Craig Lewis, was expected to line up on Sunday looking to improve on his ninth place finish from last year, but the flu will keep him off of the start line.
Five additional riders who finished in the top-10 in 2008 return to Greenville, including Garmin-Slipstream's Danny Pate, third last year, Jeff Louder (BMC Pro Cycling Team), fifth in 2008, Andrew Bajadali (Kelly Benefit Strategies), seventh, Christopher Jones (Team Type 1), eighth and Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell Pro Cycling), tenth.
Louder, Bajadali and Swindlehurst all arrive for the road race having recently competed in the Tour of Utah. Louder and Swindlehurst are on form and have their climbing legs ready to go having finished third and sixth on general classification respectively while Bajadali was forced to retire due to sickness on the fourth stage.
Bissell Pro Cycling has a slight numbers advantage in the road race, as Ben Jacques-Maynes and Swindlehurst will have eight teammates to support them. Garmin-Slipstream will start nine riders, including last year's bronze medalist Danny Pate. Team OUCH p/b Maxxis starts eight riders, with several strong options to rely on including Floyd Landis, Chris Baldwin, Tim Johnson, and Pat McCarty. Three teams will field seven-rider squads, including Team Type 1, led by Chris Jones, BMC Pro Cycling Team, featuring Tony Cruz, Bookwalter and Louder, as well as Kelly Benefit Strategies, featuring two riders who've garnered top finishes in Greenville in previous years: Neil Shirley, the 2007 bronze medalist, and Andrew Bajadali, sixth place in 2006.
Numbers alone may not be sufficient to guarantee a top placing, however, as Paris Mountain, coupled with the heat, has greatly reduced the peloton in size in previous years. Several riders are starting as sole representatives of their teams, such as Fly V Australia's Phil Zajicek and Cervélo TestTeam's Ted King, but may prove to be dark horses in the road race. Zajicek showed good form at the Tour of Utah where he finished a strong fifth overall, while King rode his first Grand Tour earlier in the season, finishing the Giro d'Italia while supporting fourth place finisher Carlos Sastre.