Amidst a thunderous ovation from his partisan Greenville, South Carolina crowd massed along the finishing straight, George Hincapie (Team Columbia-HTC) sprinted to his third US professional road championship on Sunday, besting breakaway companions Andrew Bajadali (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Jeff Louder (BMC Racing Team).
Hincapie was part of an eight-rider move that formed on the final climb up the 185-kilometre course's decisive feature, the four-kilometre ascent of Paris Mountain. Along with Hincapie, Bajadali and Louder, the leading octet consisted of Louder's teammate Brent Bookwalter, Bajadali's teammate Matthew Busche, Patrick McCarty (OUCH Presented by Maxxis), Chris Jones (Team Type 1) and Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia).
A chase group of nine closed to within 10 seconds of the Hincapie group nearing the finish of the fourth large lap, but the leading group of eight did not let the juncture take place. Among the nine pursuers were Jason Donald (Garmin-Slipstream), Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell Pro Cycling), Bradley White (OUCH Presented by Maxxis), Daniel Bowman and Neil Shirley (Kelly Benefit Strategies), Mike Creed and Shawn Milne (Team Type 1), Max Jenkins (Glud & Marstrand Horsens) and Jason McCartney (Team Saxo Bank).
The eight leaders led the nine chasers by 30 seconds after the first of three 6.8-kilometre finishing circuits in downtown Greenville and steadily extended their lead to over one minute entering the final short lap.
Jeff Louder (BMC Racing Team) attacked the leading group half way through the final circuit, jumping out to a 10-second advantage. All eyes in the break were on hometown favourite Hincapie to react to Louder's move, and the Columbia-HTC rider made a powerful surge with one kilometre to go. Bajadali was the only other rider from the leading group to react to Hincapie's move and the chasing duo caught Louder with 500 metres remaining.
Bajadali launched his sprint from 300 metres out and momentarily gapped Hincapie, but the Columbia-HTC rider managed to come around Bajadali in the final 150 metres to claim his third career stars and stripes jersey. Louder crossed the line in third to earn the bronze medal three second later.
"It was very emotional for me since it's my hometown," said Hincapie. "To be able to win with all that pressure, I had the whole city wanting me to win, is a great feeling once it's done. Before it's not such a great feeling because you're stressing out about the race.
"I was sitting with my buddies before the race and I said 'knock on wood, I haven't cramped in a while', but that last kilometre it was full-on cramps the whole way. When I attacked to go after Jeff I knew Andy was behind me and I was praying that he was suffering as much as I was. I knew that if I could get to 200 metres with these guys that I could win."
The roar of applause from the crowd as Hincapie raised his arms in victory metres from the finish line was music to Hincapie's ears. "The last kilometre I was full gas so I didn't hear much [applause]. I could just feel that my legs were on fire. With 25 metres to go I really heard it and it was exciting."
Despite Sunday's championship being Hincapie's first race since finishing the Tour de France with a broken collarbone, his seven companions could see that he was the man to beat. "To me it was obvious that George was the fastest guy and the strongest, particularly the way that he rode Paris Mountain," said Louder. "I knew that if we went to the line as a group that it wasn't going to work. I knew that it had to be a solo move if I had a chance. I just looked for the right opportunity and made sure it was close enough to the line that it had a chance.
"I can't really be ashamed of how I ended up, I didn't hold anything back at all."
Andrew Bajadali had found himself with George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer in the endgame of the first US professional championship hosted by Greenville in 2006, only to falter and finish sixth. Three years later Bajadali would again be bested by Hincapie, but only in the final 150 metres.
"I really didn't want to go to the line with Hincapie in a sprint, it just came down the way," said Bajadali. "Louder put in a really good attack that looked good for a while.
"In the last few kilometres there are a lot of hills and you pay a price if you've been out there slaying it. Louder gave it his all and I knew Hincapie was going to go. He hit out really hard and I jumped right on his wheel. I almost didn't make it he went so hard.
"My only shot was to really hit out with about 300 metres to go and just go for it. I actually got a gap on him. I was cramping and he was cramping but he got on me and that was it. He's got a really fast finish, everyone knows that.
"I gave it my all, the team gave it it's all. It's hard because there's only one result at a national title. You can't be excited about that, or why go racing? It's great for the team, but I want to come back and win. It's all about winning. It's a national jersey and you want to wear it."
Zabriskie gone wild
Moments after the 95-strong peloton rolled off the S. Main Street start line in downtown Greenville, newly crowned national time trial champion David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) launched a blistering attack on the first of three opening 6.8-kilometre circuits. Zabriskie was joined momentarily by Andy Baker (Team Mountain Khakis), but the 30-year-old Utah native dispatched Baker on the second opening circuit and set out on a lengthy solo venture.
Zabriskie crested the first of four ascents of Paris Mountain on the 36.2-kilometre full laps with a three-minute advantage over the peloton. By the time the Garmin-Slipstream rider arrived back in Greenville at the lap's conclusion the gap to the peloton had risen to 4:20.
As Zabriskie motored away on the drops heading out of Greenville for his second full lap, a fifteen-rider escape group set out in pursuit of the lone leader. Included in the attack were Mike Friedman (Garmin-Slipstream), Antonio Cruz, Jonathan Garcia and Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team), Tom Zirbel, Sheldon Deeny and Paul Mach (Bissell Pro Cycling), Roman Kilun (OUCH Presented by Maxxis), Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly Cycling Team), Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies), Charles Marzot (Team Mountain Khakis), William Dugan and Chris Jones (Team Type 1), Jonathan Hamblen (DLP Racing) and Ben King (Trek Livestrong).
As the chase group topped Paris Mountain for the second time, its deficit to Zabriskie stood at 1:45. A largely intact peloton crossed the spectator-laden summit only 1:15 later. After a blistering descent of Paris Mountain, with speeds approaching 100 km/h, the peloton absorbed the chase group leaving Zabriskie still out in front, although clearly beginning to feel the strain of his escape. After spending 91 kilometres off the front, nearly half the race, Zabriskie was caught inside of two kilometres remaining on the second full lap.
Heading out once again towards Paris Mountain on the third large loop, four riders attacked the peloton. Alex Howes (Garmin-Slipstream), Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team), Chris Jones (Team Type 1) and Ben King (Trek Livestrong) comprised the escape and their lead soon stretched out to more than three minutes over the field with Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) chasing solo in no man's land in between.
On the third ascent of Paris Mountain the break split in half under the impetus of Howes and Jones who dropped their two companions. The two worked well together on the rolling terrain heading back to Greenville after the Paris Mountain descent, but their lead had dropped to 1:00 nearing the end of their third full lap.
Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling) bridged solo to the two leaders in the early kilometres of the final long lap and the gap to the peloton lengthened with the additional horsepower. As soon as the trio hit the final ascent of Paris Mountain, however, the trio once again became a duo as Pipp couldn't handle the pace. Half way up the climb Jones dropped Howes while the peloton was fast approaching and being decimated by first Craig Lewis (Team Columbia-HTC) and then teammate George Hincapie.
Howes, 21, winner of both the 2009 U23 road race and criterium national championships while an amateur on Garmin-Slipstream's development team, was called up as a trainee for the professional road race less than 30 days after earning his twin stars and stripes jerseys.
"I didn't really have the best legs, but I wasn't feeling too bad," said Howes. "Chris Jones was going really well today and dropped me like a rock on Paris Mountain. From there on I wasn't able to hang on to the front group like I had hoped."
"We hit the climb and Frank dropped off," said Jones. "It was just Alex and I. He's really strong so it was good to have him there. He was a good breakaway companion today. I think he ended up cramping the last time up the climb. I could hear the time splits and I knew that George was coming across.
"I knew that I had to make it to the top of the climb before George. George and Busche caught me right at the top of the climb, right at the steep section where all the people are."
And then there were eight
Soon after the leading trio of Hincapie, Busche and Jones topped Paris Mountain for the last time, five riders bridged across the gap to make the championship's decisive move. Joining the three leaders were Bajadali, Louder, Bookwalter, McCarty and Zajicek.
"I was pretty cooked at that point and it was all I could do to hang on," said Jones. "I felt bad not being able to contribute, but realistically I'd been out there for three hours.
"I wouldn't have been able to sprint with George, he was obviously on really good form so I was just trying to hang there and pray that a couple of teammates could come across. Unfortunately that didn't happen."
A nine-rider chase group containing two of Jones' teammates came as close as 10 seconds to forming a 17-man selection, but the Hincapie group never permitted the union.
"Initially it was touch and go that we would hold off the back nine," said Louder. "Some of it was because we were goofing around a little bit. Some guys thought 'well I'm an individual and I'll have a free ride', but once they realized there were nine guys hunting us pretty aggressively everyone realized that it was better to try to ride."
The Hincapie group's renewed effort vanquished the hopes of their pursuers as the eight leaders held a 30-second margin after their first of three finishing circuits. The leaders worked together until the final three kilometres in which Louder made his solo bid for victory. Hincapie and Bajadali would bridge to the BMC rider with 500 metres remaining to set up Hincapie's third road championship.
It was all the more remarkable considering this was Hincapie's first race in six weeks after breaking his collarbone, and that he received yeoman's work on the three final ascents of Paris Mountain from his solitary teammate, the 24-year old Craig Lewis, still feeling the effects of the H1N1 virus- otherwise known as swine flu.
Lewis, also a Greenville, South Carolina resident, contracted the illness only six days prior to Sunday's championship after returning from the Tour of Ireland. "I felt like I was riding with a cold or antibiotics, just out of it. I wasn't connecting so much with my body I guess you could say. I was able to go semi-fast but I didn't have much to go very deep.
"The odds were against us. It shows how talented George is and how well he can read the race."
|1||George Hincapie (Team Columbia-HTC)||4:33:36|
|2||Andrew Bajadali (Kelly Benefit Strategies)||0:00:01|
|3||Jeff Louder (BMC Racing Team)||0:00:03|
|4||Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing Team)||0:00:07|
|5||Matthew Busche (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|6||Jonathan Mccarty (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)||0:00:13|
|7||Chris Jones (Team Type 1)|
|8||Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia)||0:00:23|
|9||Daniel Bowman (Kelly Benefit Strategies)||0:01:10|
|10||Shawn Milne (Team Type 1)||0:01:19|
|11||Neil Shirley (Kelly Benefit Strategies)||0:01:25|
|12||Mike Creed (Team Type 1)||0:01:26|
|13||Jason Donald (Garmin-Slipstream)||0:01:27|
|14||Max Jenkins (Glud & Marstrand Horsens)||0:01:28|
|15||Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell Pro Cycling)||0:01:29|
|16||Bradley White (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)||0:01:30|
|17||Danny Pate (Garmin-Slipstream)||0:02:09|
|18||Jason Mccartny (Saxo Bank)|
|19||Jacob Rytlewski (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)||0:06:54|
|20||Andrew Guptill (Colavita-Sutter Homes p/b Cooking Light)|
|21||Benjamin Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling)||0:06:55|
|22||Timothy Johnson (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)|
|23||Antonio Cruz (BMC Racing Team)||0:06:56|
|24||Alexander Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies)||0:06:57|
|25||John Murphy (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)|
|26||Timmy Duggan (Garmin-Slipstream)|
|27||Craig Lewis (Team Columbia-High Road)||0:06:58|
|28||Tom Peterson (Garmin-Slipstream)|
|29||Ted King (Cervelo Test Team)||0:08:19|
|30||Kiel Reijnen (Jelly Belly Cycling Team)|
|31||Andrew Talansky (Amore e Vita - Life Time Fitness)||0:08:20|
|32||Jonathan Garcia (BMC Racing Team)|
|33||Floyd Landis (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)||0:08:21|
|34||Andy Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling)||5:10:58|
|35||Omer Kem (Bissell Pro Cycling)|
|36||Morgan Schmitt (Bissell Pro Cycling)|
|37||Roman Kilun (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)|
|38||Daniel Vaillancourt (Colavita-Sutter Homes p/b Cooking Light)|
|39||Tyler Wren (Colavita-Sutter Homes p/b Cooking Light)|
|40||Charles Marzot (Team Mountain Khakis)|
|41||William Dugan (Team Type 1)|
|42||Ivan Dominguez (Rock Racing)|
|43||James Camut (Land Rover - ORBEA)|
|DNF||David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream)|
|DNF||Alex Howes (Garmin-Slipstream)|
|DNF||Mike Friedman (Garmin-Slipstream)|
|DNF||Steven Cozza (Garmin-Slipstream)|
|DNF||Chad Beyer (BMC Racing Team)|
|DNF||Ian Mckissick (BMC Racing Team)|
|DNF||Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team)|
|DNF||Tom Zirbel (Bissell Pro Cycling)|
|DNF||Sheldon Deeny (Bissell Pro Cycling)|
|DNF||Graham Howard (Bissell Pro Cycling)|
|DNF||Paul Mach (Bissell Pro Cycling)|
|DNF||Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling)|
|DNF||Christopher Baldwin (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)|
|DNF||Jonathan Chodroff (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)|
|DNF||Bobby Lea (OUCH Presented By Maxxis)|
|DNF||Matthew Crane (Jelly Belly Cycling Team)|
|DNF||Phillip Gaimon (Jelly Belly Cycling Team)|
|DNF||Nicholas Reistad (Jelly Belly Cycling Team)|
|DNF||Bernard Vanulden (Jelly Belly Cycling Team)|
|DNF||Cheyne Hoag (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|DNF||Jonathan Mumford (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|DNF||Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies)|
|DNF||Richard Harper (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Christopher Monteleone (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Jonathan Parrish (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Justin Spinelli (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Tyler Stanfield (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Russell Stevenson (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Tim Swain (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Scottie Weiss (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Matthew Winstead (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Spinergy)|
|DNF||Andy Baker (Team Mountain Khakis)|
|DNF||Will Hoffarth (Team Mountain Khakis)|
|DNF||Daniel Ramsey (Team Mountain Khakis)|
|DNF||Thomas Soladay (Team Mountain Khakis)|
|DNF||Spencer Beamer (Team Mountain Khakis)|
|DNF||Charles Joe Eldridge (Team Type 1)|
|DNF||Kenneth Hanson (Team Type 1)|
|DNF||Daniel Holt (Team Type 1)|
|DNF||Ian Macgregor (Team Type 1)|
|DNF||Fred Rodriguez, (Rock Racing)|
|DNF||Sergio Hernandez (Rock Racing)|
|DNF||Jered Gruber (DLP Racing)|
|DNF||Boyd Johnson (DLP Racing)|
|DNF||Steven Gordon (DLP Racing)|
|DNF||Jonathan Hamblen (DLP Racing)|
|DNF||Timothy Henry (DLP Racing)|
|DNF||Andrew Olson (DLP Racing)|
|DNF||Joshua Bartlett (Land Rover - ORBEA)|
|DNF||Bobby Sweeting (Land Rover - ORBEA)|
|DNF||Wade Wolfenbarger (Cinelli-Down Under)|
|DNF||Ben King (Trek Livestrong)|