The USA Cycling Professional Road Championships are about to get underway in Knoxville, Tennessee, with titles in the individual time trial, criterium and road races for pro men and women. The event is held in conjunction with the Para-Cycling championships, turning the quaint town in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains into a massive cycling festival.
The racing begins in nearby Oak Ridge with the individual time trial on Thursday, June 27, followed by evening criteriums in downtown Knoxville. The riders get a day of rest on Saturday before tackling the challenging road race course on Sunday.
The time trial takes place on an 11.4km course along the Melton Hill Reservoir in Oak Ridge, with a flat start out and back on Melton Lake Drive, a second out and back on Union Valley Road, and a couple of small hills on a loop around Chestnut Ridge Park before a flat return to the finish. The men will cover three laps of the loop for 34.4km, while the women will compete over two laps for 22.9km.
The criterium championships take place on an undulating five-corner circuit in downtown Knoxville. The start/finish is in the heart of the city on Gay Street, turns left onto Hill Avenue before turning onto Women's Basketball Hall of Fame Drive, another left onto Church Avenue, a right onto State Street and then two quick lefts onto Clinch Avenue and Gay Street to return to the start/finish. The women race for 70 minutes starting at 6:00 p.m. The men will start at 7:25 for an 80-minute race.
The road race course is unchanged from 2018, with riders again taking on a tricky 12.9km circuit with the nearly 1km climb up Sherrod Street that kicks up to a 10 per cent gradient being the main launching pad for attacks.
Last year's winning move came after the climb when Jonny Brown slipped away on the second to last lap after the descent. Other winning moves have come on the short kicker before the finish and on East Hill Avenue with about two kilometres to go. The course is tough and the high temperatures typically turn the race into one of attrition. Sprint finishes are rare.
The women will race nine laps for 113.5km, starting at 9 a.m. The men's race starts at 1:15 and will feature 15 laps for 190.7km.
In the pro men's race, Knoxville has produced two unexpected champions, first Larry Warbasse who, on sparkling form after winning a stage at the Tour de Suisse, out-sprinted Neilson Powless and Alexey Vermeulen to take his first victory in 2017. Last year, Jonny Brown jumped away on the penultimate lap to become the youngest winner of the US Pro championships.
With most of the country's top riders remaining in Europe ahead of the Tour de France - there will be no Ben King, Taylor Phinney, Tejay van Garderen, Alex Howes, Lawson Craddock, Brent Bookwalter, Joe Dombrowski, Sepp Kuss or Chad Haga - the field is wide open for another unexpected champion.
There are a few riders who are hitting their stride and have challenged on this course in the past who should be considered top contenders, including Powless, Gavin Mannion (Rally UHC), Warbasse, Robin Carpenter (Rally UHC) and Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo).
A few other WorldTour riders have joined in and back for the first time since 2014 is Reijnen's teammate Peter Stetina, while Nate Brown (EF Education First) comes with teammates Logan Owen and Sean Bennett.
They'll have some talented young guns to go up against in U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Kevin Vermaerke, Tour de Beauce winner Brendan Rhim (Arapahoe-Hincapie), Giro di Sicilia winner Brandon McNulty (Rally UHC), new U23 national champion Lance Haidet (Aevolo) and teammates Michael Hernandez, U23 Criterium Champion and Alex Hoehn. Floyd's Pro Cycling have sprinter Travis McCabe in case the race comes back together, and Keegan Swirbul.
On the women's side, defending champion Coryn Rivera has recently been showing good form after a slow start to the season, and will be keen to take her first victory of the season and keep the jersey. However the field is deep this year, with 31 out of the 75 current registrants in the Women's WorldTour.
Top of the list should be Katie Hall (Boels Dolmans), who won the Mt. Baldy stage in the Tour of California Women's Race. But Hall will have to get rid of stronger sprinters like Rivera and the always impressive Chloe Dygert-Owen, who has finally returned to top form after a year of struggling with injuries.
Other top contenders include Amber Neben (Cogeas), Tayler Wiles and Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo), Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM) and Leah Thomas (Bigla).
In the time trials, look for the men's race to come down to Brandon McNulty and Neilson Powless, while the top contenders for the women's title are undoubtedly Amber Neben, Chloe Dygert, Ruth Winder, Tayler Wiles and Leah Thomas.
For the criteriums, look for Summer Moak (Rally UHC), Kendall Ryan (Tibco), and Skylar and Sam Schneider to go up against Rivera, while on the men's side Ty Magner (Rally UHC), Michael Hernandez (Aevolo), and Travis McCabe (Floyd's) are top riders to watch.
Cyclingnews will have a full report, results, photo gallery and exclusive news from the USA Cycling Professional Road Championships.