US Pro: Contenders line up in Knoxville to vie for stars and stripes - Preview

Defending champions return for road race, while time trial is wide open

Since USA Cycling moved the US Pro national championships from the end of May to the end of June, the proximity on the calendar to the Tour de France has meant some of the top riders have decided to skip, but there are still plenty of contenders for the four stars and stripes jerseys on offer.

Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac), the defending time trial champion, will skip the race, his team confirmed to Cyclingnews, as he stays in Europe with the hope of being selected to race his first Tour de France, which begins next week. However, defending road race champion Greg Daniel (Trek-Segafredo) will compete alongside teammate Kiel Reijnen to form a formidable two-man team.

On the women's side, last year's time trial champion Carmen Small is still on the sidelines, suffering the effects of a head injury from a crash in March. Road race champion Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) will be on her own for her title defence, and has question mark over her form after her season has also been hampered by a concussion.

This leaves a wide open race for all four titles on a new course and a new week. For the first time in its history, the US Pro championships will coincide with the rest of the world's nationals in the last weekend of June, and makes its debut in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Saturday's time trial takes place on an undulating 7.7km loop from Knoxville's Old Town with a turnaround along the banks of the Tennessee River. The men will do four laps for 30.7km, while the women will each do three circuits for 23km.

Junior world time trial champion Brandon McNulty will make his debut in the pro championships, taking on the likes of BMC's Brent Bookwalter, last year's third place finisher Alexey Vermeulen (LottoNl-Jumbo), and Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling).

On the women's side, Amber Neben will come in as the top favourite, but will have a host of challengers hoping to say they've defeated the world champion, in particular Tayler Wiles (UnitedHealthcare), Leah Thomas (Sho Air-Twenty20), Brianna Walle and Lauren Stephens (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank), and Alison Tetrick (Cylance).

For Sunday's road races, the course lengthens out to a 12.7km city circuit that heads across the Tennessee River into South Knoxville where riders will face a somewhat complicated section of the route that overlaps on itself, does a U-turn and then heads back to Old Town. The main difficulty is a short, sharp climb up Sherrod street that reaches gradients in the double digits. The finish itself is flat, but a few rises on the run-in could provide a launch pad for attacks that could complicate life for the sprinters.

The women will race 8 laps for 101km, while the men race for 14 laps for a total of 176.9km.

With Guarnier's season off to a less-than-ideal start, the door is wide open for Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb), the Tour of Flanders winner who has scarcely finished outside the top 10 all season, to finally put an elite road national championship title to her name after two years of finishing second to Guarnier.

Ruth Winder (UnitedHealthcare) has to be the top rival for Rivera after dominating on the domestic circuit. Winder has racked up a dozen wins so far this season, including the overall Redlands Classic and Joe Martin stage races, and two recent stages of the North Star Grand Prix and third place overall.

The race of the men's side is wide open, with no overwhelming favourite. All eyes will be on Reijnen, who has been on the podium three times in his career but will look to throw off the bad luck that has plagued his national title attempts. Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthcare) has shown himself to be one of the fastest sprinters in the bunch, and teams like Holowesko-Citadel and Jelly Belly will most certainly attack to distance him if they can, though Holowesko have Ty Magner and John Murphy to rival McCabe in the sprint.

Axeon Hagens Berman has its own formidable sprinter in Logan Owen, though he fractured his wrist at the U23 Giro d'Italia. They have plenty of other options, however: Ian Garrison scored an impressive win in Tour de Beauce, Neilson Powless won a stage in the U23 Giro, and Will Barta finished just off the podium in the U23 Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

The team with the most firepower, however, will be Rally Cycling, who come into the race with now fewer than 12 riders, including Huffman, sprinters Brad Huff and Eric Young, and young standout riders like McNulty, Sepp Kuss and Colin Joyce, who recently won the North Star Grand Prix overall.

With plenty of twists, turns, climbs and short descents, the Knoxville course will provide a perfect venue for a day of aggressive racing, much like the one in Winston-Salem, and though the overall distance is much shorter than the US Pro races of old, it will be by no means an easy day.

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