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10 riders to watch at US Pro Road Championships 2021 men's events

Waiting for the start of the US Pro Road Race in Knoxville
US Pro Road Race start in Knoxville in 2019 (Image credit: Wil Matthews)

The 2021 USA Cycling Pro Road Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee is set to begin on June 17 with domestic teams eager to race after the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the number of events in the US for more than a year. 

The athletes will take on the rolling terrain and humid weather conditions in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, starting with the time trial Thursday, a twilight criterium on Friday and the road race on Sunday. It is a series of events that will showcase the rising talent in the US as well as the returning veterans, who are ready to amp it up against a select few WorldTour riders.

We've taken a closer look at some of the riders that will be vying for the stars-and-stripes jerseys in the time trial, the criterium and the 15-lap 190.7-kilometre road race.

Pro individual time trial

BILBAO SPAIN APRIL 05 Ian Garrison of United States and Team Deceuninck QuickStep during the 60th ItzuliaVuelta Ciclista Pais Vasco 2021 Stage 1 a 139km individual time trial from Bilbao to Bilbao itzulia ehitzulia ITT on April 05 2021 in Bilbao Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images

Ian Garrison of Deceuninck-QuickStep during Itzulia Basque Country 2021 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Ian Garrison (Deceuninck-QuickStep)

Ian Garrison returns to Knoxville as the defending champion, and this time he’ll be kitted out in the colours of Deceuninck-QuickStep so wants to make a statement. He has a bronze medal from the 2016 World Championships junior time trial in Doha and in 2019 he won the U23 time trial title just one week before storming into Knoxville to ride 20 seconds faster than Neilson Powless and win a second national title.

The Georgia native now has completed two solid seasons of European racing, including his first Grand Tour at last year’s Vuelta a España where he was able to showcase the stars-and-stripes jersey in one race against the clock.

Lawson Craddock (EF Education-Nippo)

After multiple days on the attack at the Critérium du Dauphiné , Lawson Craddock switched his pink EF Education-Nippo jersey for the blue polka-dot mountains classification jersey, but a crash in the opening kilometres of the final stage ground his momentum to a halt. No KOM win, but positive momentum for the US Pro Championships as “a sign of good things to come”.

Tapped to represent Team USA at the Tokyo Olympic Games, the tough Texan has spent over a decade in the pro peloton. He began with silver (2009) and bronze (2010) medals at Junior Worlds in the time trial. Back in the US, he took double titles as a 19-year-old junior in the time trial and road race in 2010, then a couple of silver medals the next two years. His schedule has not permitted him to race US Pro Road Championships since 2013, when he finished one spot off the podium in the time trial.

Craddock will have to watch the clock closely, with competition also coming from within his own team, as Tejay van Garderen will likely be inspired by his impending retirement. In the road race who knows if the strategy will tip in his favour, or toward his teammate and defending champion Alex Howes. Still, only one rider has won back-to-back road titles, Fred Rodriguez in 2000 and 2001, so the edge may go to Craddock in that race.

Chad Haga (Team DSM)

Another Texan in the mix for glory is Chad Haga, who rarely gets to race on home soil because he has been on WorldTeams since 2014. The last time he was in Knoxville was 2018, when eventual winner Joey Rosskopf knocked him out of ITT hot seat, a position Haga held for much of the day.

While Rosskopf is always a threat as a two-time winner in the discipline, Haga has been putting up solid TT results, going back to a stage win at the Giro in 2019, and seventh place finishes in TT stages at the 2020 Giro and the Tour of Slovakia. He performs well in big moments, and the US Pro Championships could just be that moment in 2021.

Tejay van Garderen (EF Education-Nippo)

With his retirement just announced after a 12-year career, Tejay van Garderen will do his best to put on a show for his fans and make this event one to remember. His final race as a pro will be Sunday’s championship road race.

"The honest truth is that I don’t feel super effective as a bike racer anymore. Once your ability starts to be less than it was, you have to find a way to make yourself effective," he said in a press statement.

This is his first appearance at US Pro Nationals since 2012 when he was second in the time trial and 13th in the road race in Greenville, SC. Coming off three weeks at the Giro d’Italia, no doubt he plans to find a way to make himself effective in both the ITT and the road race in Knoxville.

Pro criterium

Travis McCabe won the 2019 US Pro Crit title racing for Floyd's Pro Cycling

Travis McCabe won the 2019 US Pro Crit title racing for Floyd's Pro Cycling (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Travis McCabe (Best Buddies Cycling)

Two-time crit champ Travis McCabe is back after a year with Israel Start-Up Nation, which didn't provide the 32-year-old a chance to show off his stars-and-stripes jersey, but he could always just remedy that situation by winning it again. In March, McCabe won two stages at the Clasica Panama and last week had two top 10s at Tulsa Tough.

This year, he has a strong contingent of teammates at the new Domestic Elite squad out of Florida, Best Buddies Cycling, to help him get in the right position. They include 2015 crit winner Eric Marcotte and 2019 U23 crit champ Michael Hernandez. 

Cory Williams (L39ION of Los Angeles)

The hottest team on the US criterium circuit is L39ION of Los Angeles and is stacked with options for a national title in this event, with four riders taking all four top positions at the Tulsa Arts Crit during Tulsa Tough last weekend. 

Cory Williams sizzled the most by taking the omnium title at Tulsa Tough. Look for Tyler Williams and 2018 crit champion Ty Magner to help him on the final push around the Clinch Avenue turn to the sprint on Gay Street.

Eric Young (Elevate-Webiplex Pro Cycling)

A veteran looking for his second title since 2011 is Eric Young (Elevate-Webiplex Pro Cycling). He’s been the runner-up in the criterium each of the past three editions of the US Pro Championships and is on a mission. 

Last year Young only had one UCI race under his belt before the coronavirus pandemic but made the most of the Tour de Taiwan with three wins in five stages, taking the points classification. Leading up to Friday’s championship, he had two top 10s at the Armed Forces Cycling Classic and Tulsa Tough and having five teammates at this race will help him make it to the front.

Pro road race

Quinn Simmons dominated the Road World Championships U23 road race in Yorkshire

Quinn Simmons who won U23 Worlds in 2019 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo)

Still a neo-pro at just 20 years of age, Quinn Simmons is making his debut at the US Pro Championships. He was crowned the junior ITT champion for the US and the junior world champion in 2019, which helped him secure a WorldTour contract with Trek-Segafredo.

Last year he finished second overall at the five-stage Tour de Hongrie and while his racing has been limited this year since riding Tirreno-Adriatico and some Spring Classics, he’s always prepared to race hard. Though, he did crash out early in the Unbound Gravel 200 race 10 days ago and required stitches to his knee, but should he actually start US Pro on Sunday, he’ll be a favourite alongside teammate Kiel Reijnen.

Robin Carpenter (Rally Cycling)

Rally Cycling not only has nine riders in the road race, but nine strong riders. Robin Carpenter may be under the radar, but don’t count out the runner-up from the 2018 contest. Also in orange will be 2010 winner Ben King, 2019 runner-up Stephen Bassett and strongman Gavin Mannion, but Carpenter loves the Knoxville course. 

He was fourth in 2017, the first year the race was held in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains. “At US Pro, I’m just focusing on the road race, not the crit or the time trial. The course suits me,” Carpenter told Cyclingnews.

Most recently he finished sixth at Unbound Gravel 200, and sees that as a good sign for Knoxville.

“You know who won road nats in 2019? Alex Howes. And guess what he did leading in – Unbound Gravel. I don’t know if it’s ideal prep but the first four hours in Kansas were comparable to many races I’ve done on the road and they ended at four hours,” said Carpenter, who completed Unbound Gravel in 10 hours, 49 minutes.

Brent Bookwalter (Team BikeExchange)

Racing his 16th season at the age of 37, Brent Bookwalter would like nothing more than to take a US Pro title. Way back in 2006 he won the U23 time trial national title, and since then he’s lined up at the US Pro road race nine times, finishing in the top 10 four of those times. In the six times he has raced the US Pro time trial he has never finished lower than fourth.

He is definitely a contender in the road race, and decided to leave his time trial bike and equipment in Europe when he make a quick return to the US last week. "It was my ambition of quality over quantity. Maybe that will be the magic," Bookwalter told Cyclingnews about the decision to not compete in the time trial.

The last time he raced in Knoxville was 2018, where he was third in the ITT and seventh in the road race. In 2020 he looked solid with a seventh-place finish in Strade Bianche and this year has had a full schedule of one week stage races, the last being Critérium du Dauphiné. The homework is done and he'll be one to watch.

Jackie Tyson

Jackie has been involved in professional sports for more than 30 years in news reporting, sports marketing and public relations. She founded Peloton Sports in 1998, a sports marketing and public relations agency, which managed projects for Tour de Georgia, Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and USA Cycling. She also founded Bike Alpharetta Inc, a Georgia non-profit to promote safe cycling for people of all abilities and ages. Tyson has been recognized for communications excellence with 10 Phoenix Awards, presented by the Georgia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. She is proud to have worked in professional baseball for six years - from selling advertising to pulling the tarp - and was recognized by a national media outlet as the first female depicted in a pro baseball card set (Ft. Myers Royals). She has climbed l'Alpe d'Huez three times. Her favorite road rides are around horse farms in north Georgia (USA) and around lavender fields in  Provence (France). Her favorite mountain bike rides are in Park City, Utah (USA).