A mixed outlook for US teams at the World Championships

The 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, was a seminal event for cycling in the US. With the championships on American soil for the first time in nearly 30 years, riders stepped up, delivering multiple medals and adding to the dramatic racing throughout the week.

BMC Racing, the US-registered WorldTour team, started things off in Richmond by defending its gold-medal performance in the team time trial. Juniors delivered a spectacular show, with Chloe Dygert winning gold in both the time trial and road race, and Emma White backing up Dygert’s result with silver in both events. The Junior men added silver and bronze in the individual time trial with Adrien Costa and Brandon McNulty, respectively.

In the Elite races, Megan Guarnier took the bronze with a gutsy ride that saw her in with a chance after making the final selection of nine riders that came to the finish together. The Elite men didn't bring home a medal, but they were present in most of the day's moves, animating the race with Ben King, Taylor Phinney and Tyler Farrar all infiltrating breakaways that helped set up Alex Howes' 12-place finish.

Those were heady days for US fans as they lined the courses throughout a week of top-notch racing and organization that reflected well on a country in which cycling is still a decidedly niche sport.

Now, 13 months removed from Richmond and more than half a world away, the US team is focused on keeping the momentum rolling in the desert as the 2016 World Championships ramp up toward next week's events in Doha, Qatar.

Women lead the charge for a US medal

Among the Elites, the US women's team once again has the best shot for a medal or two. A solid squad of seven riders will back Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans) and Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) for a potential field sprint in the road race, while experienced hands Carmen Small and Amber Neben will contest the individual time trial.

Neben, 41, won the time trial rainbow jersey in 2008, and her recent time trial win at the la Route de France propelled her to the overall win in the French 2.1 stage race. Riding this year for BePink, she also won the Chrono de Gatinuea in Canada ahead of a solid field of North American Women's WorldTour riders, but then finished 27th in the time trial stage of the WorldTour Giro Rosa.

Small, 36, the current US time trial champion, finished third in 2013 Worlds time trial and has put in a strong road season this year. Both Neben and Small beat Kristin Armstrong in the US championships before Armstrong went on to win Olympic gold in August.

Small's only test against international competition this year came during the Cascade Cycling Classic, however, after she switched teams mid-season from Cervelo Bigla to Cylance. Small finished second to Canadian Tara Whitten in that 25.5km race against the clock.

Although Small and Neben are long shots for a medal this year, the US team for the road race looks more promising. Guarnier, the overall winner of the inaugural Women's WorldTour this year, was an automatic selection for the road race team, as was Rivera. The rest of the team includes Neben, Small, Allie Dragoo (Twenty16-RideBiker), Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM) and Lauren Stephens (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank).

USA Cycling Vice President of Athletics Jim Miller told Cyclingnews he believes the federation has put together “a very good team” for Doha.

“We have a lot of talent and we can race several different tactics depending on how the race unfolds,” Miller said. “The heat is going to play a major role, and having several options towards the end of the race will be the key to success.”

Winds are less likely to play a factor in the women's race, which avoids the long slog through the desert that the men have to endure. The technical 15.7km circuit around The Pearl in Doha should provide plenty of challenges, however.

Rivera is a fast finisher who cut her teeth on the US criterium circuit, where she won professional races as a Junior and collected a closet full of national champion jerseys. In recent years she has begun to develop her endurance as a field sprinter in long road races, but Guarnier, the more experienced rider, beat her in a two-up sprint at the end of US road race nationals this year.

USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard Hall agreed with Miller that depth is the key to success for the women in a race that could play out in multiple ways.

“Who wants make the call at how the women's road race is going to play out in Doha,” Bouchard Hall told Cyclingnews. “What's the wind going to be like? How's the heat going to be? So having depth is important. I think any American woman who goes to that race has a long shot.

“Who knows how the race is going to play out,” Bouchard Hall said. “If you have a strong team with a couple of fast sprinters and you get away in a break, and then the other teams get negative, then boom, before you know it you're sprinting for the World Championship. That can happen.”

Megan Guarnier celebrates winning the 2016 Giro Rosa

A tough course for the US men

Bouchard Hall made it clear that the optimism around the men's team is lower, and for good reason. Conventional wisdom says the 257.5km road course in Doha, which starts with 150km of racing through the desert before the men make their way into town for seven laps of The Pearl circuit, will lead to a bunch sprint among the world's top sprinters.

Teams that lack a pure sprinter capable of winning a full-on bunch gallop are hoping crosswinds in the desert will blow the race apart like a Spring Classic, and with the current weather forecasts for 30km/h winds with gusts up to 45km/h, crosswinds and echelons seem likely. But Great Britain's Mark Cavendish said people expecting the race to blow apart early will be disappointed because the pro peloton will never race in echelons for that distance.

“The people who write on your internet forums are going to want echelons and that, but we’re not fucking robots. We’re not going to do that for 260k, no matter who’s there,” Cavendish told Cyclingnews after racing part of the route at the Tour of Qatar in February.

If Cavendish is right and the peloton comes into the final circuits together, the US team will be in trouble. The team has no pure sprinter, and Kiel Reijnen, arguably the fastest finisher of the six-man squad, recently pulled out of the trip while he and his wife await the birth of their first child.

Reijnen told Cyclingnews in an interview last week that he does not believe The Pearl circuits, which he raced on during the Tour of Qatar, will split the field if the sprinters’ teams are well represented in the final 100km.

Alexey Vermeulen (LottoNL-Jumbo), a relatively slight climber who will be in Qatar to compete in the time trial, will replace Reijnen in the road race. The rest of the team includes Robin Carpenter (Holowesko-Citadel), Chad Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Eric Marcotte (Team Jamis), Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) and Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing).

Marcotte, the 2014 US road champion and 2015 criterium champion, is probably the fastest finisher among them, and he excels in one-day races, but as a mostly domestic rider on a Continental team, the 257.5km distance is much longer than what he's accustomed to racing.

Phinney is the only rider among the five who has won at the WorldTour level, but he hasn't won a race outside of the US since returning from a severe leg injury in 2014 that kept him out of competition for 14 months. Rosskopf, Phinney’s trade team teammate, recently won the overall at the Tour du Limousin in August after winning the first stage from a group of four. The 27-year-old finished the Giro d'Italia this year and the Vuelta a Espana in 2015, so his endurance should be on par with the course.

Haga, who has ridden four Grand Tours in the past three years with Giant-Alpecin, recently notched a top 10 finish during stage 4 of the Vuelta. He most recently finished fifth during stage 6 of the Eneco Tour and is always looking for the right move. Carpenter is a breakaway specialist who recently won a stage of the Tour of Utah and the overall at the Tour of Alberta by one second over Trek-Segafredo's Grand Tour contender Bauke Mollema.

While blessed with a plethora of all-around talents, none of the riders pack the kind of finish that can compete with Cavendish, Greipel, Sagan, Kittel and the host of world-class sprinters who will be on the start line.

Nevertheless, Bouchard Hall said anything can happen in a bike race, and one should never count anybody out before the winner crosses the finish line.

“Particularly in the Worlds, right, where the teams are smaller and it's not really clear who's working for anybody,” he said. “Any fan of the sport, looking back at how the world championships is played out, they're very difficult to call. Even years when the courses are really hard are difficult to call.

“Now this is a course that may or may not be hard, but if it is hard due to the wind – not a power-to-weight hard, it's a do-you-get-in-the-right-echelon kind of a hard – I think it's going to be a heck of a lot of fun to watch. I love those events where you just don't know what's going to happen.”

In the time trial, Vermeulen, who is 21 years old, admitted to Cyclingnews that he's there to gain experience and would be happy with a top 20 finish. Phinney's last two time trial wins came at the US championships this year and in 2014, the day before he broke his leg. His best finish in a WorldTour race time trial this year came recently at the Eneco Tour, when he finished seventh in the 9.6km stage. Phinney finished 22nd at the Olympic Games in August.

If Eric Marcotte can manage the 257.5km distance, he could be the Elite men's best hope for a medal

Forecasts call for future podiums

USA Cycling's development programs may provide more opportunities for medals than do the Elites. The U23 roster is made up of all Axeon Hagens Berman riders, with Geoffrey Curran and Neilson Powless taking on both the road race and time trial. They'll be joined in the road race by US pro champion Greg Daniel, Tour of Alberta stage winner Colin Joyce and their trade team teammate Justin Oien. Adrien Costa, the 19-year-old Tour of Utah general classification runner up, decided to end his season after racing with Etixx-QuickStep as a trainee.

“Honestly, this may be the best U23 team we have ever fielded in any World Championship,” Miller told Cyclingnews. “Unfortunately, it's on a course without a lot of terrain. Regardless, we plan to be aggressive and we will take our shots on goal. With regards to the time trial, it's very difficult to stand on the podium at this level in a one-day world championship. Both Curran and Powless have the ability and the results this season that suggest they can.”

Miller was also excited about the chances for a medal from the Junior men, especially McNulty, who rides for the development team run by Roy Knickman.

“Another very good team led by Brandon McNulty,” Miller said of the junior squad. “Brandon should be on the podium in the time trial, and he is much quicker on the finish of a road race than he might get credit for. It's easy to think of Brandon as a GC guy, but he is quick. Behind Brandon we have a really good, experienced team that is very capable of supporting him.”

The Junior women's team also has a ringer in Skylar Schneider, who finished third in USA Cycling's Pro Road Tour this year. The 18-year-old finished the season-long national series in third place behind Rivera and ahead of fourth-placed Armstrong.

“We had Skyler Schneider on the Worlds roster last year to give her the experience for this year,” Miller said. “Skylar has shown all year that she has taken some incredible steps forward in her development. Her teammates have all spent time in Europe this past summer racing 2.2s and Dutch kermesses. We have a good chance at a podium with this team.”


Nielson Powless takes a stage win for the USA U23 team at the Tour de l'Avenir

Team USA for the 2016 UCI Road World Championships

Elite men's road race:
Robin Carpenter (La Jolla, Calif./Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team p/b Hincapie Racing)
Chad Haga (McKinney, Texas/Team Giant-Alpecin)
Eric Marcotte (Scottsdale, Ariz./Team Jamis)
Taylor Phinney (Boulder, Colo./BMC Racing Team)
Joseph Rosskopf (Decatur, Ga./BMC Racing Team)
Alexey Vermeulen (Pickney, Mich./Team Lotto NL-Jumbo)

Elite men's individual time trial:
Taylor Phinney (Boulder, Colo./BMC Racing Team)*
Alexey Vermeulen (Pickney, Mich./Team Lotto NL-Jumbo)

Elite women's road race:
Allie Dragoo (Grand Rapids, Mich./TWENTY16 Ridebiker)
Megan Guarnier (San Mateo, Calif./Boels Dolmans Cycling Team)*
Amber Neben (Lake Forest, Calif./BEPINK)
Coryn Rivera (Tustin, Calif./UnitedHealthcare)*
Alexis Ryan (Ventura, Calif./Canyon SRAM Racing)
Carmen Small (Durango, Colo./Cylance Pro Cycling)
Lauren Stephens (Dallas, Texas/Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank)

Elite women's individual time trial:
Amber Neben (Lake Forest, Calif./BEPINK)
Carmen Small (Durango, Colo./Cylance Pro Cycling)*

U23 men's road race:
Adrien Costa (Bend, Ore./Axeon Hagens Berman)*
Geoffrey Curran (Tustin, Calif./Axeon Hagens Berman)*
Gregory Daniel (Englewood, Colo./Axeon Hagens Berman)*
Colin Joyce (Pocatello, Idaho/Axeon Hagens Berman)
Justin Oien (Escondido, Calif./Axeon Hagens Berman)
Neilson Powless (Roseville, Calif./Axeon Hagens Berman)

U23 men's individual time trial:
Geoffrey Curran (Tustin, Calif./Axeon Hagens Berman)*
Neilson Powless (Roseville, Calif./Axeon Hagens Berman)*

Junior men's road race:
Cameron Beard (Bend, Ore./Team Specialized Racing-NCCF)
Ian Garrison (Decatur, Ga./Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team p/b Hincapie Racing)*
Gage Hecht (Parker, Colo./Hot Tubes Development Cycling Team)
Bjorn Larson (Duluth, Minn./Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team p/b Hincapie Racing)
Brandon McNulty (Phoenix, Ariz./LUX-Stradling p/b Specialized)*
Tyler Stites (Tucson, Ariz./El Grupo Youth Cycling)

Junior men's individual time trial:
Ian Garrison (Decatur, Ga./Holowesko-Citadel Racing Team p/b Hincapie Racing)
Brandon McNulty (Phoenix, Ariz./LUX-Stradling p/b Specialized)*

Junior women's road race:
Hannah Arensman (Rutherford College, N.C./TWENTY16 Pro Cycling)
Megan Heath (Alpharetta, Ga./Frazier Cycling)
Summer Moak (Foothill Ranch, Calif./TWENTY16 Pro Cycling)
Skylar Schneider (West Allis, Wis./ISCorp Cycling p/b SmartChoice MRI)*

Junior women's individual time trial:
Hannah Arensman (Rutherford College, N.C./TWENTY16 Pro Cycling)*
Skylar Schneider (West Allis, Wis./ISCorp Cycling p/b SmartChoice MRI)

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