Timmy Duggan of Liquigas-Cannondale has not had an easy time as a professional bike racer, he's had to overcome a string of injuries which turned his early career into a roller coaster ride. After many valleys, his peak came in this weekend's USA professional national championship road race, where he soloed away for over 15km to win the stars and stripes.
After riding away from top favorites, including defending champion Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Nissan), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Barracuda), Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling) on the Greenville course, Duggan crossed the line 15 seconds ahead of Frank Pipp (Bissell Pro Cycling) and Kiel Reijnen (Team Type 1 – Sanofi).
"It's a good one to win. It was really satisfying because I have thought about that particular race for a long time and how I wanted to win it. And for it to come to fruition exactly how I thought it would is cool," Duggan said of his first major career victory.
"I don't feel that things are totally different or I'm a different rider. For me this was no surprise. I've been busting my ass for a long time and now I got what I wanted. I'm ready for the next goal."
Duggan's path to becoming national champion was never straight forward. In 2008, as a member of Slipstream-Chipotle, Duggan crashed in stage 3 of the 2008 Tour de Georgia. The damage was a broken clavicle and scapula. Additionally he also suffered traumatic brain injury.
"There was a big question if I was going to be the same person again let alone get my career back again."
He did come back and his return to professional racing was the 2008 professional time trial.
"I did a few laps around the time trial course in Greenville as my ceremonial race back into the peloton. It's been a roller coaster after that."
That roller coaster ride continued in 2009 at the Dauphiné Libéré with a second place in stage 8 and lining up for his first professional road world championships. However, with that peak came a valley.
The 2010 season was marked by injury. In February he crashed on the last day of the Tour of the Mediterranean resulting in a fracture of the glenoid fossa – known to lay people as the shoulder socket.
The next two months were focused on recovery. He restarted his season with April's Amstel Gold Classic. However, he crashed again, breaking his collarbone. This reduced the amount of days raced and during the off-season he transferred, along with fellow American Ted King, to Liquigas-Cannondale.
The Italian team had an American bike sponsor and as such, it was important to have some representation from the States and Duggan got a second chance.
He raced a limited European campaign, but toed the line in all the races that matter in North America: Amgen Tour of California, Philadelphia International Championship, Tour of Utah, USA Pro Cycling Challenge and the GP of Quebec and Montreal. Once again, he was selected to race the road world championships.
His stock continued to rise in 2012 as he raced the early part of the season in Europe before returning to the States for the Amgen Tour of California.
It was in stage 7, with the day ending at Mt Baldy, that showcased Duggan's strength. He towed the peloton through the mountain range like the seasoned veteran he is, and was an important part of teammate Peter Sagan's five stage wins in the California tour. It was no wonder that many people considered Duggan a strong contender for the upcoming Greenville professional road race championships.
"It was a really satisfying Tour of California for myself and the team. It was cool to get a little more support and respect for my domestique duties."
This being an Olympic year, the championship win can be a deciding factor for selection
"There's no cut and dry automatic procedure," said Duggan. "They pick the team on who is going well. And there's no Olympic Trials – a winner takes all selection. They are making the selection pretty soon, and yes that would be something I would love to be a part of."
Tyler Farrar, who is seen as the best American hope for the London Olympic road course, has been Duggan's teammate in the past and Duggan hopes this might also influence the selectors.
"I hope the selectors would think I'd be a good part of the team. I have done my best these last months leading up to the selection. They obviously have a lot of difficult decisions to make for a one-day race."
This is his second year as a member of the Italian team and his contract is due to expire. Was he exploring other options?
"My contract is up at the end of the year. It has been a lot better this year for both my teammate Ted King and I. We've settled in to the team after a year of adjusting to a new culture, language and a way of doing things. This year as been more comfortable. I'm feeling pretty happy."
When pressed if he is looking at other teams Duggan had a succinct "no comment" reply. However Duggan did say he would like to continue his career path on a World Tour team.
This Sunday, Duggan returns to Europe and lining up for the Tour de Suisse. Further down the race calendar is the Grand Tour all riders dream of racing – the Tour de France.
"I haven't spoken to my team about my participation in it," said Duggan. "Obviously the Tour is a huge career goal of mine."
If selected for the Tour de France this would be his first Grand Tour and he keeps it in perspective.
"It's still just a bike race."