Among the WorldTour riders registered to compete in the USA Cycling Professional Road Championships this Memorial Day weekend in Chattanooga, Tennessee, only Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing) and Ted King (Cannondale) will be without teammates or team support.
BMC Racing has Taylor Phinney, Peter Stetina and Larry Warbasse scheduled to compete, while Garmin-Sharp is bringing a nearly full six-rider team of Nathan Brown, Tom Danielson, Caleb Fairly, Phil Gaimon, Alex Howes and 2010 US pro champion Ben King.
Both Ted King, 31, and Busche, 29, said they might join forces to the point of sharing informal support at feed zones and the like, but when it comes down to winning a national championship, it's every man for himself.
"I mean you look out for each other just knowing that other teams have very, very full support, and we're going in swinging solo," King said. "But only one person gets a national champion's jersey. Every person wants their national champion's jersey, and I'd much rather get it than Busche. And he probably thinks the same."
Busche does think the same, and he also believes going into the championship race without teammates is not necessarily a disadvantage.
"Of course we'll try and help each other, at least in the race support," he said. "But a championship race, even when you have teammates, it's negative racing; everybody wants to win a jersey. So maybe for me it's better if I don't have any teammates, then I only have to worry about myself."
The two WorldTour veterans have been on or near the top step of the nationals podium in the past, and they're hoping to make a return trip this year. Busche won his only professional stars-and-stripes jersey in 2011 while riding for Team Radioshack; King was third that year.
During last year's race in Chattanooga on virtually the same course as the this year, both riders finished in the front group of 13 that contested the final sprint. King was seventh behind winner Fred Rodriguez (Jelly Belly), while Busche crossed the line in ninth after riding aggressively in the finale and playing a key role in shaping the race.
The 2013 course in Chattanooga comprised three opening laps of an 8.2km circuit, followed by four trips around a longer 26.km circuit that included the 4.5km climb over Lookout Mountain. The race closed with three more laps of the smaller loop.
A breakaway formed early and was swept up going up Lookout Mountain for the final time. Busche's acceleration over the top blew the race apart, and the lead group didn't come back together until the race was on the closing circuits. When another threat came in the form of a late solo attack from Gaimon, who was riding for Bissell Pro Cycling at the time, it was Busche who put in several turns at the front to weld the race together in the final 3km.
Organizers have changed the 165.5km race route slightly this year, adding a one-block “wall” in North Chattanooga that riders will traverse on the four long laps and three finishing circuits. Busche said the course is selective enough to eliminate the pure sprinters, but with the relatively flat closing circuits, the race is not likely to be won on the final trip up Lookout Mountain either.
"It's better than a pure sprinters' course,” he said. “But I think it's a long way from the top of the hill to the finish. Just as we saw last year, I was alone at the top and then a big group came back. They added that little bump in the circuits now, so hopefully that helps me out a little bit."
Any added difficulty that furthers the final selection can benefit the WorldTour riders, who are accustomed to longer, more difficult days in the saddle.
"On top of that, it' s a really, really narrow road," King said of the new section. "So it's another day of bike racing."
Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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