US Pro Road Championships - a death by a thousand cuts

The USA Cycling Professional Road Championships heads to Winston-Salem, North Carolina this weekend to crown four national champions - the elite men and women's time trial and road race titles await new homes for the 2016 season.

The courses in the piedmont of North Carolina offer significantly different challenges from the Chattanooga, Tennesee routes of the past few years. The time trial will be a rolling 48km course for men - significantly longer than the 31km last year - and 33km for the women.

While the previous three road race championships featured the Lookout Mountain climb in Chattanooga, the Winston-Salem course will be death by a thousand cuts on a technical, hilly 15.4km circuit. The men race for 12 laps for a total of 187km, while the women face 140km over nine laps - one of the longest women's championships in history.

For the women, the focus will be on the time trial as riders eye the selection for the Olympic Games in Rio. Although Kristin Armstrong, the defending Olympic champion, has shown herself to be on form, there are plenty of riders who would love to take her place in the team.

Evelyn Stevens, Carmen Small, Tayler Wiles, Allie Dragoo, Lauren Stephens, Amber Neben and even the junior time trial world champion Chloe Dygert can challenge for the top step, although Dygert has already made the Olympic team and will focus on the team pursuit. Armstrong has her work cut out for her.

On the men's side, the race is Taylor Phinney's to lose. The BMC rider put in a strong performance in the Tour of California time trial, taking third to Australian teammate Rohan Dennis, and will not have to contend with second-place finisher Andrew Talansky (Cannondale), the defending champion, or his teammate Lawson Craddock, who decided to skip the race to prepare for the Tour de France. Brent Bookwalter, Tom Zirbel, and Evan Huffman will be his main rivals.

The road race will be a tactical affair and favour those riders who have teammates to burn through. The course is fast, technical and taxing, and the weather is expected to be hot and muggy for added misery. WorldTour riders like Phinney, Bookwalter, Ben King, Alex Howes and Phil Gaimon (Cannondale) and LottoNl-Jumbo's Alexey Vermeulen are forced with the decision to either team up or freelance their way through the larger teams.

The team to beat will be Rally Cycling, winners of both the criterium and team time trial championships, who come with Eric Young their main sprinter. With team captain Danny Pate and Tom Zirbel as diesel engines, and Jesse Anthony a proven strong finisher on this course, they have plenty of options and the biggest team in the peloton with 11 riders.

The Holowesko-Citadel team has its home base nearby, and they dominated last year's Winston-Salem Classic. Travis McCabe showed in Tour of California that he can get over the hills, and demonstrated there and in Tour of the Gila that he's one of the fastest sprinters in the US peloton at the moment. He'll have a full team of eight to draw from, most of whom raced in California and are carrying ample form.

UnitedHealthcare also has ties in the region, and will be bringing defending champion Matthew Busche in addition to their sprinter John Murphy - also resident of North Carolina, and Tanner Putt, who showed strong form in California. Lupus has 11 riders including Chris Horner, should be find form he will be a rider to watch.

Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans), winner of the recent Tour of California WorldTour stage race, and world championship bronze medallist will be the rider to beat in the women's race.

Guarnier's only weakness lies in the size of her team - it will be just her and Evelyn Stevens on the line. But as the number one rider in the WorldTour and one of the best in the world, Guarnier is still the odds-on favourite.

UnitedHealthcare's Coryn Rivera was narrowly defeated by Guarnier last year and will be looking for revenge, but her five-woman team is also outnumbered by the likes of Twenty16-RideBiker and Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank. Armstrong rarely contends for the road race titles, but her teammate Leah Thomas has been riding strong, as have Allie Dragoo and Chloe Dygert.

Tibco's Brianne Walle is also on strong form, and has the triple Laurens: Stephens, Hall and Winston-Salem local Komanski on her side. Rally's Heather Fischer and Jessica Prinner, Hagens Berman's Scotti Lechuga, Visit Dalls' Sara Tussey, and the evergreen Tina Pic are all riders to watch.

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