Cycling fans, I have good news for you - next Tuesday we may have a less horrendous version of the US national champion's jersey in the peloton. Yes indeed - this weekend is the date of the US national professional championships for both road and time trial titles.
While the Giro d'Italia is still ongoing through Sunday, the USPRO championship runs this Saturday, 26 May and Monday, 28 May. Many American pros rode the Amgen Tour of California this year and so will be in Greenville. Missing are riders like Peter Stetina and Christian Vande Velde of Garmin-Barracuda. This year marks the final time that USPRO will be held in Greenville, South Carolina, before moving to Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2013.
What does the weekend look like? On the surface, it is much of the same as years prior. Greenville has not significantly altered the courses for either the time trial or road race in recent years. While the courses may be the same, though, a host of young riders could overthrow the old guard and assertively claim their spot as the faces of US cycling. This wave started last year when Matt Busche of RadioShack-Nissan improbably beat George Hincapie of BMC Racing Team in a sprint to win the road race last year.
This year, though, the challenge coming from the young guns is stiffer than ever. David Zabriskie will be hoping to defend his time trial title from 2011 - the sixth of his career. And while Zabriskie's chances of winning on the flat 20.7 mile course are good, especially with Taylor Phinney still pedaling around Italia and Levi Leipheimer clearly recovering still from a broken leg this spring, the man known as Captain America would be well advised to still approach the start house with a healthy amount of fear.
Possibly the most threatening to Zabriskie's shot at a seventh title is young Tejay van Garderen. Van Garderen rode a stellar time trial in Bakersfield during last week's Amgen Tour of California. Brent Bookwalter of BMC Racing Team and Andrew Talansky of Garmin-Barracuda could also challenge Zabriskie.
The road race on Memorial Day will likely be the more exciting race. The 115 mile course, which takes four trips over Paris Mountain before completing three smaller circuits of downtown Greenville, mixes enough climbing and flat to prompt aggressive racing. Last year, Ted King of Liquigas-Cannondale, George Hincapie of BMC Racing Team, Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing Team, and Matt Busche of RadioShack-Nissan escaped the final time up Paris Mountain and held off the group charging in behind them. In 2010, Ben King improbably stayed clear after a race-long breakaway, but the group behind included fewer than ten riders.
Several of the same names can be expected to feature again this year. Van Garderen will definitely make the split on the climbs and Hincapie likely will do the same. Busche climbs well, but does he look to have the same form as last year's Amgen Tour of California when he shredded the field on Mt. Baldy in service of Chris Horner.
And the domestic teams cannot be forgotten either! Of the smaller teams, you could do worse than to put money on Phil Gaimon of Kenda 5-Hr Energy. He has had a fantastic run of form all season, including an overall win at the tough San Dimas Stage Race in March.
All told, the weekend's racing should be exciting, particularly the road race Monday. Live streaming video - though of questionable quality - will be available on the race organizer's website for the road race. And a wide open field should make for aggressive racing. Who do you think will win or animate the race? Big group, small group? The possibilities are many.