Oakley's George Hincapie Wins U.S. Pro Road Race
Oakley’s George Hincapie (Columbia-HTC) takes his third stars and stripes at the 2009 Cycling pro road championships.
George Hincapie (Columbia-HTC) rode through a wall of sound as he outsprinted Andrew Bajadali (Kelly Benefit Strategies) to win the road race Sunday at the USA Cycling Professional National Championships in his adopted hometown of Greenville, South Carolina.
The pair overtook Jeff Louder (BMC Racing Team), who attacked an elite group of seven riders in the final lap of the 185km race, which featured four trips over Paris Mountain.
Hincapie secured his third professional road race title and his second since the race moved to Greenville in 2006. <http://www.velonews.com/article/10812> His first came in 1998, when the event was called the First Union USPRO Championship and run in Philadelphia.
Riders hid in team cars and hotel rooms as long as possible Sunday afternoon before the race rolled off at 1 p.m. under the high sun, with temperatures in the mid-80s and relative humidity above 90 percent. The majority of riders arrived at sign-in with the telltale hunchbacks of ice packs in their jerseys as the press corps fought for shade.
The course covered three inner circuits before riders faced the 3.5km climb of Paris Mountain, tackled four times on longer loops. The race returned to the inner circuits for three laps before the finish on Main Street in downtown Greenville.
The first half of the race followed the script of recent championship road races, with disorganization at the front of the peloton and no real boss emerging in the group.
“There was a lot of soft pedaling and coasting going on,” Louder said. “Breakaways that looked really promising but didn’t really amount to anything. Other stuff that didn’t look that promising ended up being pretty dangerous. So, it was kind of a pretty typical national championship.”
The most promising chase group was 14 riders strong and included Zabriskie’s teammate Mike Friedman; Jonathan Garcia and Jackson Stewart (BMC Racing Team), Tom Zirbel, Sheldon Deeny and Paul Mach (Bissell); Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies); Chris Jones (Team Type 1); Matt Crane (Jelly Belly); and Ben King (Trek-LiveStrong). Friedman crashed near the beginning of the second lap of the long circuit, but was able to reconnect with the group before the base of Paris Mountain.
The chasing peloton, led largely by OUCH-Maxxis, trimmed Zabriskie’s lead quickly on the second trip up Paris Mountain. The peloton absorbed the chase group just after the descent, and Zabriskie, along with Crane and King, who had bridged on the descent, hung on as the last to be caught by the charging peloton, composed of roughly 45 riders near the end of the second long circuit.
In his first race as a staigaire, Alex Howes (Garmin-Slipstream) delivered a load of water bottles to his teammates in time to counter-attack the catch. He joined Jones and Frank Pipp (Bissell) to form a three-rider break. The group rotated smoothly and, forming so late in the race, posed a serious threat.
Craig Lewis (Columbia-HTC), who told Hincapie he planned to start despite being diagnosed with the H1N1 virus early last week, went to the front of the peloton on the third trip up Paris Mountain and set a pace that reduced the group to fewer than 20 riders. Hincapie let one attack fly high on the climb to draw out the strong riders and take the freshness out of the group.
Meanwhile, the breakaway continued to roll, entering the final long circuit with a two-minute lead. The group would disintegrate on the final climb of Paris Mountain, however, as Howes and Pipp fell off Jones’ pace.
Lewis, who like Hincapie lives in Greenville, returned to the front of the peloton on the final lap over Paris Mountain and again set a pace for the initial 1.5 km that strung the group out. When Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) attacked, the group blew apart.
As the leaders were caught one by one, Hincapie followed and then countered Zajicek’s attack, springing free with one other rider near the summit. The Hincapie group went over the top with roughly a five-second gap over the chase, but a group of eight came together on the descent to Greenville.
Included in the front group were Jones, Zajicek, Bajadali and teammate Matt Busche, Louder and teammate Brent Bookwalter, and Patrick McCarty (OUCH-Maxxis). Notably missing from the lead group were Garmin-Slipstream and Bissell Pro Cycling.
“They were trying as hard as they could to be there, but they just weren’t on a great day and to make that selection at the national championships, you have to be on a great day,” Garmin-Slipstream director Chann McRae said.
Jason Donald and Danny Pate (Garmin-Slipstream) and Jason McCartney (Saxo Bank) drove the new chase group, which entered the final three 6.7-mile circuits 20 seconds behind the leaders. McCartney and the Garmin tandem were the only riders in the group without teammates up the road and the work of closing the gap, which they cut to 10 seconds on the first short lap, fell to them.
“We were gaining on them. We were rolling through pretty well, and then we got them to 10 seconds on that first small lap and then it just went back out again because we were pretty (worked),” Donald said.
As the leaders entered the final lap with a 40-second lead, Louder attacked, hoping to avoid going to the line with a fast finisher like Hincapie.
“I knew that it was obvious that George was the fastest guy and the strongest, the way he rode Paris Mountain and was still there and looking really good,” Louder said. “If he was still there and we did go over the line as a group, it wasn’t what we wanted.”
Louder pushed out to a 10-second lead with 3km to go and appeared to be rolling away with the race on the undulating final circuit. With the remnants of the lead group apparently on the limit, Hincapie attacked with 1km remaining and Bajadali struggled to stay on the former Tour de France maillot jaune’s wheel. The pair bridged to Louder with 500m to go.
Bajadali jumped first in the sprint, initially distancing Hincapie and a fading Louder. Hincapie dug into his reserves, however, and the 15-year professional came around Bajadali 200 meters from the finish to win to the deafening cheers from thousands of fans.
Hincapie, who broke his collarbone five weeks ago in a crash at the Tour de France, was emotional at the finish and later described winning before his hometown crowd.
“To be able to win with all that pressure and to have the whole city wanting me to win is great,” he said. “Before it’s not such a good feeling because you’re stressing out about the race, but I’m really glad it worked out.”
• Hincapie will wear the stars-and-stripes jersey at the Tour of Missouri, which begins September 7 in St. Louis. September 1 is the first day that teams can discuss new acquisitions for the coming season. So it will be at least Tuesday before it’s clear which sponsor’s name will adorn the U.S. champion’s jersey for the 2010 season.