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USA Cycling Pro championships - CN

USA, September 1-2, 2007

USPRO road and time trial titles up for grabs with shifting alliances

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor in Greenville, South Carolina

Hincapie set to defend road title in hometown

Levi Leipheimer & his pal George
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
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For the second year in a row, the US professional road and time trial championships are only open to Americans, and Greenville, South Carolina will play host to most of the top US racers in a battle to wear the coveted national colours for the next season. George Hincapie, the defending road champion, is back in his hometown -- but what will happen is still anybody's guess.

The fact that the US professional national championship for the road is held September, and not in June like most other countries, means that the tactics and outcome of the race could be affected by the inevitable transfers that are often inked in the weeks leading up to the race. Such was the suspected case last year with the final two riders left contesting the win, Discovery Channel's George Hincapie and then Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer who had announced his transfer to Discover for the following season.

Despite denying that he was planning to help Hincapie, Leipheimer had been spotted receiving water from the Discovery team car. As well, CSC's Dave Zabriskie was known to have stayed at Hincapie's house in Greenville and definitely played a role in thinning the field up the Paris Mountain climb.

When taking this into consideration this year, with so much turnover occurring throughout the ProTour and domestic scenes, the guess as to who will ride for whom is as uncertain as who will pull on the stars and stripes jersey. Hincapie has been rumored to be going to the T-Mobile team next year, something that team-mate Alberto Contador confirmed this week. And with no more Discovery Channel after this year, the motivation to work together will be much less.

The Slipstream-Chipotle team is a huge x-factor, having signed riders like Dave Zabriskie and Christian Vandevelde, along with already having riders like Danny Pate who can hang with the ProTour elites.

And then there is the possibility that Hincapie might want to repay Leipheimer for any help he gave last year. The combinations of possible tactics are endless... Like the ProTour the domestic scene is wrought with just as much turnover and turbulence, with teams changing staff, size and just plain leaving.

Sure, riders are contracted through the end of the season and should work for their respective teams, but will that actually happen?

Zabriskie still TT favourite despite contenders

The Champagne shower
Photo ©: Mitch Clinton
(Click for larger image)

Dave Zabriskie is a good bet when thinking about who is going to win the time trial national championship. But it will not be easy for Utah native who is headed to the Slipstream-Chipotle team next season. A few of his future teammates have been putting up decent time trial numbers this year -- not to mention the other usual suspects of top TT riders.

Last year Slipstream-Chipotle's Mike Friedman took a surprising fourth place in the race, and is still working on his time trialing. He finished second to Aussie champion Nathan O'Neill earlier this month at the Tour of Elk Grove. Friedman's team-mate, Danny Pate, a former U23 world time trial champion finished sixth and is always a threat.

The runner-up last year, Chris Baldwin (Toyota-United), had trouble negotiating a tough turn in the final metres, costing him a shot at the top spot. However the final kilometre of the course has been altered and that turn is no longer in place.

Other riders like Ben Jacques-Maynes (Priority Health), Phil Zajicek (Navigators Insurance) and Chris Wherry (Toyota-United) have had a good year on the road with Zajicek pulling an extraordinary time trial out of himself to win the Cascade Classic overall.