Friday, May 24, 2013

Wide-open fields at US Professional road, time trial championships

Feeling sorry for Chattanooga, site of this weekend's USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial Championships. After wresting the event from the stranglehold of Greenville, S.C., there's not a lot of stars to hitch one's wagon, or choo-choo, to.

First, five-time winner Dave Zabriskie dropped out of the time time, following an accident while warming up for the time trial at the Tour of California. Then, 2010 champ Taylor Phinney was forced to forgo the event because illness forced him to drop out of the Giro d'Italia on Tuesday. Phinney finished second in last year's world championship and fourth in the Olympic event.

And no Tejay van Garderen, who was second at the national championship last year. He's taking the high road in a brewing controversy at BMC over who will lead the squad at the Tour de France. Van Garderen was the leader in the clubhouse, until 2011 Tour champ Cadel Evans turned in a surprising second-place in the overall standings at the Giro d'Italia.

So, who to watch?

Well, there's Brent Bookwalter, Phinney's teammate at BMC. Bookwalter is the top returning rider from 2012. Or, Big Tom Zirbel. He was a perennial bridesmaid until serving a two-year doping ban in 2009. Since then, he has retired, had his sentence reduced and returned to ride for Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies.

The road race is similarly void of the old standbys, but just 89 riders are scheduled to compete. Big George Hincapie has retired, and his fellow suspendees - Tom Danielson and Christian Vande Velde - are trudging through the Dolomites in the anonymity of the Giro peloton, 56th and 108th, respectively.

But the road race tends to be more of a crap shoot, anyway. Defending champion Tim Duggan should get support, as will Matt Busche. Old local standby Brad "Huffie" Huff has entered, though the steep terrain around Chattanooga won't play in his favour, or that of Garmin sprinter Tyler Farrar. Someone like Jason McCartney or Gavin Mannion might pull a surprise.

In a related development, Levi Leipheimer announced his retirement this wee, receiving no job offers after the end of his six-month suspension.

"It's just been an unceremoniously retired," he told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

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