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America’s top professional road cyclists are headed to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for the 2016 Volkswagen Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships this Friday and Saturday. The championships are not only a chance to vie for the coveted stars-and-stripes jerseys, but also to make a final push for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
CyclingTips is happy to announce that you will be able to watch the road race live, on this page. You can also follow the action on social media using the hashtag #USPRO.
The pro men’s U.S. peloton will descend upon Winston-Salem, North Carolina on Friday and Saturday to compete for the coveted stars and stripes jersey and the pride of wearing the nation’s colors for the next year in either the individual time trial or road race. Winston-Salem, a first time host of the US Pro National Championships, boasts courses that are challenging and capable of producing worthy champions.
Full information about the 2016 Volkswagen Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships can be found here.
Friday, May 27, 2016: Individual Time Trial
8:00 a.m. EST: Start of the men’s professional individual time trial, followed by the women’s professional and Category 1-2 individual time trial.
Saturday, May 28, 2016: Road Races
9:30 a.m.: Start of the women’s professional and Category 1-2 road race
1:30 p.m.: Start of the men’s professional road race.
9:15 a.m. EST on Saturday, May 28: Coverage begins with the women’s professional road race, followed by an awards ceremony.
1:30 p.m. EST on Saturday, May 28: Coverage of the men’s professional road, followed by an award ceremony.
The Time Trial
The individual time trial course, held just outside of Winston-Salem on rural roads of Old U.S. 421, is a bumpy out-and-back 12km course that will be done twice by the elite men for a total distance of 48km (29.8 miles). The course will test a rider’s physical and mental ability with the rolling parcours testing a rider’s endurance and the distance requiring strong mental strength to not start out too quickly.
The final 12km stretch back to the finish could be decisive and see rider’s either falter or storm back into contention.
The Cannondale duo of defending champion Andrew Talansky and last year’s runner-up Ben King are absent from the time trial with the former taking a break from racing after a busy spring and the latter only slated to start the road race.
The perennial favorite for the race will be two-time ITT national champion Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing).
Phinney will be returning to the national championships for the first time since he won the ITT title in 2014, two days before a crash in the road race nearly ended his career. Phinney never got the chance to wear his national champion skinsuit, which was already in a box in his hotel room before the race even occurred.
That race was over 30.9km of mostly flat terrain, quite unlike the course in Winston-Salem.
“It’s a longer course than most Americans are used to, there are not a lot of guys that can do an hour-long time trial,” Phinney told CyclingTips. “When it comes to long time trials, there are not a lot of guys who are ready for that. I am feeling pretty ready for that. Regardless, it will be a solid effort. Time trials are never very much fun, but they are a very interesting form of meditation, that’s for sure.”
Tom Zirbel (Rally Cycling), the 2013 ITT national champion, may prove to be Phinney’s biggest rival and looks get back on top after finishing off the podium last year in fourth. Zirbel is one of the few riders on the start list with the experience and the engine to power through an hour-long effort.
Zirbel won his most recent race against the clock on a rolling 26km course at altitude, at the Tour of Gila, albeit over a shorter distance. Because the Rally rider skipped the Amgen Tour of California, his form coming into the race has left him as a bit of an unknown to his competitors.
Phinney’s main competition may come from his teammate, Brent Bookwalter, who recently finished third overall at the Amgen Tour of California. The Asheville resident was fifth in the time trial in Folsom, finishing 23-seconds behind Phinney.
David Williams (Astellas), the bronze medalist the past two years, should not be counted out, though he is unproven over the 48km distance.
The first rider sets off at 8am local time, which is rather unusual for the riders who are accustomed to afternoon start times. Race-day preparation and nutrition will definitely play a factor. Mental toughness will also play a key role, with the rural course probably seeing few fans due to the weekday morning start.
The Road Race
USA Cycling changed gears this year and created a course around Winston-Salem that has the feel of a one-day classic, similar to those found during Ardennes Week in Europe. The course is constantly up and down, quite unlike the championship route in Chattanooga the last couple of years, which featured one big climb up Paris Mountain.
The men’s field will take on 12 laps of a bumpy, 15-kilometre (9.6-mile) circuit for a total of 187 kilometres (116 miles), and 2505 metres (8220 feet) of elevation gain. The course is similar to the one used in the UCI rated Winston-Salem Road Race, and lends itself to a tough day of hard aggressive racing.
A tough small climb features in the final two kilometres and therefore could suit a puncheur type of rider.
North Carolina native Matthew Busche (UnitedHealthcare) will line up to defend his stars-and-stripes jersey, a title he’s won twice.
Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo), a four-time bronze medalist in the road race, spoke with CyclingTips about the kind of race he sees playing out, and how it may be a hard race to control.
“I think it depends on how it gets raced, but when we did the Winston-Salem race, which was very close to the exact same course, it was a total mess,” Reijnen told CyclingTips. “It was really hard to keep track of guys. There was a dozen breakaways that went and came back, and small groups kind of escaped up the road and reconvened into a larger group, and that’s what made the race. It was a really difficult race to control, so I would guess that something kind of like that scenario will happen.”
The men’s national road championship is perhaps the only race of the year where Continental teams hold the advantage over WorldTour teams due to the number of starters. Continental teams such as Rally Cycling and the Lupus Racing squad of veteran Chris Horner will boast double-digit riders on the start line. Always aggressive, Holowesko-Citadel, will have eight riders including 2014 second-place finisher Travis McCabe, while Reijnen and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) will be flying solo.
“It means that without any teammates I am going to have to risk losing to win,” Reijnen said. “If I want to win I have to go on the offensive, and if that backfires then I’m kind of shit out of luck because I don’t have any other teammates to go on the offensive if I get caught. I think it’s a course that suited to an aggressive style of racing, if you sit back and wait the opportunity to win will disappear.”
Bookwalter comes into the race in terrific form, having finished third overall at the Amgen Tour. He will be in the same situation as Reijnen, forced to freelance and gamble on which moves to follow.
McCabe holds the status of one of the favorites. The Prescott, Arizona, native showed he’s coming into form at just the right time with a solid performance at the Amgen Tour of California last week. He finished eighth on the tough stage to South Lake Tahoe and backed the result up a couple days later with another top 10 finish on the difficult stage in Santa Rosa. His ability to climb, as well as his fast finishing speed, makes him a contender.
Another squad with low start numbers this year is Cannondale, but what they lack in numbers is made up for in experience. Their three starters are Alex Howes (2014 bronze medalist), Ben King (2010 national champion), and Phil Gaimon.
Howes is back from a break after capping off an impressive spring campaign with an impressive 21st at a snowy Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The classics-style course in Winston-Salem should make him a danger man, and his finishing kick is significant — Howes finished 12th at the world road championships in Richmond, and won the final stage of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in 2014.
King is no stranger to the breakaway, as he won the national title in 2010 after a long solo effort. More recently, the Virginia native won Stage 2 at the Amgen Tour of California out a breakaway.
Eric Marcotte (Team Jamis), the 2014 race road champion, should not be overlooked, despite only having two teammates alongside him. Like McCabe, Marcotte is a fast finisher who can handle the hills; he showed off his fast finishing kick earlier this month by winning the criterium stage at the Tour of Gila.
Rally Cycling enters the race with a team loaded with talent, including Zirbel, Bjorn Selander, Jesse Anthony, Eric Young, Amgen Tour of California King of the Mountains classification winner Evan Huffman, and national criterium champion Brad Huff all toeing the start line. The team will also have the help of elder statesman Danny Pate, who has been on the podium at U.S. road nationals on four occasion, as well as new signing Sepp Kuss, the revelation of the Redlands Classic earlier this year.
Despite all the analyzing and favorites, Reijnen expects an unpredictable race that will need to be assessed out on the road.
“I guess when I thought about it and when I thought about who I wanted to keep my eye on, I concluded was that that course is such a crapshoot that it’s not really worth keeping your eye on anybody,” Reijnen said.
“I think it’s a course that will award being aggressive, and if that means taking a risk, even when the favorites are sitting in, then that’s what I want to do. I think more than watching what some of those race favorites are doing, I want to try to make the race happen, and not lose out on the opportunity because I hesitated or waited.”