By Steve Frothingham
Tyler Hamilton (Rock Racing) scored one of the biggest wins of his long career — and the biggest since returning from a two-year doping suspension — on Sunday at the U.S. professional road race championships in Greenville, South Carolina.
The 37-year-old Hamilton outsprinted his late-race breakaway companion, 24-year-old Blake Caldwell (Garmin-Chipotle), winning a photo finish by less than a tire’s width after 115 miles of racing.
Hamilton called the win “icing on the cake,” noting that he came to Greenville’s championships last year with the intention of making it his last race before retirement. A December job offer from Rock Racing’s Michael Ball persuaded him to continue his career.
Garmin’s race to win —or lose
In a race dominated by Garmin-Chipotle’s 10-man team, Hamilton was one of 25 riders left in contention after four trips up the tough Paris Mountain climb.
A break of about a dozen riders formed on the first “big lap” containing Paris Mountain, after three downtown circuits. The dozen included Garmin’s Steven Cozza, David Zabriskie and Lucas Euser, along with Columbia’s Craig Lewis, Bissell’s Tom Zirbel and Health Net’s Phil Zajicek.
The group built up a nearly three-minute gap, but fell apart on the fourth lap and disintegrated on the final time up the 2.5-mile Paris Mountain climb. The break’s remnants, Euser and BMC’s Jonathan Garcia, led the final trip up the climb.
But less than a half minute behind, Garmin was hammering, shattering what was left of the peloton.
Over the top, just 25 riders remained in contention after the descent to the three finishing circuits near downtown Greenville. Among them were six Garmin riders. Pre-race favorite Hincapie was in there, too, but with just one teammate, Lewis.
Besides the lack of teammates, Hincapie, in Hamilton’s words, had a “big bullseye on his back.”
“He couldn’t blow his nose without people reacting. I had that going for me, because I wasn’t a favorite,” Hamilton said.
“No one would work with me,” a disappointed Hincapie said after the race. He said he had the best legs he’d ever had at a Greenville championships. He said he would have preferred another trip over Paris Mountain. “Then we would have had five guys at the end, instead of 25,” he said.
Coming into the technical finishing circuits, Hamilton used his anonymity to chase down Garmin’s Danny Pate, with the help of BMC’s Jeff Louder and accompanied by Garmin’s Caldwell and Euser.
It seemed that Hamilton and Louder were woefully outnumbered, but Hamilton jumped on Caldwell when he attacked with two laps to go, and the two worked together to establish a 20-second gap over the others. The remnants of the pack dangled about a minute back.
“It was still a good position for us, we had so many guys there,” Caldwell said. “I wanted to work … I won a stage of the Tour of Utah in a sprint two weeks ago, and I thought I had just as good a chance (as Hamilton),” he said.
On the final lap, however — with two teammates, including multi-time USPRO podium finisher Danny Pate, 10 seconds behind — Caldwell decided to sit in for the remainder. Hamilton urged him to pull through, then settled in on the front.
“I decided the best thing for me was just to ride,” Hamilton said.
Caldwell threw down a brief attack on an uphill with about 400 meters to go, but Hamilton marked him and the two raced side by side on the downhill drag to the line. Caldwell appeared to have the lead with 20 meters to go, but Hamilton threw his bike and the two crossed the line with no idea who had won.
A photo finish gave the win to Hamilton by .002 second.
Pate, who had been cramping in the final laps and said he was on the verge of stopping, rounded out the podium, with Euser coming fourth.
For the Greenville weekend, Garmin came home with three of the top four in the road race and four of the top five in the time trial.
- USA Cycling president Steve Johnson announced after the race that the USPRO championships will return to Greenville in 2009, for the fourth consecutive year.
- Pate used a post-race news conference to make a statement about the lack of drug testing at nationals. “I’ve been in the top five seven times, and I’ve never been tested,” he said. “I’m not making an implication about anyone racing here today, but I am disappointed.” Hamilton and two riders chosen at random were tested following the race.
- Hamilton said he has a three-year contract with Rock Racing. He will compete next at the Tour of Great Britain, where he is sure to don a special U.S. champion’s jersey designed by the fashion-conscious folks at Rock Racing.
1. Tyler Hamilton (Rock Racing)
2. Blake Caldwell (Garmin-Chipotle)
3. Danny Pate (Garmin-Chipotle)
4. Lucas Euser (Garmin-Chipotle)
USA Cycling pro road race championship
1. Tyler Hamilton, Rock Racing, 155mi, at 4:38:19
2. Blake Caldwell, Slipstream-Chipotle, same time
3. Danny Pate, Slipstream-Chipotle, at 0:04
4. Lucas Euser, Slipstream-Chipotle, at 0:05
5. Jeffry Louder, BMC, at 0:06
6. Thomas Danielson, Slipstream-Chipotle, at 1:05
7. Andrew Bajadali, Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast, at 1:05
8. Christopher Jones, Team Type 1, at 1:09
9. Craig Lewis, Team Columbia, at 1:11
10. Burke Swindlehurst, Bissell Pro Cycling, at 1:19
11. Justin England, Toyota-United Pro, at 2:45
12. Jared Barrilleaux, Jittery Joe’s Coffee, at 3:12
13. Frank Pipp, Health Net-Maxxis, at 3:42
14. Thomas Peterson, Slipstream-Chipotle, at 3:43
15. Anthony Colby, Team Columbia, at 3:43
16. Brent Bookwalter, BMC Pro Cycling, at 3:44
17. Kiel Reijnen, Jelly Belly, at 3:44
18. Michael Grabinger, SuccessfulLiving.com, at 3:44
19. Jonathan Garcia, BMC Pro Cycling, at 3:44
20. Christopher Baldwin, Toyota-United Pro, at 3:45
21. Alex Hagman, Toshiba-Santo, at 3:45
22. George Hincapie, Team Columbia, at 3:47
23. Christian Vande Velde, Slipstream-Chipotle, at 3:48
24. Jonathan Patrick McCarty, Slipstream-Chipotle, at 3:48
25. Corney Collier, Health Net-Maxxis, at 11:07
26. Daniel Holt, Team Type 1, at 11:07
27. Timothy Johnson, Health Net-Maxxis, at 11:07
28. Michael Sayers, BMC Pro Cycling, at 11:07
29. Neil Shirley, Jittery Joe’s Coffee, at 11:07
30. Chris Wherry, Toyota-United Pro, at 11:07
31. Doug Ollerenshaw, Rock Racing, at 11:07
32. Tyler Wren, Team Columbia, at 11:07
33. Jackson Stewart, BMC Pro Cycling, at 11:07
34. Andy Guptill, Team Columbia, at 11:07
35. Aaron Olson, Bissell Pro Cycling, at 11:07
36. Thad Dulin, DLP Racing, at 11:07
37. Ian Macgregor, Team Type 1, at 11:07
38. Shawn Milne, Team Type 1, at 11:07
39. Matt Cooke, Health Net-Maxxis, at 11:07
40. Daniel Ramsey, Time Pro Cycling, at 11:07
41. Justin Spinelli, Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast, at 11:07
42. Scott Jackson, DLP Racing, at 11:07
43. Michael Norton, Calyon Pro Cycling Team, at 11:08
44. Roman Kilun, Health Net Maxxis, at 11:08