By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
After two years of seeing Fred Rodriguez walk away from Philadelphia with the USPRO champion’s jersey, the U.S. Postal Service reclaimed the stars-and-stripes. And after years and years of trying, the Navigators squad finally got everything right and won the big one.
In the end, it wasn’t Rodriguez or George Hincapie, but rather Chann McRae and Mark Walters who stole the show at the First Union USPRO Championship in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Hincapie and Rodriguez have been the big favorites at Philadelphia the last few years, but for two-time defending champion Rodriguez, the week hadn’t been going well, as he was battling a case of bronchitis.
Hincapie and his Postal team, though, looked solid in the two lead-up races, the First Union Invitational in Lancaster, won by Postal’s David Clinger, and the First Union Classic in Trenton, in which Hincapie rode strongly before playing it safe in wet and dangerous conditions.
On Sunday, Postal looked serious from the gun. But so did the Navigators.
On the very first of the 10 main laps, Navigators showed that it wasn’t planning on missing out on many moves, when it put half its team into a 30-rider group off the front.
Postal, though, was equally vigilant. With only Robbie Ventura in the early move, Postal put its troops to the front early to reel back the threat on the second lap.
It wasn’t until midway through the 156-mile race that a workable breakaway settled in at the front, when Dylan Casey (U.S. Postal), Scott Moninger (Mercury), Russell Stevenson (Prime Alliance) and Soren Petersen (Saturn) joined a pair of Europeans who had broken away on lap 4, Mroz’s Eugen Wacker and Lotto’s Glenn D’Hollander.
The group of six would extend to a two-minute lead, but the break was short-lived, lasting only two times around the 14.4-mile circuit and getting caught on lap 7.
So, with more than 100 miles down, the race was back to where it started, with all of the favorites tucked in the bunch. On the seventh time up the Manayunk Wall, though, Rodriguez began to have problems, as the hard effort took its toll on his lungs.
Shortly after, the race began to split, and by lap 8 a group of 40 had formed at the front — with Rodriguez missing the split. Also caught behind was another favorite, Prime Alliance’s Chris Horner. But up front, there were still plenty of heavy hitters, led by Postal which had six riders in the group: McRae, Hincapie, Tom Boonen, Michael Barry, Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie. Other teams were well represented also, including Navigators, Mercury and Saturn.
The group stayed intact as it headed out for the 10th and final trip around the main circuit, and predictably, Postal began to drive the pace at the front to set up Hincapie for the last trip up the Wall. Zabriskie and Vande Velde were the two sacrificial lambs heading into Manayunk before Barry and McRae took over up the Wall. In perfect position just behind was Hincapie, and when the split came over the top, he was right there. So too, though, was the dangerous Navigators pair of Kirk O’Bee and Walters.
After the riders wove their way down the descent following the Wall and regrouped, only 13 riders remained in the lead. Postal had the best numbers, with Barry, McRae and Hincapie. Navigators had O’Bee and Walters. Mercury and Saturn had two each: Mark McCormack and Damon Kluck for Saturn, and Henk Vogels and Chris Wherry for Mercury. And the group was rounded out by Danny Pate (Prime Alliance), Mariano Friedick (Jelly Belly), Tomas Gronqvist (Amore & Vita) and Zbigniew Piatek (Mroz).
Coming back onto Kelly Drive, and the return trip to the start/finish on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, there were a few feints and attacks, but nothing substantial. The group stayed intact on the first of three finishing circuits, each three miles long and entailing another trip up the short Lemon Hill climb.
On the second lap, Postal’s Barry took over. Barry drove the pace at the front of the race for a lap-and-a-half of the finishing circuit, before giving way to McRae. “Michael Barry, I have to say, was incredible today,” said McRae. “Michael deserves the credit because he had the legs nobody else had.”
McRae took over on the last trip up Lemon Hill, still intent on setting up Hincapie. “I thought George was gonna be on my wheel, but when I started the descent, I was alone and thought, ‘Now what do I do?’” said McRae.
McRae kept going and when Pate bridged across, Walters had to make his move as well. “I was hoping Kirk would cover it, but he told me earlier he wasn’t feeling too good,” said Walters, the Canadian national road champion.
Hincapie, meanwhile, was waiting for someone else in the group to respond to the move. “We were setting up for me, but it was unbelievably negative,” he said. “Everybody in the breakaway was just looking at me.”
But Wherry’s front wheel was going soft, and he couldn’t follow the break on the descent of Lemon Hill. And the two Saturn riders were too blown with more than 150 miles in their legs.
So, the race came down to Walters, Pate and McRae, which worked perfectly for Walters and McRae. Not so for Pate.
“I pretty much ran out of options,” said the 23-year-old. While Walters had O’Bee and McRae had Hincapie waiting in the wings, Pate had no one, and the best he could hope for was to hang on for a podium spot.
So, the under-23 world time trial champion pulled furiously at the front as the chasers were closing in. That left the sprint to McRae and Walters, and in the end Walters had too much for the Postal rider. Pate took third, just in front of Vogels, Hincapie and the rest of the lead group.
“It’s unbelievable. Awesome,” said Walters. “I didn’t really believe it until I crossed the line.”
It was a huge win, the biggest of his career and the biggest ever for Navigators. “It’s an unbelievable achievement for my team as well,” he said.
Meanwhile, McRae didn’t win the race but he still claimed the prized stars-and-stripes jersey. “This jersey is just a symbol of what every professional racer in America dreams of,” he said. “This is a dream come true.”
LiveUpdates from start to finish
1. Mark Walters (Can), Navigators, at 5:54:24 (42:57 km/h),
2. Chann McRae,
3. Danny Pate, Prime Alliance
4. Henk Vogels (Aus), Mercury
5. George Hincapie, U.S. Postal Service
6. Mark McCormack, Saturn
7. Mariano Friedick, Jelly Belly
8. Zbigniew Piatek (Pol), Mroz
9 . Damon Kluck, Saturn
10. Thomas Gronqvist (Swe), Amore & Vita Beretta
11. Kirk O’Bee, Navigators, all s.t.
12. Michael Barry (Can), U.S. Postal Service, at 0:13
13. Chris Wherry, Mercury, at 0:20
14. Sbastien Mattozza (B), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, at 1:26
15. David McKenzie (Aus), iTeamnova.com, at 1:31
16. Chad Gerlach, Sierra Nevada-Cannondale
17. Eric Wohlberg (Can), Saturn
18. Erik Saunders, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports
19. Krzysztof Krzywy (Pol), Mroz
20. Mike Sayers, Mercury
21. Trent Klasna, Saturn
22. Peter Rogers (Aus), iTeamnova.com
23. John Peters, Prime Alliance
24. Tom Boonen (B), U.S. Postal Service
25. Dirk Friel, Jittery Joes-Choco-Andean Eco Coffee
26. Zbigniew Wyrzykowski (Pol), Mroz
27. Doug Ziewacz, 7Up-Nutra Fig
28. Soren Petersen (Dk), Saturn
29. Viktor Rapinski (Blr), Saturn
30. Cristian Pepoli (I), Saeco-Longoni Sport
31. Jesus Zarate Estrada (Mex), Mercury, all s.t.
32. Igor Astarloa (Spa), Saeco-Longoni Sport, at 1:54
33. Aurlien Clerc (Swi), Mapei-Quick Step, at 2:34
34. David O’loughlin (Irl), Ofoto-Lombardi Sports
35. Oscar Mason (I), Saeco-Longoni Sport
36. Giampaolo Cheula (I), Mapei-Quick Step
37. Plamen Stoyanov (Bul), Mercury, all s.t.
38. Oleg Grishkine (Rus), Navigators, at 3:08
39. Ciaran Power (Irl), Navigators, s.t.
40. Gorik Gardeyn (B), Lotto-Adecco, at 5:54
41. Adam Wadecki (Pol), Mroz, at 5:56
42. Charles Dionne (Can), 7Up-Nutra Fig
43. Juan Fuentes Angullo (Spa), Saeco-Longoni Sport, all s.t.
44. Antonio Cruz, U.S. Postal Service, at 6:06
45. Allan Davis (Aus), Mapei-Quick Step, s.t.
46. John Lieswyn, 7Up-Nutra Fig, at 6:18
47. Scott Guyton (NZl), iTeamnova.com, s.t.
48. Tom Leaper (Aus), Navigators, at 6:23
49. Leonardo Zanotti (I), Mapei-Quick Step
50. Cesar Grajales Calle (Col), Jittery Joes-Choco-Andean Eco Coffee
51. Justin Spinelli, Saeco-Longoni Sport, all s.t.
52. Max Van Heeswijk (Ned), Mixed Team 1, at 6:39
53. Alan Iacuone (Aus), iTeamnova.com
54. Pawel Niedzwiecki (Pol), Mroz
55. Piotr Chmielewski (Pol), Mroz
56. Frank McCormack, Saturn, all s.t.
58. Eddy Gragus, Sierra Nevada-Cannondale, at 9:36
59. Sven Vanthourenhout, Mixed Team 1
60. Chris Baumann, Sierra Nevada-Cannondale
61. Tim Larkin, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports
62. Leif Hoste, Mixed Team 1
63. att Dubberley, Sierra Nevada-Cannondale
64. avid Wyandt, Sierra Nevada-Cannondale
65. ichael Rogers, Mapei-Quick Step
66. ylan Casey, U.S. Postal Service
67. rent Dawson, Jelly Belly
68. ohn Hunt, Sierra Nevada-Cannondale
69. ames Hodnett, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports
70. Hans De Clercq (B Lotto-Adecco
71. Russell Stephenson, Prime Alliance
72. James Perry, Amore & Vita Beretta
73. Josh Hall, Sympatico-Jet Fuel Coffee
74. Jon Van Heel, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports
75. Hilton Clarke, Schroeder Iron Pro
76. Jean-Franois Laroche, Sympatico-Jet Fuel Coffee
77. Wesley Van Speybroeck (B), Lotto-Adecco
78. Ryan Barrett, Schroeder Iron Pro
79. Dominique Perras (Can), iTeamnova.com
80. Trent Wilson (Aus), iTeamnova.com
81. Glenn D’Hollander (B), Lotto-Adecco
82. Jonas Ljungblad (S), Amore & Vita Beretta
83. Luke Stockwell (Aus), Jittery Joes-Choco-Andean Eco Coffee
84. Jacob Erker (Can), Schroeder Iron Pro
85. Jeff Louder, Landbouwkrediet-Colnago
86. Colby Pierce, Ofoto-Lombardi Sports
87. Kirk Albers, Jelly Belly
88. Derek Bouchard-Hall, Mercury, all s.t.