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By Neal Rogers
When 2005 national time-trial champion Chris Baldwin thinks back on his attempt to defend his title Friday in Greenville, South Carolina, he’s going to have to either laugh or cry.
Baldwin, who rides for the continental Toyota-United squad, left the start house last as defending champion and rose to the occasion, outpacing heavy race favorite Dave Zabriskie of CSC for nearly all of the 20-mile course only to ride off the road with 400 meters remaining. Baldwin missed the final, uphill right-hand turn on the course, locked up his rear wheel and slid off the road winding through The Cliffs Communities, the presenting sponsor of the event, crashing into a ravine. After picking himself up and taking a new bike, he struggled to regain his momentum, and as he crossed the line ashen-faced, his 11-second advantage prior to the critical turn had ended in a 32-second deficit.
“There were three or four sweepers in that last two kilometers, and each one I took too conservatively and scrubbed off a lot of speed,” Baldwin said. “I’d got off the aerobars and onto the bullhorns when I could have just taken them in the aerobars, so I kind of got into that mode that these corners aren’t that sharp, they’re just sweepers. And then I just came into [the final, uphill turn] super hot and froze up a little bit.”
Baldwin’s error in judgment was Zabriskie’s good fortune, however. A newly bearded Zabriskie finished with a time of 41:49, for an average of 28.53mph. Discovery Channel’s Jason McCartney took third, 52 seconds behind Zabriskie and 20 seconds behind a disappointed Baldwin. ProTour riders George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) and Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), both on the start list for Sunday’s national road-race championship, did not compete in the time trial.
Zabriskie took the 2004 elite men’s national time-trial title as a member of the U.S. Postal Service team when the race was open to both professional and amateur riders alike. Riding for CSC, Zabriskie has won time trials at the 2005 Giro d’Italia and Tour de France and this year’s Dauphiné Libéré, but said he hadn’t felt great on the course in South Carolina, and admitted that pre-race nerves may have gotten to him.
“I’m not one to make excuses, but I kind of wanted to throw up a lot when I was warming up,” Zabriskie said. “Something weird happened to the head. I think I was nervous for the first time in my life today. Everyone was saying ‘Zabriskie is going to win’ all week, and I think it got to me a little bit.”
The mostly out-and-back time trial course began at The Cliffs at Mountain Park and finished at The Cliffs Valley, just outside of Greenville in Traveler’s Rest. The posh, golf-course littered neighborhood includes seven premier, private master-planned residential communities located along the leading edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, between Asheville and Greenville, collectively bordered by over one million acres of national forests and state parks. As part of its presenting partnership for the time trial, The Cliffs had requested the finish inside its gated community. The result was a technical final five kilometers that some riders had said were unnecessarily demanding.
“There were some very tight, off-camber sections,” said Navigators Insurance rider Phil Zajicek, who finished 12th. “You could go pre-ride the course, but unless you rode it at full speed it was tough to judge the corners. It’s too bad, 90 percent of the course was nice and wide open, and then they us tossed into these neighborhoods in the final kilometers.”
Baldwin said he’d pre-ridden the course Thursday, but said that the speeds he’d ridden in reconnaissance didn’t come close to the speed he rode on Friday.
“It’s pretty ironic, really, because normally I am a guy that knows every inch of the course, and I’m pretty meticulous about pre-riding and whatnot,” Baldwin said. “To be honest I think I let my guard down a little bit this year. I think I may have come into it a little too casual, only pre-riding it once. Riding a corner like that, the day before, at 20mph is totally different than coming into it at 40mph with a narrow tire and a disc.”
And though Baldwin said he had “no one to blame but myself,” he did say he felt the tight turns through The Cliffs neighborhood were a bit much.
“I think it was way too technical, I’m not going to lie to you,” Baldwin said. “I don’t see a reason to add something that dangerous with 300 meters to go in a 34km event. In the same sentence, I’m going to say it’s the rider’s responsibility to know every corner, and I have no one to blame by myself. As far as courses go, I think time trials should be relatively straightforward, but in the same breath, you need to know [the course].”
Baldwin’s team director Harm Jansen felt the sharp right-hand turn wasn’t so much extreme as it was poorly marked.
“I can’t help but attribute a small portion of Baldwin’s crash to a corner that a lot of people felt was poorly marked. It’s a big mistake on the course,” he said. “There’s one guy standing in the right lane with a flag. A lot of people will agree this was not set up right. You’re on a bend the whole time, making it difficult to anticipate that corner. There should have been a lot more warning. There should have been barricades. It’s so frustrating, because Chris had it in the bag.”
Told that some had complained about the course’s final, tight turns, Zabriskie was unsympathetic. “Wah, wah,” Zabriskie said. “That’s bike racing. That’s just the way it is. There are turns on the roads, and you have to be able to navigate them.
“I rode the course once yesterday; it turned out to be a lot harder today than I was expecting it to be,” Zabriskie said. “I knew the course was short, and I knew it would really be an intense effort, because when it’s short like that it’s hard to put a lot of time into the rivals.”
With no other CSC team members at the race, Zabriskie rode without a radio, with George Hincapie’s brother Rich following behind. Zabriskie was fourth from last out of the start house, and posted the day’s then-fastest time at the turnaround, 12 seconds faster than McCartney. Baldwin later bested that time by 7.9 seconds.
“I didn’t have a radio, so I told the guys to honk the horn if it was close,” Zabriskie said. “They started honking on one of the climbs, so I started digging as deep as I could go, but I didn’t want to explode. When I started going up the hills they began honking a lot, but it went okay.”
Baldwin was putting in the ride of his life to add to the national time trial championship titles he won in 2003 and 2005. But the crash and bike change cost him precious seconds, and the slow, uphill restart that followed made it all but impossible for him to remain a threat.
The revelation ride of the day came from the stocky legs of TIAA-CREF’s Mike Friedman, who beat his teammate, 2001 world under-23 time-trial champion Danny Pate, by 20 seconds. Friedman, 24, finished fourth, ahead of Navigators’ Bernard Van Ulden. Pate took sixth. Friedman, the first American finisher at the Philadelphia International Championship in June, said it was only his fourth time trial of the year.
“I was kind of surprised, I was just hoping to hold on,” Friedman said. “So many things were going on in my head, I was just trying to stay relaxed. I do all the endurance stuff on the track, and I have the ‘fat-kid syndrome,’ so I can go downhill pretty well. The hills were pretty long, but these power-climbs here at the end were good. I can keep it going pretty well. This is my first year as a pro, I’m just stoked to be here and be a part of this team.”
A.J. Smith, the honorary member of the Discovery Channel team who earned a spot in the time trial by winning the Race To Replace event in Indianapolis, finished with a time of 47:42. Though he wasn’t listed in the official results, his time would have put him at 48th out of 53 finishers.
Following Sunday’s road race, where Zabriskie will race without a team, the 27-year-old Salt Lake City native will head to Colorado Springs to prepare for the world time-trial championship in Salzburg, Austria, on September 21. Although net yet officially selected for the national team, Zabriskie has met the automatic qualification criteria and has expressed his interest in competing for a rainbow jersey. While at Colorado Springs Zabriskie said he will practice motorpacing, and that and he might “hop on the track for a little bit.”
“I’ve never gotten on [a velodrome], and I’m interested to try it out,” Zabriskie said, adding that while he’s not interested in making an assault on the hour record, he would be interested in a 4km effort. “I’d really like to go to the Olympics some day, and I’m trying to maximize my options.”
For the world championship, Zabriskie pointed to three-time and defending world time-trial champion Michael Rogers and his T-Mobile teammate Sergey Gontchar as likely podium contenders, as well as Zabriskie’s own CSC teammate Fabian Cancellara. And though Baldwin nearly beat Zabriskie for the national title, Zabriskie didn’t name his compatriot as a favorite for worlds.
Baldwin might not fault him for it. Asked if he would be extending his season to race in Salzburg, Baldwin said, “If [USA Cycling] will take me, I’ll go.”
As for his heartbreaking mistake, Baldwin was philosophical. “It’s just a bike race,” he said. “I came out and gave it my best. And I learned a lesson. I won’t make that mistake again.”FullResults