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Heavy hitters and a one-two punch: Two teams to watch at pro nats

Pressed to name favorites for Monday's U.S. pro road championships, most would begin with two teams: Boels-Dolmans and Cannondale-Garmin

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (VN) — In the end, the U.S. national time trial championships boiled down to just two dominant teams. For the women it was Twenty16–Sho-Air, whose Kristin Armstrong and Carmen Small each crushed the course record en route to a one-two finish. For the men, Cannondale-Garmin dominated the field, with Andrew Talansky securing his first professional TT championship and teammate Ben King finishing only seconds behind.

Could we see a repeat of sorts as the domestic peloton takes to the road on Monday at the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial Championships in Chattanooga? A pair of dominant teams who command the day?

It’s difficult to say, of course. With 73 men and 82 women registered for the Memorial Day showdown, the stars and stripes could very well end up in the hands of a dark horse like SmartStop’s Dr. Eric Marcotte, the 34-year-old Arizona chiropractor who shocked the field with his surprise win in 2014.

But pressed to name Monday’s race favorites, most would begin with Boels-Dolmans and Cannondale-Garmin.

Women: Boels-Dolmans’ one-two punch

The 69.3-mile women’s road race will begin with three starting circuits through downtown Chattanooga. After two long laps over nearby Lookout Mountain, it will conclude with three additional downtown closing circuits. With 2014 winner Alison Powers now retired and 2015 Tour of the Gila winner Mara Abbott sitting the race out, Monday’s smart money is on Boels-Dolmans’ one-two punch of Evelyn Stevens and Megan Guarnier.

Stevens, the stockbroker turned cycling phenom, is a powerful all-rounder whose well-earned reputation as a time trialist is well-balanced by her hard-charging style on the road. The 32-year-old from Claremont, California, won the recent women’s invitational time trial at the Amgen Tour of California and is one of three women already selected to represent the United States at the UCI’s world time trial championships in Richmond, Virginia. Equally adept on the road, Stevens is the 2012 winner of the women’s Fleche Wallonne.

After splitting the earliest years of her career between HTC-Columbia and Specialized-lululemon, Stevens signed with the Dutch Boels-Dolmans team for 2015, becoming the second American to join the squad, alongside 2012 U.S. women’s road champion Megan Guarnier.

Guarnier, a 30-year-old native of Glen Falls, New York, began her career in 2010 with Team Tibco, before converting her national championship into a role supporting the sport’s biggest female star, Marianne Vos, as a member of the Rabo Liv women’s team. In 2015, Guarnier took the biggest win of her career, riding away solo to capture the inaugural women’s Strade Bianchi.

Between their two American powerhouses, a Boels-Dolmans-packed podium is hardly outside of the realm of possibility. Last year, Guarnier and Stevens took second and third, respectively, prior to becoming teammates.

Guarnier – who has been forced to race nationals without team support for each of the past two years — told VeloNews that the addition of Stevens will be a breath of fresh air.

“Now we have more horsepower on the bike,” she said. “Having Evie on the team is huge. It gives our team a lot more cards to play.”

Guarnier, who races almost exclusively in Europe, says she will depend on Stevens’ knowledge of the domestic peloton to help shape team tactics.

“This is typically the only race I do in the United States, so I haven’t been racing against these girls. I don’t know how they climb, or how they sprint. Or how their attacks go. Or when they will come,” she said.

“I have a feeling for that in Europe. I race against those girls all the time. But here I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage. Evie has much more experience racing with the girls in the U.S. So she’ll be able to help me a ton.”

Stevens agrees, noting that the two – while strong – are going to use their heads Monday.

“We’re going to have to play to one another’s strengths,” Stevens told VeloNews after Saturday’s time trial. “There are some really good riders in the field and some teams that have way more riders. So we’re just going to have to be a little crafty and ride smart.”

For both women the prospect of taking the U.S. champion’s jersey back to Europe is a dream worth fighting for.

“I really want those stars and stripes back,” Guarnier said. “Wearing it is really a great feeling, because I’m an American in Europe full time. So to bring that jersey back over there as a racer on one of the top teams, I think that would be really special.

“It’s an honor to represent the United States whether I’m wearing that jersey or not, but having it is just amazing. And don’t forget we’ve got the world championships in Richmond this year too, and so to wear that jersey there? That would be incredible.”

Men: Cannondale-Garmin brings five heavy hitters

At 111.4 miles, the men’s race is a longer version of the women’s course, featuring four starting laps, four long laps, and three finishing circuits through the streets of Chattanooga.

This year’s lineup lacks the WorldTour firepower of some years past, with only six UCI WorldTeam riders scheduled to appear. Of these, five represent Cannondale-Garmin: Talansky, King, Joe Dombrowski, Ted King and pre-race favorite Alex Howes, who placed third in Chattanooga in 2014.

After abandoning the Amgen Tour of California earlier in the month, Talansky has clearly regained his form, winning Saturday’s national TT title. Expected to be his team’s GC leader at the Tour de France, Talansky is a complete rider, more than capable of becoming the first American man to capture the nation’s professional road and time trial titles concurrently.

That said, Talansky is clear that Monday’s race will be a team affair.

“The road race is a race where we have options,” he told VeloNews. “We have Joe Dombrowski and you saw what he did on Mt. Baldy [at the Amgen Tour of California]. We have Ted King, who’s always just strong all around. We have myself and Ben King. But maybe most importantly we have the person who doesn’t mind being called a favorite and taking responsibility for that in Alex Howes.”

Howes, a 27-year-old native of Golden, Colorado, is himself a capable all-rounder, who packs a powerful finishing punch.

“This race has been on [Alex’s] bucket list for a long time,” said Ben King, a former national road champion. “And since it’s a one-day race, it’s all or nothing and he’s probably our fastest guy here. So if it comes to the line in a group then Alex is certainly our guy.”

Added Talansky: “He’s been right up there several times [at nationals]. Alex really gets motivated about the race and I think more than anybody, you can see Alex’s excitement about nationals.”

Howes has been in Chattanooga for the better part of a week scoping out the course, but downplayed expectations to VeloNews Sunday.

“I managed to get through California unscathed and flew straight to Chattanooga to adapt to the heat and the time zone,” Howes said. “My spring campaign has been one to forget and to be honest, my legs and confidence coming into nationals are not what I was hoping they’d be. But for me, nationals is always a huge target and to wear the stars and stripes for a year would be an absolute dream come true.”

Like his teammates, however, Howes emphasized that Cannondale-Garmin has many options for Monday.

“We have a small but strong squad here and honestly if any one of us changes from green and black to red, white and blue, I’ll be a happy man.”

Talansky concurred.

“It doesn’t really matter how it happens, but our goal is definitely to get a team win.”

Editor’s note: VeloNews’ Dan Wuori will be in Chattanooga all weekend. For updates on the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial Championships, follow Dan on Twitter at @dwuori.