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Notes from the road: a Yank-only championship?

After what seems like months, finally, a column about … cycling. Last week, after the USPRO Championship in Philadelphia, VN.com reader Michael Batley e-mailed the following question: “Do you think it’s time for us to go to a U.S.-citizen-only pro championship? It seems like we have the numbers in the peloton to do it now. Why the continual inclusion of the Euro pros?” It’s a topic that comes up from time to time, often as a reaction to the “race within a race” situation, such as this year, where the USPRO champion and the race winner aren’t necessarily one and the same. So, I figured I’d

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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews assistant managing editor

An all-American USPRO championship probably ain't gonna happen.

An all-American USPRO championship probably ain’t gonna happen.

Photo: Casey Gibson

After what seems like months, finally, a column about … cycling. Last week, after the USPRO Championship in Philadelphia, VN.com reader Michael Batley e-mailed the following question: “Do you think it’s time for us to go to a U.S.-citizen-only pro championship? It seems like we have the numbers in the peloton to do it now. Why the continual inclusion of the Euro pros?”

It’s a topic that comes up from time to time, often as a reaction to the “race within a race” situation, such as this year, where the USPRO champion and the race winner aren’t necessarily one and the same. So, I figured I’d take a crack at this one, and after much thought, I came to the following conclusion: It ain’t gonna happen.

Here’s why.

Right now, the USPRO Championship race in Philadelphia, in its current format, is the biggest thing the U.S. calendar has got going: highest UCI-ranked race (1.2); biggest single-day prize list ($135,000, plus $52,000 for the Liberty Classic); highest quality field; most media attention, etc.

To conduct an all-American championship would entail one of two scenarios: 1) make the Philadelphia race a U.S. rider-only race, or 2) keep the Philly race as a UCI 1.2 race, but conduct the USPRO championship at a different location and time (probably the same weekend at the end of June when European countries hold their national championships).

Making Philly a U.S.-only race would detract immensely from the event. Part of the buzz surrounding the race is the inclusion of teams that rank in the top 10 worldwide, like Saeco or (in the past) Mapei, and the teams of U.S. stars living and racing primarily in Europe, like Fred Rodriguez’s Vini Caldirola team or Tyler Hamilton’s CSC squad. Philly week is a huge deal for sponsors as well, and the exclusion of European teams sponsored by American companies would leave a gaping hole.

Philadelphia is also a huge deal for the domestic pro teams, and because of the growing internationalization of the U.S. peloton, excluding foreigners would leave some of the top U.S. squads at less than full strength. This year, for example, Navigators would have been without Henk Vogels and Vassili Davidenko, among others; Saturn would have had to bench Nathan O’Neill, Eric Wohlberg and Victor Rapinkski; and 7UP would have lost a couple of its top riders — New Zealanders Greg Henderson and Hayden Godfrey and Guatamalan citizen Oscar Piñeda. And in past years, U.S. fans would have been deprived of seeing U.S. Postal riders like Tom Boonen, Viatcheslav Ekimov and Michael Barry.

Going back to Michael’s original question, though, he brings up the point that “we have the numbers in the peloton to do it now.”

True. So would it work to have a USPRO championship of U.S. riders only, somewhere other than Philly? Well, it could work, but would the race have the same presence? It depends.

There would be a few kinks, for sure. For one, as mentioned above, some of the teams that battle week in and week out would have to make some serious lineup changes. We may “have the numbers” to do it, but the quality would suffer. Also, a rider like Rodriguez would have to decide whether it’s worth it to make the trip if he’s not going to have any team support. Of course, these issues are par for the course in any national-championship race limited to citizens only.

What it really would boil down to is this: Could a promoter find a suitable course in a suitable location (I’m thinking big city, like Philadelphia or San Francisco), and really get it done? Chances are, it’d be tough to live up to the standard that’s been set for the race at Philadelphia.

So, for now I’ll take my chances with the “race within a race” at Philadelphia, and the possibility that the USPRO champ may not necessarily win the race outright.

Your thoughts? Send me an e-mail.

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Quick, what does the Race Across America have in common with Friday night under the lights at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome? Not much, says a first reaction. More than you think, says this year’s USCF National Racing Calendar. For the first time, the NRC has broadened its scope from USCF and USPRO road racing to include selected track events and, yes, RAAM, which got under way June 15 in San Diego, California.

So what gives? After being approached separately by RAAM organizers and the Lehigh Valley Velodrome series organizers late last year about adding those events to the NRC, USA Cycling gave it some thought, then gave the idea the thumbs up. The ultra-marathon cross-country event was added, along with selected track endurance events held at the velodrome in Trexlertown, Pennsylvania, the first being the women’s three-mile scratch race at the Nicole Reinhart Women’s Cycling Classic, June 6.

“It made sense from a few perspectives,” said Matt Murphy, USA Cycling field operation manager and technical director. “They are both endurance-based events that we support, the riders who compete in these events also compete in other NRC road events, and it could be a good test for future reference.”

Murphy says the response to the track events has been positive. “Since this calendar was released, track riders and road team directors who have track riders on their roster have come back to us with very positive feedback,” he said. “We haven’t heard much comment on the RAAM as yet.”

If all goes well, this year’s additions could just be the start of more change for the NRC. “If these events get more positive feedback,” said Murphy, “we will continue to look at adding different types of events in the future.”

That may be fine for promoting different events, but the USCF had better be careful or it risks further diluting an NRC calendar that’s already spread too thin.

* * *

Okay, for U.S. teams other than Saturn, it’s time to worry. When Chris Horner, Nathan O’Neill and Tom Danielson were dominating the early-season stage races, at least there was the faint hope that the trio couldn’t sustain that level of performance all season long. Then there was that brief two-week stretch where Prime Alliance took one-two in Connecticut and Navigators’ Chris Baldwin won the U.S. TT title. But then in the past three weeks the red-and-yellow has simply unleashed Mark McCormack, Trent Klasna, Eric Wohlberg and Viktor Rapinski. They’re coming at you in waves, and there’s no end in sight. What, you don’t think Ivan Dominguez and Charles Dionne will win a few races before the season’s out? Or that Horner, O’Neill and Danielson might possibly do some damage at Fitchburg and Cascade?

Face it, Tom Schuler did a spot-on George Steinbrenner impersonation this off-season, and Saturn’s actually having a better year than the Yankees.

* * *

Speaking of Klasna, many people were wondering what had happened to the 2001 NRC winner. After his long breakaway at USPRO in Philadelphia, Klasna said he had been hampered by a hamstring injury all spring. “Only until a week ago, I’ve only been able to train a week on, three days off, a week on, three days off. Unfortunately, or fortunately I guess, I’m fresh and ready to train, so I’m very excited. I haven’t done more than two weeks of good training all year long,” he said in Philadelphia, a week before he took the overall win at the Nature Valley Grand Prix in Minnesota.

* * *

After three races – Athens, Somerville and Clarendon Cup – Prime Alliance’s Jonas Carney and Diet Rite’s Tina Mayolo-Pic lead the inaugural American Criterium Championship Series. The series continues in July with Superweek in Wisconsin and the Wendy’s International in Ohio. The standings after Clarendon:

Men: 1. Jonas Carney, Prime Alliance; 2. Viktor Rapinski, Saturn; 3. Dan Schmatz, 7UP-Maxxis; 4. Siro Camponogara, Navigators; 5. Jeff Hopkins, Jittery Joe’s; 6. Marty Nothstein, Navigators; 7. Mike Tillman, Schroeder Iron; 8. Jesse Lawler, Jittery Joe’s; 9. Jackson Stewart, OFOTO-Lombardi Sports; 10. Cameron Hughes, Schroeder Iron.

Women: 1. Tina Mayolo-Pic, Diet Rite; 2. Laura Van Gilder, Saturn; 3. Sarah Uhl, Saturn; 4. Rebecca McLintock, Colavita-Bolla; 5. Julia Oh, IF-Wheelworks; 6. Lynn Gaggioli, Velo Bella; 7. Christina Underwood, Fuji; 8. Helen Kelly, TDS; 9. Tania Duff-Miller, Diet Rite; 10. Emily Gloeckner, TDS.

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What to watch for

July 4 The annual Coney Island hot-dog-eating contest. Former Bears defensive lineman William “The Refrigerator” Perry recently qualified for the contest by eating 12 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. The record is 50.5 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. Looks like the Fridge’s chances are slim.