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Preview: 2017 U.S. pro nationals pits Euro pros against domestic teams

A number of top contenders for the Stars and Stripes jersey head to Knoxville without much team support. Here's a full USPro preview.

Stars and stripes are on the line as the U.S. professional national championships head to Knoxville, Tennessee this weekend. The racing will be a clash between European heavyweights, riding mostly without team support and domestic teams ready to use tactics to their advantage.

The women’s and men’s road races, set for Sunday, June 25, will be shown live on VeloNews.com.

Both 2016 time trial champions, Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) and Carmen Small (Team Veloconcept) will not be racing.

Thunderstorms are expected Saturday morning, which could throw a curveball into the mix for the women’s ITT. The weather looks partly cloudy for the Sunday road races with highs in the mid-80s expected both days.

Originally slated for a second year in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the races were moved to Knoxville last September. This is the first time the U.S. pro national championships are being held on the same weekend as most of the European pro national championships.

U.S. pro nationals courses

Both the individual time trial and road race in Knoxville will consist of circuits. The women will start the weekend off with the ITT, completing three laps of the 7.7km course, while the men will contest four laps. Riders will start at one-minute intervals and be staggered into heats to avoid having too many riders out on the circuit.

The ITT course is a rolling affair. The route is more technical than the simple out-and-backs we have seen in years past, but it is still fairly straightforward. There is 197 feet of elevation gain per lap.

The road race course is similar. Racers will ride a rolling circuit of 12.71km and see an elevation gain of just 717 feet per lap. The women’s field will tackle eight laps, for a total of 102km, while the men will battle over 14 laps, totaling 179km.

With nearly a 100 feet of elevation gained per mile, the road race course is by no means easy. While there seems to be less climbing than previous nationals, we can still expect to see a select group at the finish.

The most significant moment of the course comes 2.4km from the start of the circuit, as the riders will tackle Sherrod Road and face pitches above 11 percent. The climb comes early in the lap and only lasts 1.2km, making it easier for dropped riders to come back to the group.

Women’s individual time trial

Amber Neben rode to the gold medal in Doha at 2016 world championships. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Start Time: 10:15 a.m. EDT
Distance: 23.1km – 3 laps
Total Elevation Gain: 591ft/180.1m
Number of Starters: 38

Although Small, the defending champion, won’t be in attendance, there are still a host of powerful women ready for the race of truth. Two-time and current world time trial champion Amber Neben (Team Veloconcept) will look to show off her rainbow bands on home soil for the first time and improve on her silver medal from last year to take home the stars and stripes.

Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) finished fourth and fifth in the ITT in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and comes into this year’s race riding a wave of strong form after recently beating Neben at the one-day ITT Chrono de Gatineau in Canada, where Neben finished third. Stephens also won the hard-fought Winston-Salem Cycling Classic on Memorial Day.

Other riders to watch include: Brianna Walle (TIBCO-SVB), Leah Thomas (Sho-Air-Twenty20), and Tayler Wiles (UnitedHealthcare).

Men’s individual time trial

Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) turned in another excellent time trial, finishing in second and moving up to fourth in GC after stage 6 of the Amgen Tour of California. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

Start Time: 1:25 p.m. EDT
Distance: 30.8km – 4 laps
Total Elevation Gain: 788ft/240.2m
Number of Starters: 39

Brent Bookwalter will look to make it three national pro ITT championships in a row for BMC Racing after Phinney’s back-to-back titles. Bookwalter has finished on the podium twice, with third in 2012 and second in 2013, and powered to fourth last year and in 2011. The Asheville, North Carolina, resident recently finished second in the ITT at Amgen Tour of California and 10th in the ITT at the Critérium du Dauphiné.

Alexey Vermeulen (LottoNL-Jumbo) returns and will look to improve on the bronze medal he won last year. Joey Rosskopf (BMC Racing) could spoil the party as he seems to have found his form at the Giro d’Italia, powering to a stellar fifth place in the final-day individual time trial in Milan.

Other riders to watch include: Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) and Neilson Powless (Axeon Hagen Berman).

Women’s road race

Coryn Rivera
Coryn Rivera won the 2017 women’s Tour of Flanders. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Start Time: 9:00 a.m. EDT
Distance: 102km – 8 laps
Total Elevation Gain: 5,736ft/1,748.3m
Number of Starters: 74

Current and three-time U.S. pro national champion, Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans), is back and ready to defend her title after a stage win at the Amgen Tour of California in May. She has gotten the better of Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) the past two years, but Rivera is on the form of her life having won two one-day Women’s WorldTour events, including the Tour of Flanders. The rolling parcours in Knoxville, with no extended climb, seems better suited to Rivera’s strengths. But last year saw similar predictions, and Guarnier still got the better of Rivera.

The door is open for an upset, though. Both Rivera and Guarnier will be at a disadvantage. Neither of them has a teammate for support in the race.

While this year may see act three of Guarnier versus Rivera, there are many women looking to play spoiler. UnitedHealthcare will have a solid one-two punch with Ruth Winder and Taylor Wiles. Winder is in fantastic form with two stage wins and third overall at the recent North Star Grand Prix. Tayler Wiles, also showing good form, took home the queen of the mountains classification and a fifth place overall at North Star.

Emma White (Rally Cycling) captured the overall title at North Star, as well as a stage win and multiple podiums. White’s teammate Erica Allar packs a fast finish, and she finished sixth last year at nationals.

Other riders to watch include Mandy Heintz (Visit Dallas DNA), Brianna Walle (TIBCO-SVB), Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM), Samantha Schneider (ISCorp), and Ellen Noble (Colovita-Bianchi).

Men’s road race

American Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthcare) won stage 3 at the Herald Sun Tour on Saturday, February 4, 2017. Photo: Con Chronis / Herald Sun Tour

Start Time: 1:15 p.m. EDT
Distance: 179km – 14 laps
Total Elevation Gain: 10,038ft/3,059.6m
Number of Starters: 107

Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo) has been chasing the U.S. pro national championship for several years. He finished third on four occasions (2010, 2012, 2013, 2015). A rouleur who excelled in the classics this spring, Reijnen is able to get over climbs and win the sprint out of a select group. His fast finish makes him one to watch this Sunday.

Travis McCabe (UnitedHealthcare), also a fine sprinter, began the year flying high with three UCI wins, one at the Herald Sun Tour and two stage wins at the Tour de Langkawi. But most recently, he dropped out of the Tour de Beauce after a third-place finish on stage 1 due to illness.

Robin Carpenter (Holowesko-Citadel) has great form right now. He recently won the Winston-Salem Cycling Classic, arguably the toughest one-day race in the U.S. outside of the national championships.

Some of the strongest riders in the field will be riding solo. Alex Howes (Cannondale-Drapac), Alexey Vermuelen, and Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue Sport) all will be without teammates. Warbasse captured an emphatic win at the Tour de Suisse last week, but that was a mountain stage — unlike the course in Knoxville.

Other riders to watch include: Logan Owen (Axeon Hagens Berman), Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling), and former national champion Eric Marcotte (Cylance).