GREENVILLE, South Carolina (VN) — Three-time U.S. road champion George Hincapie wanted hard racing Monday. His BMC Racing teammates gave him just that at the USA Cycling Professional National Championships and they weren’t alone.
“I asked the team to make it hard from the beginning,” said Hincapie. “The race was tough, which was suited to my qualities. The guys that were up there were the strongest in the race and that’s no coincidence.”
Hincapie, winner of two national titles on the Paris Mountain course that runs near his home in Greenville, South Carolina, was among a handful of riders with the engine to stand up to 115 miles, four major climbs and the smothering heat. At 36, the 15-time Tour de France veteran is nearly unbeatable on this course when he arrives with a small group to the downhill sprint on Main Street.
When a seven-rider breakaway went free before the first ascent of Paris Mountain, the domestiques dropped to the caravan to fetch bottles and the bunch thought the day’s break was established. Not so.
BMC team director Mike Sayers wanted to get a rider in the day’s long move and make sure it happened when the race was hard. The first trip over Paris Mountain was that time.
Jeff Louder went to the front of the peloton on the 2.2-mile climb and turned a 50-second gap into 10 seconds. Riders dropped out the back of the bunch quicker than names in an industry after party. Two of the biggest teams roster-wise, Kenda-5-hour Energy and Realcyclist.com, were decimated. Jelly Belly-Kenda and Exergy were on the ropes.
“Everyone was starting to go back to their cars and starting to chat and get friendly, but we wanted to keep the pressure on. We wanted a hard race and I think we succeeded in that,” said Brent Bookwalter. “(We wanted a breakaway) to go away when the race was already hard so it wasn’t just a bunch of guys that couldn’t hack up there.”
The composition of the break Bookwalter tagged onto showed just how hard the race was when it went. Of the seven riders making the group, three wore the colors of ProTeams. In the first lap away, Bookwalter, Jason McCartney (RadioShack), Timmy Duggan (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) shelled their companions.
Back in the peloton, HTC-Highroad, UnitedHealthcare and Bissell were forced to pull hard to keep the group’s advantage south of three minutes.
“The guys had to chase Brent and it made the race hard. It really played for our cards,” said Hincapie, who sat sheltered in the bunch. “We went fast the first time up Paris Mountain and then we went fast each lap between the climbs, which made it really tough for the riders.”
By the time the peloton reached the final entrance to Paris Mountain, less than 50 of the original 90 riders remained in contact. When Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Highroad) opened the throttle, nearly all of those riders were gone. Not even Van Garderen’s teammate and usual Greenville threat Danny Pate made the split.
“Everybody was fairly cooked,” said Liquigas’ Ted King, one of the last riders to make the selection.
Eventual winner Matthew Busche (RadioShack) never went to the team car for a feed or made an attack until his final sprint, but said he felt heavy and uncomfortable much of the day.
“My legs felt a little heavy, whether due to (Saturday’s) time trial or the heat, any number of factors, but I thankfully didn’t have any cramps,” he said. “I had weird stomach sensations.”
Hincapie and King cramped.
At the end of 115 miles, the BMC plan worked almost to perfection. Hincapie was among the group of four coming to the line. The pace and 90-plus-degree heat kept any attacks from flying and Hincapie came onto the finish straight in second wheel. He would come up just short in the end to Busche, but said his team had ridden the perfect race.
“The racing was really aggressive and exciting the whole day… it was tough, which was suited to my qualities, he said. “The guys that were up there were the strongest in the race and that’s no coincidence.
“I can’t say I saved anything here or there. I put it on the line and I’m proud of my effort.”