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By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
The biggest week in U.S. cycling kicks off on Tuesday afternoon in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, when 20 teams line up for the First Union Invitational, the first event leading up to Sunday’s First Union USPRO Championships in Philadelphia. Contested on a difficult 7-mile circuit in Lancaster, the 13-lap, 91-mile race will give the first hint of which teams have arrived at First Union week prepared to challenge for the USPRO title at the end of the week.
Last year, Mercury took the win in Lancaster behind its European import Leon Van Bon. However, when the team’s Division 1 ambitions stalled out at the end of last season, Euro stars like Van Bon, Jans Koerts and Fabrizio Guidi became distant memories. This year, the team will be relying on a group of riders that’s focus is the domestic scene. That group will be headed up by Chris Wherry and 2000 USPRO winner Henk Vogels of Australia.
But unlike year’s past, Mercury is no longer top dog heading into the First Union series. The two hottest teams in the first half of the season have been Prime Alliance and Navigators. Prime Alliance dominated March behind former Mercury man Chris Horner, who won Redlands, Sea Otter and the Solano Bicycle Classic. Horner, however, broke his foot in the beginning of April. Whether he’ll have that March form this week is one of the questions that could be answered at Lancaster. If not, the team will look to Danny Pate or John Peters in Lancaster.
After Prime Alliance’s hot March, Mercury took some big wins at the Athens Twilight Criterium and Tour of the Gila, but then Navigators stepped to the fore. The team spent much of April and May in Europe, and was thus an unknown quantity when it returned to the U.S. Wins at the Housatonic Valley Classic and Clarendon Cup by Vassili Davidenko quickly dispelled any doubts. In addition to Davidenko and Kirk O’Bee, Navigators will welcome back Chris Baldwin, who broke his wrist in the beginning of May at the Four Days of Dunkirk.
Of course, the top domestic teams will have to contend with the European invasion during First Union week, and that invasion is led each year by a couple of Americans, two-time defending USPRO champion Fred Rodriguez riding for the Belgian Domo-Farm Frites team and 1998 USPRO champion George Hincapie of the U.S. Postal Service.
Long before he became a European-based star, Rodriguez won at Lancaster as a U.S. national team amateur in 1995. As the leader of Domo at First Union, Rodriguez will only have six riders supporting him (teams are allowed up to 10 riders), but his formidable group will include Koerts, Max Van Heeswijk and Jeroen Blijlevens.
Postal, meanwhile, seems bent on reclaiming First Union week as its own. The team has sent a full squad to back Hincapie, including Paris-Roubaix revelation Tom Boonen, who finished third at the Queen of the Classics in April. The team will also feature Tour de France veterans Benoit Joachim and Christian Vande Velde.
Among the other European teams in attendance, the Polish Mroz squad is always an aggressive player during First Union week, while Mapei this year has sent a team of rising stars — including Swiss Fabian Cancellara and Aurelian Clerc, Russian Evgeni Petrov and Australian Michael Rogers — who will be hungry to prove themselves.
While Lancaster will be a good indicator for USPRO, Thursday’s First Union Classic in Trenton, New Jersey, is usually more of a sprinters’ affair, so look for the USPRO contenders to be out testing their legs on the tough hill through Rockford Park in Lancasater on Tuesday.
The race begins at 4:30 p.m. local time, and with forecasts calling for highs in the 70s, the riders may be spared the typical East Coast heat and humidity of early June, although an evening thunderstorm is always a possibility.
First Union Invitational team rosters:
DOMO FARM FRITES 1 Fred Rodriguez, USA2 Jeroen Blijlevens, NED3 Jans Koerts, NED4 Leif Hoste, BEL5 Sven Vanthourenhout, BEL6 Max Van Heeswijk, NED7 TBDD.S H. Redant MERCURY 11 Gord Fraser, CAN12 Derek Bouchard Hall, USA13 Brice Jones, USA14 Scott Moninger, USA15 Henk Vogels, AUS16 Plamen Stainov, BUL17 Phil Zajicak, USA18 Chris Wherry, USA19 Jesus Zarate,MEX20 Adham Sbeih, USAD.S. J. Wordin, T. Rogers US POSTAL SERVICE 21 George Hincapie,USA22 Tom Boonen, BEL23 Michael Barry, CAN24 David Clinger, USA25 Benoit Joachim,LUX26 Dylan Casey, USA27 Christian VandeVelde,USA28 Robbie Ventura,USA29 Antonio Cruz,USA30 David Zabriskie, USAD.S. F. Andreu MAPEI QUICK STEP 31 Fabian Cancellara, SUI32 Evgeni Petrov, RUS33 Allan Davis, AUS34 Fillipo Pozzato, ITA35 Michael Rogers, AUS36 Frederik Willems, BEL37 Aurelian Clerc, SUI38 Bernhard Eisel, AUTD.S. M. Fernandez Rodriguez LOTTO ADECCO 41 Stefen VanDijck, NED42 Gorik Gardeyn, BEL43 Nico Eeckhout, BEL44 Kevin Van Impe, BEL45 Fulco Van Gulik, NED47 Hans DeClercq, BEL48 Christophe Detilloux, BEL49 Wesley VanSpeybroeck,BELD.S. W. Planckaert SATURN 51 Trent Klasna, USA52 Will Frischkorn, USA53 Tim Johnson, USA54 Harm Jansen, NED55 Chris Fisher, USA56 Damon Kluck, USA57 Mark McCormack, USA58 Frank McCormack, USA59 Soren Peterson, DEN60 Eric Wohlberg, CAND.S. J Copeland NAVIGATORS 61 Chris Baldwin, USA62 Siro Camponogara, ITA63 Vassili Davidenko, RUS64 Oleg Grishkine, RUS65 Tom Leaper, AUS66 Ciaran Power, IRL67 Kirk O’Bee, USA68 Brian Sheedy, USA69 Burke Swindelhurst, USA70 Mark Walters, CAND.S. R Cipolinii/E Beamon 7 UP NUTRA FIG 71 John Lieswyn, USA72 Clark Sheehan, USA73 Charles Dionne, CAN74 Kevin Monahan, USA75 Oscar Pineda, GUA76 Doug Ziewacz, USA77 Charle Coyle, USA78 Dan Schmatz, USA79 Greg Henderson, NZL80 Hayden Godfrey, NZLD.S. J. Corbett AMORE & VITA BERETTA 81 Rodolfo Massi, ITA82 Jonas Ljungblad, SWE83 James Perry, RSA84 Cristian Fanini, ITA85 Tomas Gronqvist, SWE86 Victor Eladio Alvarez, MEXD.S.R. Pelliconi SAECO LONGONI SPORT 91 Damiano Cunego, ITA92 Justin Spinelli, USA93 Brad Davidson, AUS94 Juan Fuentes, ESP95 Cristian Pepoli, ITA96 Andrea Tonti, ITAD.S. Bruno Vicino ITEAMNOVA.COM 101 Russell Downing, GBR102 Jamie Drew, AUS103 Scott Guyton, NZL104 Allan Iaconne, AUS105 Brett Lancaster, AUS106 David McKenzie, AUS107 Aaron Olson, USA108 Dominque Perras, CAN109 Trent Wilson, AUSD.S. S. Yates MROZ 111 Piotr Chmielewski, POL112 Zbigniew Piatek, POL113 Kazimierz Stafiej,POL114 Bogdan Bondariew, UKR115 Eugen Wacker, KGZ116 Remigius Lupeikis, LTU117 Pawel Niedzwiecki, POL118 Adam Wadecki, POLD.S. P. Kosmala PRIME ALLIANCE 121 Chris Horner, USA122 Danny Pate, USA*123 Michael Creed, USA124 Sven Tuft, CAN125 Matt DeCanio, USA126 Russell Stevenson, USA127 Alex Candelario, USA128 John Peters, USA129 Jame Carney, USA130 Ryan Miller, USAD.S. K. Willett OFOTO LOMBARDI SPORTS 131 John Durso, USA132 David O’Laughlin, IRL133 Reto Lauper, SUI134 Jackson Stewart, USA135 Erik Saunders, USA136 Tim Larkin, USA137 James Hodgett, IRL138 Colby Farrell,USA139 John Brady, IRL140 Colby Pierce, USAD.S. R. Zellner LANDBOUWKREDIT COLNAGO 141 Rolf Sorensen, DEN142 Yaroslav Popovych,UKR143 Jeff Louder, USA144 Salvatore Scamardella, ITA145 Yurij Metlushenko, UKR146 Sergiy Avdyeyev, UKR147 Lorenzo Bernucci, ITA148 Claudio Lucchini, ITAD.S. M. Saligari SYMPATICO-JET FUEL 151 Joe Giuliano, CAN152 Josh Hall, CAN153 Matthew Hansen, CAN154 Buck Miller, CAN155 Andrew Randell, CAN156 Dominique Rollin, CAN157 Ryan Roth, CAN158 Bruno Nella, CAN159 Richard Minichiello, CAN160 Jean Francois LaRoche,CAND.S. D. Butler PRIME ALLIANCE 121 Chris Horner, USA122 Danny Pate, USA*123 Michael Creed, USA124 Sven Tuft, CAN125 Matt DeCanio, USA126 Russell Stevenson, USA127 Alex Candelario, USA128 John Peters, USA129 Jame Carney, USA130 Ryan Miller, USAD.S. K. Willett OFOTO LOMBARDI SPORTS 131 John Durso, USA132 David O’Laughlin, IRL133 Reto Lauper, SUI134 Jackson Stewart, USA135 Erik Saunders, USA136 Tim Larkin, USA137 James Hodgett, IRL138 Colby Farrell,USA139 John Brady, IRL140 Colby Pierce, USAD.S. R. Zellner LANDBOUWKREDIT COLNAGO 141 Rolf Sorensen, DEN142 Yaroslav Popovych,UKR143 Jeff Louder, USA144 Salvatore Scamardella, ITA145 Yurij Metlushenko, UKR146 Sergiy Avdyeyev, UKR147 Lorenzo Bernucci, ITA148 Claudio Lucchini, ITAD.S. M. Saligari SYMPATICO-JET FUEL 151 Joe Giuliano, CAN152 Josh Hall, CAN153 Matthew Hansen, CAN154 Buck Miller, CAN155 Andrew Randell, CAN156 Dominique Rollin, CAN157 Ryan Roth, CAN158 Bruno Nella, CAN159 Richard Minichiello, CAN160 Jean Francois LaRoche,CAND.S. D. Butler JELLY BELLY 161 Kirk Albers, USA162 Mariano Friedick,USA163 Brian Forbes, USA164 Jason McCartney, USA165 Brent Dawson, USA166 Chris McGovern, USA167 Cory Steinbrecher, USA168 Remi McManus, USA169 Ernie Lechuga, USA 170 Derek Wilkerson, USA D.S. D. Van Haute JITTERY JOE’S COFFEE 171 Dirk Friel, USA172 Chris Pic, USA173 Max Finkbeiner, USA174 Jesse Lawler, USA175 Bradley Saul, USA176 Mike Ley, USA177 Luke Stockwell, AUS178 Chad Hartley, USA179 Cesar Grajales Calle,COL180 Tommy Bass, USAD.S. M. Rice SCHROEDER IRON 181 Jamie Paolinetti, USA182 Michael Johnson, USA183 Hilton Clarke ,AUS184 Ken Tomen, USA185 Jason Bausch, USA186 Pete Knudsen, USA187 Ryan Barrett, USA188 Roberto Gaggioli, ITA189 TBD190 TBDD.S. F. Schroeder SIERRA NEVADA CANNONDALE 191 Chris Baumann, USA192 Matt Dubberley, USA193 David Fuentes, USA194 Chad Gerlach, USA195 Eddy Gragus, USA196 John Hunt, USA197 Justin Morgan, USA198 Dave Smith, USA199 Troy White, USA200 David Wyandt, USAD.S. M. Neel