U.S. national road race champion Matthew Busche (Trek Factory Racing) visited Richmond, Virginia last week to scout the 2015 worlds course. His impression of the route’s short but steep climbs? “Super, super difficult.”
September’s world championship road race will take the peloton through 16 laps on a 16.2-kilometer urban circuit for a total distance of 259.2km. The Richmond route includes cobblestones, several technical corners, and a few tough climbs near the end of the circuit that will inject plenty of fatigue into the legs over repeated trips throughout the day.
Busche took his recently acquired red, white, and blue kit to Richmond to prepare for what he hopes will be a start at worlds, and in doing so, the 30-year-old Wauwatosa, Wisconsin native gave Richmond a glimpse of what to expect in September: pros in their national colors charging up some of the toughest climbs in the area.
“I didn’t ride the front part of the course, but the last part of the course will definitely be difficult,” Busche told VeloNews after testing out the climbs near the end of the circuit. “I think Libby [Hill], 23rd [Street], and Governor [Street] are going to be super, super difficult, especially 16 times. I wouldn’t imagine it’s going to be a big group in the finish.”
The short, high-gradient climbs and the cobblestones make for a course that gives off a spring classics vibe. That’s good news for the high-endurance strongmen in the peloton.
“It’s not a pure climber’s course, it’s not a pure sprinter’s course,” Busche said. “It really favors someone like [Fabian] Cancellara, [Peter] Sagan, those guys. [Greg] Van Avermaet, [John] Degenkolb, you name it.”
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing), the American rider probably best-suited to such a parcours, has been sidelined by a leg injury since 2014 and his status for worlds remains uncertain. However, the lumpy, technical nature of the parcours should open up plenty of opportunities for attacks that will give the home team a chance to take the pack by surprise. Busche noted that while a healthy Phinney would be ideal, “this actually could be a really good course for a dark horse like Alex Howes.”
“You know, running through the names in my head, depending on who the selection is, maybe some kind of late breakaway could steal the day,” Busche said.
“A guy like Ben King [of Virginia], if he’s on the team he’ll be extra motivated because it’s practically in his backyard. So it could come down to anything, who knows?”
A late attack from a selective group was exactly what won Busche his second career national road race title this May in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Near the end of a hard day in rainy conditions, Busche and Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) attacked out of a small lead group in the final kilometers of the race, and then Busche left Dombrowski behind inside the last 2,000 meters to solo to the finish line for the victory. If Busche makes the team, he’ll probably have that strategy in the back of his mind.
“Assuming I get selected, of course, I’ll be in the race as much as I can,” he said, “whether it’s the early breakaway, or trying to be around for the late breakaway … In the end of a race, to be honest, I would find it hard for myself to be with Cancellara or Degenkolb when they go full gas in those last couple climbs, in the last couple laps, but if I have an amazing set of legs that day, maybe I can be there.
“Making the team is definitely the first priority, and then doing my job for the team, whether it’s individual aspirations or working for one of my teammates … just to represent the U.S. as best I can.”
Last year’s worlds selection criteria awarded the national champ an automatic spot on the team, but 2015 brought with it a few changes to the selection process. Now, the national road race champion only earns an automatic bid if the United States is awarded the full allotment of nine starters for the race. To earn nine starters, the U.S. has to rank among the 10 first nations in the UCI WorldTour classification by August 15 — currently sitting at 18th with less than a month to go, that’s a tall order for the American squad. As such, it’s likely that Busche will need to be chosen by the selection committee.
Until then, the best thing Busche can do is to continue riding hard and hunt for racing success. Getting some experience on the Richmond parcours certainly won’t hurt, and he hopes the stars and stripes he earned in Chattanooga will help his case.
“I think generally, I’d definitely be on the long list of riders and hopefully on the short list,” he said. “Hopefully at the end of the day I’ll be here in September.”
Busche has ridden in the world championship road race before, but representing the United States in a worlds run on home soil would be a rare opportunity — the U.S. has not hosted worlds in nearly 30 years. Getting named to the team would be “incredibly special,” Busche said.
The big North American races have been a major focus of Busche’s 2015 campaign. He did not ride the Tour de France this year, but given the opportunities Trek has to ride in races like the Amgen Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge in Colorado, along with Busche’s hopeful ride at worlds, he seems happy with his 2015 program.
“I have known from the beginning that the Tour wasn’t really on the radar, with [me] having goals for the American races like California, Utah, or Colorado,” he said. “So yeah, it’s hard at the beginning of the year to know already that I’m not necessarily racing for the Tour barring some changes or incredible performances or this or that, but I think I’ve known from the beginning so it’s not like there’s heartbreak.
“I raced it last year and it’s an incredibly special race but honestly, all the stress and the chaos that goes along with the Tour, I sit at home and I don’t know if it’s 50/50 or what way it goes, but I can kind of do without all that and be happy to do other races too. But you know, the Tour is the Tour, and I think anybody who has the opportunity to race it is going to do it.”
Busche’s upcoming calendar is not set in stone, but for the moment, it includes the Tour of Utah, the USA Pro Challenge, the Tour of Alberta, and then the GP Québec and GP Montréal. Whether the two-time national champion will finish off that stretch with a start in Richmond remains to be seen, but success in his next few races would be a great way to boost his chances of making the squad. It certainly wouldn’t hurt his career prospects either — Busche’s contract with Trek runs out at the end of the season, leaving him looking for a ride for 2016.
Busche doesn’t have anything locked in at the moment, though it seems that he’d be happy to stay put if the opportunity is there.
“I don’t know where I’ll be, but I’d like to stay with Trek. It’s been fun. I’ve been here my whole career and it’s treated me well and I like the team,” he said.
“We’ll just see what plays out.”