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It’s anyone’s race at the Maryland Cycling Classic

Top contenders for Sunday's race say rolling terrain and a circuit finish make it a toss-up between a breakaway and bunch sprint.

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After a several-year hiatus, WorldTour level racing returns to the U.S. on Sunday at the inaugural Maryland Cycling Classic, and it’s anyone’s race.

The 194-kilometer course features four finishing laps on an urban circuit through downtown Baltimore, giving the impression of a bunch finish on paper. But the rest of the race is anything but flat or easy.

Scott McGill, a 23-year-old Fallston, Maryland, native racing for the USA Cycling composite team, had a local’s perspective on the route. 

“It could go either away depending on how it’s raced,” he said. “It could be a big bunch sprint, or a slightly reduced sprint, or even a breakaway. The first half of the race is definitely hard. There’s never really any bit of flat — and about as narrow of roads as we get in Maryland.”

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As riders filter into town and get a chance to recon the course, perspectives have been changing as well. 

“Looking at the profile before coming here I was anticipating it just being a pretty straightforward bunch finish sprint,” said Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) on Friday afternoon at a pre-race press conference. “But after pre-riding the back side of the course it’s pretty technical, pretty grippy. It could still come down to a bunch sprint finish, but I’m not quite writing it off completely to that yet.”

Continental teams are looking to make a mark against WorldTour level squads too. 

“We have a lot of cards to play,” said U.S. national road champion Kyle Murphy about his Human Powered Health team. “We have our fast-man Arvid (de Kleijn), and then guys like me or (Robin) Carpenter who really enjoy going up the road. I think like everyone else, we’ll play it by ear and see what happens.”

Even WorldTour sprinters like Giacomo Nizzolo (Israel–Premier Tech) aren’t expecting the race to fall into their laps.

“It will be tough,” said the Italian. “I think it’s an interesting race to watch. It might be a sprint, but not sure, so I think it’s going to be interesting to watch.”

The mix of WorldTour and Continental teams lends another element to the race. 

“I think the other teams will be looking to us to carry a majority of the load,” said EF’s Powless, who is coming off of an impressive Tour de France campaign. “It provides a good opportunity for the teams that aren’t as well known.”

The first ever edition of the race, Sunday’s Maryland Cycling Classic doesn’t have much in the way of precedent to go off of. Professional cycling last graced the streets of Baltimore in 1990 when Davis Phinney, in his prime, won in the state’s largest city. But that was a criterium leg, part of the 11-stage Tour de Trump, not a nearly 200-km race.

Regardless of how the race plays out, Sunday writes a new chapter in American cycling history.