By Brian Holcombe
Danny Pate (Garmin-Slipstream) has a long-standing relationship with the top of the results sheet at the USA Cycling Professional National Championships in Greenville, South Carolina. Pate has finished top-five in the road race every year since the event moved from Philadelphia to Greenville in 2006.
A former U23 world time trial champion, Pate has skipped the time trial each of the last two seasons to focus solely on the road race at nationals and hopes to break through to the top step of the podium Sunday.
Pate is the highest finishing rider from one year ago at the start Sunday, after defending champion Tyler Hamilton (Rock Racing) retired after a second positive doping test earlier this year. Hamilton edged Pate’s teammate Blake Caldwell by less than a tire width in 2008. Caldwell will miss the start due to injuries sustained in a training crash earlier this season.
VeloNews’ Brian Holcombe caught up with Pate on the eve of the road race.
VeloNews: You finished top five in Greenville in the road race in very tactically different road races every year since 2006. You’re the highest finisher from 2008 in this year’s race. From the outside looking in, is there a formula for how this race is won?
Danny Pate: It kind of plays out the same each year, at least it has in past years. It’s the same racecourse, so a lot of the guys that are good at the climb, they’re good at the longer race, with the heat, the humidity. It’s usually the same kind of guys that are there at the end. It’ll be a lot of the same guys at the end (Sunday) as were there in past years.
As of winning the race, what it takes to win the race? I mean, it’ll help to have a strong team, which we do have a strong team. I’m confident in the team that we brought. We have less guys here than we have in years past, but I think it’s a better team than we’ve ever brought here.
A lot of other teams have full teams now, like OUCH has a full team, BMC, so I think it’s kind of a race where teams that have a full team race each other and the other individuals play off that.
George (Hincapie) and Craig (Lewis)* will have to play off whatever our teams are doing against each other. So you can still win without a team, but it’s a little more difficult.
I mean, you just have to have legs left at the end – it’s not rocket science.
* While Lewis was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus (“Swine flu”) ealier in the week, he has been listed as a starter for Sunday’s road race. – Editor
VN: Thinking about the strengths of your team, you guys are coming with a smaller team than you have in the last few years, but you are the 800-pound gorilla in the room. You’re at the top of the hierarchy of the teams that are here. How does that impact you guys tactically, if at all, on the road?
DP: Well, it puts the pressure on us a little bit to be involved in breakaways or any groups that go away because if we’re not, then it’ll be up to us the chase them down. And as long as we’re consistent on making those groups, we won’t have any problems – it’ll be more to our advantage later on in the race. Our main goal is to not have to chase.
Everyone usually has the same goals, it’s just a matter of if you can achieve them.
VN: You guys have come with big teams the last few years and you’re coming with what you said you feel is your strongest team in years. How much of a focus for Garmin as a unit is the national road race title?
DP: I don’t know about the team, but for me, it’s one of my main focuses. It’s a race that I think about months out, you know, what training I’m doing or how this race or that race is going to affect me when I get here. I’ve been training personally for tomorrow and I know a lot of guys here have.
I think for everybody here it’s a really important goal for our team, that and Missouri, because our sponsor is from Missouri. So, the next two races we have are relatively high pressure, behind, maybe, just the Tour de France.
VN: How do the heat and humidity affect you in Greenville, if at all, and do you prepare differently for this kind of weather versus others?
DP: I don’t do a lot to prepare for it because I like those conditions. I prefer for it to be hot and humid, or just hot, than cold. There are things you can train for and there are things you are good at and I’ve always seemed to be pretty good in the hot and the humidity, so I’m kind of at home with it.
VN: Where were you before Greenville? Did you just get back from Europe?
DP: Yeah, I just came straight from Spain on Wednesday. So, it’s hot there, but it’s not humid. It was actually hotter there because it’s been, like, 100 every day. It’s been really hot there. It’s kind of good preparation. The humidity is a little bit different, but we’ve been here for almost a week, so I think we should be good.
VN: How’s the morale in the team after Dave’s win today?
DP: We didn’t even notice. We don’t really pay attention to Dave (laughs).
No, the morale is good. I mean, even though a lot of people look at results from past years and look at Dave and expect him to win, I don’t personally. I personally consider his performances year-in and year-out – it’s amazing that he can be that consistent, you know? So I’m psyched for him that he’ll be wearing the stars and stripes until next year again in the time trial.
I mean, he deserves it.