At 1:15 p.m., in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee, 152 men will line up to travel 190 kilometers to win the national title at the USA Cycling Pro Road Championships. This is a 50% increase in pitch size since the last edition of the road race in 2019, won by EF Education-Nippo rider Alex Howes.
The US Pro road race can be a numbers game, with large teams having more cards to play in a five-hour race, and the early summer humidity can play a big role in tactics. of a long day in the saddle, and 15 runs on the narrow climb of Sherrod Road.
“The national championships are definitely a race that plays out completely differently from the normal cycling scenario. We are certainly not the strongest team, but we have probably one of the more experienced teams that I have come to the championships with. national, “said the defender. champion said Cycling news the Saturday.
Five WorldTour teams are represented with riders in the road race on Sunday, with the highest number of group riders EF Education-Nippo – Howes, 2021 time trial champion Lawson Craddock, new teammate Will Barta and his retired teammate Tejay van Garderen.
“Four runners is definitely an advantage, but at the same time it’s not a big enough roster to take full control of the race, and decide who goes into the breakaway, chase the breakaway and guide your leader through. in the final and he can. You just need a little more manpower to do a stunt like this, ”said Van Garderen, who will make road racing the last competition of his rich career. 12 years old.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to force the race to make a selection where we have numbers in the squad, and that’s not for us to control.”
It’s a shadow of strength compared to Rally Cycling and Aevolo, each with nine riders, as well as top continental teams with eight or seven riders, like Project Echelon and Hagens Berman Axeon. EF-Nippo aren’t the strongest team overall, but Howes said their in-depth knowledge is an advantage.
“The four of us know how to ride our bikes. I’m happy with the way things look on paper,” Howes added. “It’s definitely a tough course, relatively tactical. It’s a course where it leaves a lot of doors open for different people. In the past, and certainly on Sunday, the heat and humidity played a big part in how it went. the race. You guys see you guys crumble towards the end if they haven’t done a good job of refueling or staying cool. “
Van Garderen said Cycling news he agreed that the sweltering southern weather could play a part, but also surprising moves behind Sherrod Road, like the one Howes did with two laps to go in 2019.
“A lot of times the moves everyone is expecting are on the main climb, but it’s on the trails after the climb where people may be tired, or may have expended energy so they’re looking to sit down, and you can hit them with a surprise attack, ”he said. “So you have to read the race as it is. The four of us are good at picking up the signals, what people are feeling and what people are doing.”
One of EF Education’s jokers is Will Barta. Ranking 11th at the 2017 US National Pro Road Race Championships in Knoxville as a 21-year-old driver for Hagens Berman Axeon, he is in his first year with EF Education, having a delayed start this season when he suffered a fractured femur in an accident to avoid a dog during a training. But he placed fifth on Thursday in the time trial.
“He’s incredibly nice, a genuine guy. He’s an incredible talent. The first time I realized that ‘this guy is really good’ was at La Vuelta last year when he almost won this TT. When I saw I was like, ‘he’s better than I thought he’s legit,’ “Van Garderen said of Barta’s loss in the Vuelta stage by seconds against the future winner Primož Roglič.
And then there is Craddock, who is part of the Olympic team and who takes advantage of the road race to prepare for Tokyo. “Sunday is also an important goal so I didn’t come here just to focus on TT,” he said after winning the time trial title on Thursday.
The EF quartet is locked and loaded. Howes said it’s been special to have the Stars and Stripes jersey for two years now and maybe he wasn’t ready to give it up.
“Since I got the jersey I’ve raced in 12 countries and ridden in 14 different states so I really took it out and enjoyed the time I spent wearing it,” he said. he said about more numbers.
“I felt like I had been a bit bypassed there with the global pandemic but the second half of 2019 was a great second half. I ran a total of four days in 2020. And in 2021. , still a few hiccups with the pandemic, but I managed to organize a good number of races in Europe, ”said Howes.
“I’m coming out of the Tour de Suisse, certainly a little tired from last week and coming straight for the national championships, so it was a bit of a challenge.
“I have to really applaud the city of Knoxville for shutting everything down for us. They put on a great show. Personally, I would love to see the nationals leave the Southeast someday. It’s a huge country.”
The US National Mountain Bike Championships will be held in his home state of Colorado, so Howes said he could “try his luck” at cross country races in July. He enjoys gravel racing and “keeping it cool” keeps him going.
“I love running on the road, it’s hard and fast. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge, certainly in Europe it’s tough. I really like running at home, and probably more that everything in front of my hometown If the way to do it is on earth, then I’ll do it.
“Everything on two wheels attracts me. Why not? Unlike the national road, it’s actually near my home.”