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Looking back at the 2007 US Pro Championships
By Lyne Lamoureux
Date: 9/12/2007
Looking back at the 2007 US Pro Championships

Maybe it's a sign that the end of the road season is approaching, but I find that some memories of the US Pro Championship races to crown the Time-Trial and Road Race still linger. Memories such as the emotions after Saul Raisin (Crédit Agricole) finished the time trial, the quiet joy of Jittery Joe's Neil Shirley's on the podium after finishing third on the road race. The intensity displayed by David Zabriskie (CSC) when he crossed the line with the fastest time and won the right to wear the Stars and Stripes jersey. The seemingly unflappable Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) getting choked up on the podium after winning the road race. So here are some of the sights and sounds from the US Professional Championship races held in Greenville SC during Labor Day weekend.

US Pro Time Trial

The strongest memory was the return to racing of Saul Raisin after suffering his life-altering injury almost two years ago. I think most fans would say that they also felt the moment when Raisin crossed the line, throwing his fist in the air, and then overcome by emotion, he rushed to embrace his mother, father and fiancée.

"Before the start, I had won the race before " started, just to be here is a personal victory for me." said Raisin after a few minutes with this loved ones. "It's a dream come true like I've said from the start."

Hugging his mom, Saul Raisin (Crédit Agricole) is overwhelmed by emotion after his first race back from his injury.
Photos © Lyne Lamoureux

"It was probably the easiest ride of my life, I just sat there enjoying it. I had a great time, it felt good going fast and just letting all loose, I had no stress going in the race, I was nervous just because it's my first race back." continued Saul when talking about his time trial ride. "It was probably the best ride of my life other than my first ride after my accident with my father."

The next day, Raisin wearing his 'civilian' clothes was meeting and greeting fans before the start of the road race. When asked about how he felt, "Great. The energy that I got yesterday was incredible, I never felt that before in my life, it was amazing."

"It's only recently that I started feeling like a cyclist again, I've only been able to train for a few months. Because I couldn't sense fatigue, I could do an 8-hour ride with no problem. It's only been a month that I could do intensive training, it's great."

But there are always a lot of stories at a race, and riders coming back from injury. The US Pro Time Trial was the first race back for Tom Zirbel (Priority Health-Bissell) after being out since being diagnosed with a blood clot in his leg back in March, and a pulmonary embolism in July. Zirbel returned strong and finished fourth with only fifteen seconds off the winner's time.

"Tom Z is back with a vengeance," said Ben Jacques-Maynes about his teammate. "The guy never fails to impress, he shows up to race, and he's super motivated, very professional."

Team Slipstream's Steven Cozza was racing only for the third time since his head injury sustained in Picardie earlier and was out for three months.

"This is the first one (race) that I was actually physically and mentally better than ever." said Cozza about the time trial race. "I know that it going to take a lot of racing to where I was before. But I'm with this team for another two years, team Slipstream, and I know that I'll be so much stronger because of this next year and the following year to come."

There are also funny moments at races. Toyota-United Pro Cycling Team's Chris Baldwin showed his sense of humor when he took questions regarding the redesigned time trial course during the pre-race press conference. (Note Baldwin crashed in the final corner of last year's race which cost him the title)

"I figured that one (question) was coming to me... the course was redesigned for me," he laughed when asked about the course.

Chris Baldwin enjoying the press conference

The US Pro Time Trial race showcased the strength in this discipline by the current and future Slipstream riders, David Zabriskie currently with CSC, and current Slipstream/Chipotle teammates Danny Pate and Timmy Duggan taking the top 3 positions on the podium.

US Pro TT podium (l-r): Timmy Duggan (Slipstream), David Zabriskie (CSC), and Danny Pate (Slipstream)
Photos © Lyne Lamoureux
"For me personally, it's kind of special, because all three of these guys came though our development program." said Steve Johnson, Chief Executive Office, USA Cycling.

"What we do at USA cycling is actually take the next generation of cyclists and prepare them for a professional career, so it's great to see Dave Z on stage and take the gold medal."

"Dave (Zabriskie) is the only American to have won a stage in the three Grand Tours, the hardest races in the world. He graduated from 2000 in our development program. Danny Pate graduated in 2001, he was the 2001 Worlds U23 TT champion." continued Johnson. "Timmy Duggan also came through our program and graduated in 2004. All these kids have come through our development program, so for me it's especially poignant to see this group of winners up here today"

US Pro Road Race

Before the road race started, the discussions with the riders turned around the dynamics of the racing with one less time up Paris Mountain and if the ProTour riders would band together to form their own virtual team. Given the number of riders present for Slipstream, a grand total of 14, most riders expected the team to attack early and often, and not miss any moves, or try not to.

"I'd say that's kind of night and day, apples to oranges. They're two completely different styles." said Baldwin when asked the differences tactically between domestic cycling and ProTour cycling. "The ProTour (racing) is more like a marathon and what we do is more like 100 yard dash. Racing in America is a lot more explosive, a lot more impromptu versus, in Europe, it's very controlled, it plays out more slowly, and I'd say it's more predictable. Whereas here, like I said, it's a little more explosive."

Dan Ramsay charging Paris Mountain
Photos © Lyne Lamoureux
"I don't know if it's going to be the ProTour team mafia today or not." said Dan Ramsay of Successful p/b Parkpre. "I'm hoping for a little bit of a fight. I hope that there will be a fight between the pro tour guys, that would make it interesting. There were only a couple last year but when they went hard on the climb there was nothing you can do."

"That's the question with all the dynamics with Discovery disbanding, Levi still doesn't have a contract,... so I think it's going to be interesting." said Phil Zajicek (Navigators) about the dynamics with ProTour riders in the race. "Then there's guys like Julich and Freddie who are essentially on their own, so it going to be interesting."

"Basically, I'm going to ride the race, see what everybody else does, just lay low, suck wheel basically." said Fast Freddie Rodriguez (Predictor-Lotto) about his strategy for the race while riding with no teammates. "(Plan is to) make sure where everybody goes, and try and stay nearby and if it gets dangerous then I'll have to make a decision on which guy do I really want to focus on, and make sure he doesn't get away."

The expected break went early, with the contenders marking each other and following the ProTour riders' wheels, and included Doug Ollerenshaw (Health Net-Maxxis). An interesting exercise would be to calculate the number of miles, Ollerenshaw has spent in breakaways this season.

"Doug can suffer beyond recognition," color commentator and Georgia resident, Australian Nathan O'Neil said about his teammate. "If you give Doug a job to do, he'll do it."

Doug Ollerenshaw (Health Net-Maxxis) leading the break up Paris Mountain
Photos © Lyne Lamoureux

But Leipheimer showed on the second time up Paris Mountain that he was the man to beat, and a small selective group was formed under the impetus of his first attack. But when he went on the attack again on the next time up, no one could match him and he was off, going to his solo win. His teammate and defending champion George Hincapie finished second, with domestic rider Neil Shirley (Jittery Joe's) rounding off the podium.

Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel) driving it with one lap to go
Photos © Lyne Lamoureux
"I've learned not to take anything for granted, I didn't believe I had it until a km to go, really, honestly, I went as hard as I could until 500 meters to go and then I tried to enjoy it a little bit. " replied Leipheimer when asked when he started to believe he had won it."

"The time gaps were kind of all over the place, the motorbikes would tell me 1'15-1'20, our director Lorenzo would come up with the car and say 1'50, you know, I knew it was a minute but I didn't know how many riders were behind," continued Leipheimer. "I guess it was only three, I just went as hard as I could, I tell you I was really hurting at the end."

The fans

Memories of the US Pro event has to take into account the fans who were out to welcome everyone to their scenic part of the world and appreciate the beauty of bike racing.

Photos © Lyne Lamoureux
Welcome spread on Paris Mountain from Robin and Dallas who fed and watered me (thank you!)

"We had friends that invited over to watch the race, we had the enjoyment of last year's race and it was a great race." said Robin and Dallas about coming out and watching the race. "We had fun and our neighbors are all out here and it's a great time."

The two champions, Levi Leipheimer and David Zabriskie will proudly wear their Stars and Stripes jersey for the next year, until we all meet again in Greenville SC next year.

Related Articles
2007 USA Cycling Professional Time Trial Championship
2007 USA Cycling Professional Road Race Championship
2007 US Pro Road Race - Celia Cole Photo Gallery

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