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USPRO Championship: Favorites Fade in Upset Victory!
By Jaime Nichols
Date: 6/10/2002
USPRO Championship: Favorites Fade in Upset Victory!

USPRO Favorites Fred Rodriguez and George Hincapie faced disappointment in Philadelphia on Sunday, as Navigator's Mark Walters and USPS domestique Chann McRae rode Prime Alliance's young speedster Danny Pate's wheel into the sprint for the race and the USPRO Champion's jersey on Sunday in Philadelphia.

A long, tough day in the saddle for all, the day got off to a cracking good start with Navigators, USPS and Prime Allaince showing some seriousness from the begining of the race. The first break to get some air was Lotto's Glenn D'Hollander and Mroz's Eugene Wacker, who were eaten up by chasers from Mercury, Prime Alliance and USPS on their fourth trip up the Manayunk Wall.

The Navigators shut the resulting break down, catching them on the 6th lap. With just over a hundred miles left, the race was back together, and attacks came from Danny Pate and Saturn's Soren Petersen, but to no avail. Italian Cristian Pepoli, of Saeco, was the next to put the hammer down, taking the next few trips up The Wall and Lemon Hill on his own, sealing his victory in the KOM competition and blowing the race into three groups, to boot.

Defending USPRO Champion, Fred Rodriguez, stuck in the third group, fought with his team to gain ground, but finally succumbed to a lingering bout of Bronchitis. "I've been hiding a secret all week long." Rodriguez said, "I've been sick with bronchitis. I was crossing my fingers all week that I would be good by today, and I wasn't going to give up... I'm in incredible form, so it doesn't feel as bad so long as we're riding easy. But once it becomes a really acute effort, it feels like I'm breathing through a straw." Fast Freddy pulled off the road with 25 miles to go and looked less than happy in the pits.

Meanwhile, on the road, USPS was riding strongly, and with numbers in the lead group. Michael Barry drove the race like a locomotive in a huge and selfless effort with George Hincapie looking comfortable behind him, along with Jelly Belly sprinter Mariano Friedrick, U-23 World TT Champ, Prime Alliance's Danny Pate, Canadian national champion, Navigator's Mark Walters, Mercury ironman Chris Wherry and sprinter Henk Vogels, Navigator's Kirk O'Bee and Siro Camponogara, Saturn's Mark McCormack, teammate Chann McRae, and a few others.

Coming into the finishing circuits, short-lived attack efforts were made by Henk Vogels and Mark McCormack. Mark Walters, made an initial attack with about three miles to go, but was reeled in by another heroic effort from the stellar Michael Barry.

Within the final two miles, Danny Pate attacked on an incline and with Barry spent, Chann McRae chased. "I thought George was going to be on my wheel," said McRae, but when I started the descent, I was alone, and thought 'now what do I do?'" The two were bridged by Mark Walters, and the winning move had taken shape. Pate had no teammates in the chase, and drove it for all he was worth, while McRae sat on for Hincapie and Mark Walters was content to let the Americans do the work. Postal's plans to set up Hincapie faded fast. As a heavy favorite, George was a marked man, and didn't want to drag an opportunistic group to chase McRae. "Everybody in the breakaway was just looking at me," said Hincapie after the race, "I couldn't run down my teammate."

With Pate doing all the work, Walters, whose previous best result in this race put him "Somewhere between 30th and 40th," came around for the victory while McRae settled for second, and the USPRO Champion's Stars and Stripes jersey.

Walter's called the victory the best of his career; "number one!" while Chann McRae, seeming a little dazed by it all, was quietly thrilled with his victory. "This jersey is just a symbol of what every professional racer in America dreams of. This is a dream come true."

Fred Rodriguez was seen later congratulating McRae in the lobby of the race hotel with a handshake and a hug, and George Hincapie, who placed 5th in the end, was quoted saying, "We won, we have the jersey, and I'm happy for Chann."

Something tells me they will all meet again next year!

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