A new location and a new race format awaited 102 riders who took to the roads
in Greenville, SC in the first all-American competition to wear the prestigious
Stars and Stripes jersey. Riding in warm temperatures hovering around the
mid-eighties with 60% humidity, it was a sticky day in the south. The gun
went off at 12:30PM and the riders were off through the city streets and
neighborhoods of Greenville as they headed for the climb of the race, Paris
Mountain. With the climb located in the middle of each lap and five times
up and over the big requirement of the day, it didn't take long for the initial
selections to be made.
Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), riding without teammates, lead the charge on
the second lap up Paris Mountain, trying to shovel as many riders as possible
off the back of the peloton. By the top of Paris Mountain on the third
lap, a group of seventeen was off the front. Forcing a high pace,
Leipheimer and George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) took control of the race, as
members of Toyota-United, Jelly Belly, Navigators and TIAA-CREF also made this
elite group. The winner from the race looked to come from this group.
With a gap of over five minutes developed and holding by the fifth trip up
Paris Mountain, a final selection of nine riders were the only ones holding on
for that final trip over the climb. This group included the reigning
champion Chris Wherry, who was looking to repeat. Also riding in this
group were Leipheimer, Hincapie, Phil Zajicek (Navigators), Blake Caldwell
(TIAA-CREF), Andrew Bajadali (Jelly Belly), Danny Pate (TIAA-CREF), Ben
Jacques-Maynes (Kodakgallery) and Burke Swindlehurst (Navigators). By this stage of the race, the entire
peloton consisted of thirty-two riders in total, an amazing testament to the
difficulty of this course.
On the final push up Paris Mountain, 1 km from the top Hincapie made the
decisive move. The hometown favorite was riding in his own backyard and
knew the time was right. As he went up the road, only Leipheimer and
Bajadali were finally able to respond. As the threesome rode toward the
finish line to start the final finishing circuits, Hincapie and Leipheimer
attempted to shed the Jelly Belly rider, but he was able to respond to every
move. However, once the three finishing circuits began, and Bajadali began
to fade, it became clear he would not be able to contest a final sprint against
the Pro Tour riders.
A partisan crowd lifted Hincapie's drive and determination as he attacked
Leipheimer with 1 km to go. With a roaring crowd screaming his name,
Hincapie rolled across the line in first place as the new US Pro champion.
Leipheimer finished second at 16 seconds back, with Danny Pate completing the
podium for this year's race.
"It was definitely a race of attrition," Hincapie said. "I hoped that
everybody went hard up the hill every time. I knew that it was going to be
really hard and I was really dead at the end, but I knew that if I'm dead
everybody else has got to be even more dead. The crowd was amazing. It was just
really special. I got up on the podium and I got really emotional. You know,
I've been in this sport for 13 years now as a professional and I can count
moments like this on one or two fingers. This is definitely a highlight. I'm
super happy that I won, and thanks to Greenville."