Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Cycling Championship Of Our Own

For the past two decades, the U.S. national road racing champion has been determined by the USPRO championship race in Philadelphia. But there was always a catch -- the race was open to all nationalities. While talented European riders added some excitement to the race, this has been an awkward arrangement because the first U.S. rider to cross the finish line, whether first or fiftieth, was crowned the champ (this year I was glad to see U.S. riders take the top five spots, but the 2003 and 2004 USPRO champs finished fourth behind foreign riders). This mixed-nationality national championship has also been a sore spot for many American cycling fans -- every other country has its own championship race (generally the weekend before the start of the Tour de France), even places like Luxembourg and Estonia, so why aren't our riders good enough to have their own race?

When the USPRO race started in 1985, there were few U.S. cyclists worthy of the European peloton. It seemed like a good idea to bring in some European riders to liven up the race. Nowadays, Americans riders more than hold their own. In the Tour de France, three Americans finished in the top ten with two more making the top twenty. In the ProTour, a collection of the most competitive cycling events on the planet, the U.S. finished second only to Italy, handily outriding traditional superpowers like Spain, Belgium and France. And it wasn't just because of now-retired Lance Armstrong -- three other U.S. riders were near the top of the individual rankings.

Big news today for American pro cyclists and cycling fans -- in 2006 the USPRO championship road race will be comprised solely of American riders. The race will be moving, too. Not only will it leave Philadelphia, where it has been for 21 years, for Greenville, SC, but also the date will change from the beginning of June to the beginning of September. Aside from conflicting with the Vuelta a Espana, this is a better date in a quieter part of the season when Americans racing in Europe may be able to get back to the U.S. It is positioned a week before the San Francisco Grand Prix, a race for which many riders have returned to the States over the past five years.

The new format gives more opportunities to domestic riders. In 2005, more than 80 starters were foreign; without them, there will be room for more U.S. riders to take a shot at the championship. There also will be a USPRO time trial championship two days before the road race.

UPDATE 11/16/2005 - It figures. As soon as I mention the San Francisco Grand Prix, a story arises putting the event in jeopardy (again).

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