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USPRO’06 RR: Easy As Pie For Hincapie
It all seemed scripted from the very beginning - George Hincapie racing in his hometown of Greenville, South Carolina for the stars and stripes over the climb he does in training over and over and over - he was supposed to win, and he did. The racing was wildly aggressive from the first minute onward with nary a let-up - PEZ was there for each roundhouse, upper-cut, and kidney shot.

First off, let it be put to the permanent record that Andy Bajadali was the story of this year's 2006 US Professional Cycling Championships. George Hincapie might have won, Levi Leipheimer followed in 2nd, but it was only Bajadali who was able to follow the two when Hincapie put in an abominable attack the final time up Paris Mountain. Bajadali, rode like a ProTour rider today, but he was back-handed by a pair of ProTour stars. Unfortunately for Bajadali, he rode himself into a break where he was distinctly not welcome and was 1-2'd over and over and over again until he cracked like the San Andreas Fault.

Biggest ride of the day goes to Andrew Bajadali. Hands down.

Now that we have that out of the way, George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer formed an unstoppable duo Sunday afternoon in Greenville. From the first time of five trips up the 1000 foot vertical Paris Mountain climb, Hincapie and Leipheimer made their presence felt like the Black Panther movement.

Over 100 American Pro riders took the start in the first ever American-only Pro National Championships.

Ascent #1
Five trips up Paris Mountain were well more than enough to destroy the field, hell, ONE trip up Paris Mountain - in the first half hour of the race, was enough to get rid of HALF the field. The fifty riders that went home after those 9 minutes of climbing can walk over and thank Levi Leipheimer for that one.

Each time up the Paris Mountain climb formed a selection, usually between 6-8 riders. From there, that group would ply the waves on their own for a bit, before being absorbed by a larger group, probably known as a peloton, but this 'peloton' grew smaller and smaller and smaller until it was no more.

The first time up the climb, Leipheimer forced the issue and eventually 16 riders were off in a break, only to be absorbed by a larger group of around 40.

Dave Zabriskie turned the proverbial screw very tight the second time up Paris Mountain.

Ascent #2
The second time up the climb was much harder, the riders that got shelled there can thank David Zabriskie. Zabriskie set an evil pace up the climb, complete with Jordan-esque tongue action. When he let off the throttle and fell backwards at an alarming rate, Leipheimer pushed Dave Z out of the driver's seat and planted his foot on the gas and took firm control of the awful pace-setting work.

The second time up PM was the fastest: under 8:40. Zabriskie's ride on the climb was mildly quizzical at first, but word had it that DZ was racing today for fun and to help Levi Leipheimer. He seemed to do that ably.

The group that separated over the top of the climb the second time was super elite: Leipheimer (Discovery, oops, I mean Gerolsteiner, actually, let's not fool ourselves: DISCOVERY), Hincapie (Discovery), Bajadali (Jelly Belly), Wherry, Baldwin, England (three Toyotas), Zajicek, and Swindlehurst (both Navs).

This was an impressive showing from the domestic teams, especially Toyota and Navigators, already though, Bajadali was making it clear that he was here to rock and roll.

This group would eventually be caught under the impetus of TIAA-CREF, as they had completely missed the boat. The front group would eventually swell to 22 riders, and that was really all that was left to contend for the National Title.

TIAA-CREF rode a damn fine race on Sunday - a podium and SIX in the Top 20 is more than noteworthy. They're doing the business right in that team.

Jelly Belly Interlude
It was around this time that I ran into a fairly sizeable contingent of Jelly Belly riders who had gotten their early packing orders (as had 80% of the field). I spoke with Alex Candelario and Kirk Albers and they were of course psyched with the ride that Bajadali was having.

PEZ: How's the course?
Candelario: It's stupid hard.
Albers:It's brutal. We rode a hard tempo up the climb yesterday: 11 minutes top to bottom (the fastest today was 8:38), and it was hard. This could well be the hardest course we do all year. I mean, with the Tour de Georgia, you've got Brasstown or something, but before that it's not so horrible. Here though, it's over and over again. There's really no flat road on the whole course.

Alex Candelario and Kirk Albers gave PEZ a mid-race insiders view.

PEZ: What do you think of Baj's chances?
Candelario: This is a good course for Baj. I mean, he's the best climber in the country. If he can keep it close over the top the final time, he could be in with a chance.

Ascents #3 And #4
Ascent #3 was by far the easiest of the day - a full 17 riders went over the top of the climb together. The fourth lap was to provide some festivities.

Heading into the fourth lap of five of the Paris Mountain loops, TIAA-CREF took the race by the balls and sent both Michael Creed and Will Frischkorn up the road. They quickly worked a gap of nearly 1 minute as they started the Paris Mountain torture for Ascent Tres.

Mike Creed rode an excellent race, did his job, and then rode in and watched the new developments with everyone else.

Creed was immediately gapped by his teammate, Frischkorn, and Frischkorn steadily lost time until he wasn't off the front anymore. Still, it was an aggressive move and made some work for the other teams.

Over the top of the climb, eight riders were off to the races: Leipheimer, Hincapie, Bajadali (who took two of the KOM's on the day), Pate, Caldwell (both CREF - HUGE ride for the very young Caldwell), Zajicek, Swindlehurst (both Navs), Jacques-Maynes (great ride from KG/Sierra Nevada).

Ascent #5
This was the final octet that would determine the race amongst themselves. They cooperated well leading into the final ascent of Paris Mountain and this time, it was for keeps.

First to pop was Ben Jacques-Maynes, then the 20-year-old Blake Caldwell got his ticket punched, Phil Zajicek ignited soon after, then it was the turn of Burke T-Bird Swindlehurst and defending US Champion Chris Wherry. T-Bird and Wherry got together and rode a solid tempo, but were continually losing time.

At the front, no attacking as of yet, just a hard tempo were Hincapie, Leipheimer, Bajadali, and Danny Pate.

Pate and Bajadali were racing incredibly and holding on, fighting the damn good fight against the two juggernauts of Leipheimer and Hincapie.

Then Hincapie attacked. Just like that - BOOM. You can't imagine the roar that went through the start/finish when Hincapie went away solo. The noise was deafening. The crowd went absolutely psycho. To say that Hincapie is a hometown favorite...major understatement.

Once the race went up the road, there wasn't anything for the others to do, but watch the big screen as they rode by. Craig Lewis, Greenville-native, has a gander.

Pate was immediately dispatched, leaving Leipheimer and Bajadali behind to chase. If it wasn't already completely obvious that Leipheimer was working with Hincapie (he had been taking bottles from Ekimov (thanks Tyler S) all day, as well as chatting, receiving bottle slings, the whole nine yards), it was about to be crystal clear.

Leipheimer ended up helping Bajadali back up to Hincapie, but only because of the group chasing behind.

So there it was, three leaders: Hincapie, Leipheimer, and Bajadali. Bajadali was hanging on by the skin of his teeth, continually being gapped off by the 'teammates' constant little accelerations. It was very obvious that there was a party at the front and Andrew Bajadali was not in the least invited, and the 'teammates' let it be known.

Getting into the group with Leipheimer and Hincapie was incredible, but Baj paid a hefty price for entry.

Finishing Circuits
Heading into the finishing circuits, Hincapie looked like he was on a recovery ride, Leipheimer had the look of a man laying railroad tracks, and Baj looked like he might give birth at any moment. The poor guy.

It was at this point that Andy Bajadali became my favorite bike racer.

Bajadali put up a collective middle finger to the 'teammates' for far longer than he was supposed to. He died 1000 times and kept coming back for more. He was the man of the day.

The big screen told the story.

This was also when Leipheimer became persona non grata. He sold himself out so bad to Hincapie it was nauseating. Is there not a rule against collusion? At least to an extent like this? It's one thing to cooperate with each other and not dick each other over, but it's another thing entirely to race as a two-man team in a three-man break and completely bend over a guy on the ride of his life and stick it to him with all of the force you can muster. That's another thing entirely. True, that's bike racing, but I don't have to like it. Levi rode incredibly strong all day, at points it seemed like he was doing double-pulls in large breaks, all day long, from the first time up Paris Mountain - and it was all for George Hincapie.

Hey Baj, how about another backhand to the jaw?

So eventually Bajadali came apart. He burst open like a balloon that was filled with one breath too many. Hincapie got away solo (to gi-normous cheers from the crowd) and Bajadali was left to chase Hincapie while Leipheimer sat on his wheel and made it very evident that the responsibility lay with Bajadali.

As Dave Towle would say, Andy Bajadali was in the pain cave today. I disagree, he took up residence there.

So of course, when Baj had ridden himself into the black hole of death, Leipheimer jumped him and bridged across to Hincapie. The fairy tale duo was away to settle it amongst themselves and Bajadali was left to desperately suffer in hopes of holding on to a podium spot.

No such luck.

Danny Pate rode an impressive end of the race TT to take up the final podium spot - congrats to Danny and TIAA-CREF.

The cracked Baj was caught first by a hard-charging Danny Pate, who immediately attacked him and rode on to an impressive 3rd Place (that's 2nd and 3rd in consecutive years for the Pate - huge), then came T-Bird and Wherry who both ditched Baj, and finally the finish line came and 6th place for Andrew Bajadali. He can thank Levi Leipheimer and George Hincapie for their infinite generosity.

It seemed pre-destined: Leipheimer and Hincapie got away as a duo, and Hincapie won.

Of course, Hincapie dumped Leipheimer and rode to an immense solo victory in his hometown, and Leipheimer followed close behind apparently perfectly content with 2nd Place - no need to even try to win.

People used to criticize Lance Armstrong's rivals for 'rolling over' and not putting up a fight. If THEY were criticized, then Leipheimer should be lambasted. It's a crying shame that he didn't even try to win the bike race, and a guy that was putting out the ride of his life was dispatched like a half-eaten hot dog at the end of the night.

Of course, the post-race press conference was very cool and collected. Leipheimer admitted that he was working for Hincapie: "I felt obligated since they were feeding me. That was giving me a huge advantage and it was the professional courtesy thing to do -- it doesn't cost me anything to bring a bottle up to him."

Nope. Don't buy it. There were a number of other solo riders out there today that had their own follow cars. Are you telling me that Levi Leipheimer couldn't get someone to drive a car and feed him?

Chris Wherry might have said it best: "Levi was awesome. If he wasn't working for George today I think he would have ridden away from everybody! He was incredible."

Thank you! Levi was INCREDIBLE today, just as Bajadali was, but on a different, higher level, and yet, didn't even seem to try to get the win at any point. That's hard, as a bike racing fan, to swallow.

Of course, George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer. They showed over and over again today that they were the strongest guys in the bike race, and made sure that the race was decided amongst themselves.

After that, it was Andy Bajadali, Andy Bajadali, all day, with an incredible ride.

Danny Pate put in a huge ride, something that almost seems to be expected now of arguably the most talented rider in America. Pate definitely benefited from a fantastic TIAA-CREF team today - when he missed the move, his team pulled it back, and Pate was in it for good. CREF put SIX guys in the Top 20. Not bad for a team that can count most of its riders as U25. Unbelievable. How about young Peter Stetina, a whole 19-years-old rolling in for 15th?

The Navigators continued their hot hand of late, today it was through Phil Zajicek, Burke Swindlehurst, Bernard Van Ulden, and Shawn Milne - four starters, four guys in the top 20 - not bad eh?

One last prop goes over to Todd Herriott of the Colavita/Sutter Home squad - Herriott was the elder statesman in the front - weighing in at 38-years-old, Herriott seems to get better every year, and 12th today was smokin.


1 Georgie Hincapie (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team) 4.47.15
2 Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) 0.16
3 Danny Pate (Team TIAA-CREF) 1.20
4 Swindlehurst T Burke (Navigators Insurance Cycling Team) 1.25
5 Chris Wherry (Toyota - United Pro Cycling Team) 1.38
6 Andrew Bajadali (Jelly Belly Cycling Team) 1.49
7 Ben Jacques-Maynes (Kodakgallery.Com-Sierra Nevada Pro Cycling) 2.39
8 Phil Zajicek (Navigators Insurance Cycling Team)
9 Blake Caldwell (Team TIAA-CREF) 2.51
10 William Frischkorn (Team TIAA-CREF) 9.15
11 Justin England (Toyota - United Pro Cycling Team) 9.30
12 Todd Herriott (Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home Wines Cycling Team) 10.46
13 Bernard Vanulden (Navigators Insurance Cycling Team) 12.39
14 Shawn Milne (Navigators Insurance Cycling Team) 13.08
15 Peter Stetina (Team TIAA-CREF) 13.09
16 Matt Shriver (Targetraining Cycling Team)
17 Neil Shirley (The Jittery Joe's-Zero Gravity Pro Cycling Team) 13.10
18 Bryan Smith (Team TIAA-CREF) 13.11
19 Curtis Gunn ( presented by Parkpre) 13.12
20 Craig Lewis (Team TIAA-CREF) 13.13

Think I got it wrong today? Yell at me: I'm only going on what I saw, so if someone...maybe in the race...knows otherwise then holler at me.

For more fun, head to TheBikeGame Dot Com


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