Season ender: The best (and worst) of U.S. bike racing in 2010

The 2010 U.S. road season had a little bit of everything. There were little known domestics like Andrew Talansky battling top international pros at the Tour of the Gila. Caleb Fairly broke through with a win at the Tour of the Battenkill in horrendous conditions. Neither ride made the six…

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

The 2010 U.S. road season had a little bit of everything. There were little known domestics like Andrew Talansky battling top international pros at the Tour of the Gila. Caleb Fairly broke through with a win at the Tour of the Battenkill in horrendous conditions. Neither ride made the six top moments in U.S. racing, so which ones did?

We took a look at the best (and worst) of U.S. racing this year with VeloNews‘ North American Male Rider of the Year, Ben Day (Fly V Australia).

6. De Maar wins stage; Sutherland takes jersey at Three Lakes Sno-Park

2010 Cascade Classic, stage 1, Marc de Maar
de Maar took the stage in his Dutch champion's kit

The peloton topped out on the volcanic McKenzie Pass climb largely intact in the opening stage of Oregon’s Cascade Classic. The remnants of a late breakaway were erased 10km from the finish and David Tanner (Fly V Australia) set out on a suicide attack on the long climb to the finish at the Three Lakes Sno-Park.

As Tanner faded in the steep final kilometer, Rory Sutherland jumped out of an elite chase group, drawing Tanner’s teammate Darren Lill and his own man, Marc de Maar. De Maar played the pursuit perfectly, countering Lill just before catching Sutherland, and freed himself 500 meters from the finish. He went on to win solo.

“It was pretty obvious that we were the strongest two guys of the field,” de Maar said at the finish. “So, Rory went, I waited a little bit, let the others suffer and close the gap and I got them with a k to go.”

Sutherland jumped Lill at the top of the climb for second and took the leader’s jersey from overnight leader Jesse Sergeant (Trek-Livestrong), who was dropped low on the climb. Sutherland went on to take the final overall three days later.

“The idea was to drop as many of the real time trialists as we can so that we get a bit of a buffer for the next few days,” Sutherland told VeloNews. “Today was one of the harder days in the U.S. I think.”

De Maar and Sutherland used the one-two punch well all season, but never so effectively as in the finale when they rode away with the Cascade Classic.

Ben Day’s take:
Day rode into form at Cascade after three weeks of interrupted training as he finalized his green card over the course of forced trips to Canada and Australia.

“That day was a matter of limiting my losse s… that particular day was quite painful.”

“Those boys took the opportunity and Marc and Rory raced really well together this year.”

5. Thomas Rabou climbs to ATOC jersey while mom battles cancer

Thomas Rabou was a little known Dutch climber when he joined Team Type 1 for the 2010 season. Midway through the queen stage of the Tour of California, he was living a dream in the day’s long breakaway.

“It was a really special moment for me because yeah, you watch the Tour the last years and you see Andy Schleck,” Rabou told VeloNews. “You watch him on television and think, ‘Yeah, I would like to do that,’ and then one day, one year later, on this day you are on the breakaway with him. So, that’s a really cool moment. It’s like a dream come true, you know?”

Rabou entered the day three points behind Ryan Anderson (Kelly Benefit Strategies) in the climbers’ competition, which Rabou had led earlier in the week. He worked hard in the break and took top points at all but one of seven KOM points over the 135-mile test that finished in Big Bear Lake. By the time he outsprinted Garmin’s Matt Wilson for the day’s final prime, Rabou had built an insurmountable lead.

Rabou and friends
Rabou leads the group on stage 8

That night he talked with VeloNews about the dream he was living and the importance of his ride in light of his mother’s battle with cancer in Holland. Rabou dedicated his jersey to her.

“I have one goal: I want to be in the breakaway in the KOM jersey,” said Rabou. “I want to show this jersey on television. That would be really cool, so I will attack my balls off Sunday and try to be in the break.”

Rabou did just that in the race’s final stage, making a pair of early breakaways before fading over the final laps of the Thousand Oaks circuit. His red climber’s jersey was secure, however, and Rabou walked away with the first major jersey of his career.

Ben Day’s take:
Day’s own mother fought a bout with cancer recently and he knows well the weight that can put on a rider’s mind.

“To deal with a situation like that can’t have been easy.”

“It’s really special that he was able to dedicate that performance to his mom. That morning I was presented the Breakaway from Cancer most aggressive rider’s jersey from the day before and that was something I was able to dedicate to my mom, too.”

4. Abbott comes out on top of furious nationals road race

The women’s national championship road race — particularly the final 25km — was the most brutal of the domestic season in 2010. When a mid-race breakaway evaporated on the final lap, Evelyn Stevens (HTC-Columbia) attacked hard on a quarter-mile climb leading into the feed zone. Shelley Evans (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) marked the acceleration and brought on a 10km onslaught of constant counter attacking that Carmen Small (Colavita-Baci) called “a blur.”

2010 USA Cycling womens road race championship, Mara Abbott
Abbott enjoys her win

When the 26-rider peloton arrived to the 15-plus-degree base of the Archie Briggs climb, Stevens, Small, Evans and her teammate Mara Abbott, Alison Starnes (Tibco) and Janelle Holcomb (Alto Velo) jumped away from the field. Stevens and Abbott hit each other with everything they had over a series of painful accelerations on the 2.5km climb and only Small and Evans could hold on.

Evans was the strongest sprinter in the foursome, which opened Abbott up to go on the attack. “It gave me so much freedom, so we got to the top and I knew that the best thing I could do to help our team win was to attack and attack and attack because that’s where my area of strength came,” Abbott told VeloNews. “Also, if that didn’t work out, it coincidentally played directly into Shelley’s strength and so, I mean, it was perfect.”

Perfect meant that at 1.5km, Abbott let off her final attack on a brief roller and was able to push to a quick 15-second advantage. From there, the soon-to-be Giro Donne champion put her head down and time trialed in for her second elite national title, three seconds ahead of Evans.

Abbott fought to hold back tears six months after a tough divorce from the HTC program. “When you first start out, people always only are saying you can and they never say you can’t. And once you hit you reach a certain level, people say you can’t and it’s kind of scary to hear. Like, you don’t believe it all the time, but it’s kind of scary to hear,” she told VeloNews at the finish. “And so when you have people saying you can’t, or people counting you off or people thinking you’re done, to be able to come back and win it, knowing all of these things, and win it consciously and win it with a team like this, it means the world.”

A week later, Abbott slipped into her stars-and-stripes jersey at the start of the Giro, and became the first American since Andy Hampsten in 1988 to win an Italian grand tour.

3. Sagan takes queen stage for second California win

If American race fans hadn’t taken notice of Liquigas-Doimo’s Peter Sagan when he won two stages and the points competition at Paris-Nice, they certainly did during the Tour of California. Race organizers billed it as a day for the climbers and with more than 12,000 feet of vertical over 135 miles, the Big Bear stage at the Tour of California was nearly that. An early break formed with Andy Schleck and Jacob Fugalsang (Saxo Bank) and KOM leader Thomas Rabou (Team Type 1) among its members.

Young sprint leader Peter Sagan sat comfortably within a formation of bright green Liquigas-Doimo jerseys just off the front of the thinning field. Sagan had won the day before in Bakersfield, charging out of the peloton near the end of the final, agonizingly steep finish circuit. His team was confident that the breakout rider of 2010 could deliver on the race’s biggest stage.

Sagan celebrates two in a row, and the third stage win for Liquigas.
Sagan celebrates at Big Bear

When the break was caught 25km from the finish, Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) and Matt Wilson (Gamin-Transitions) struck out on their own. The pair wound around Big Bear Lake and only a hard chase from the HTC-Columbia team of overall leader Michael Rogers could bring them back inside 1km to go. The most mountainous stage in the race’s history was set to go to a bunch sprint.

A hard lead-out from the HTC camp brought Sagan to the final sprint in fourth wheel and he surged away from Rogers and Rory Sutherland 200 meters from the line. The stage win kept Sagan in the best young rider jersey, which he secured with a solid time trial the next day.

“Yesterday (in Bakersfield) was hard because of the final climbs there on the circuit, but today was even harder, because obviously a lot more climbing,” Sagan said after the stage. “For me to arrive in a small group like that is always good. I had to work a little harder on the climbs, but I stayed with them and that’s where I’m going to win.”

Ben Day’s take:
Day crashed out with a head injury during the queen stage a day after nearly taking the Bakersfield stage himself.

“(Sagan)’s a super talented guy … He’s a neo-professional and already doing things in races like Paris-Nice”

“He’s just a very, very talented bike rider and we’re going to hear more and more about him in the future. I think he’s going to turn out to be one of the most incredible classics riders ever. I think it’s a privilege to be watching someone at the beginning of their career who’s going to be playing a part for a long time to come.”

2. Jai Crawford tops Levi Leipheimer for stage win at Snowbird

Sunday August 22 was the hardest of the National Racing Calendar in 2010 and Aussie Jai Crawford owned it.

Stage 5, 2010 Tour of Utah
Mark De Maar led Crawford on the lower reaches of the final climb.
Mark De Maar led Crawford on the lower reaches of the final climb.

A day after Crawford finished second in the fourth stage criterium in Park City, his Fly V Australia team hatched a plan for the queen stage of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the riders executed it to perfection. The field, battered by heavy winds over the first half of the day, arrived to the lower reaches of the nine-mile, 2,800 vertical-foot Alpine Loop climb less than a minute behind an 18-rider breakaway. When the gap shrank to less than 30 seconds, Crawford jumped across to the leaders with Marc de Maar.

Yellow jersey Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) didn’t react and the break held off the chase to the base of the finish climb of Little Cottonwood Canyon. De Maar was the last rider to maintain contact with Crawford when he surged at the base of the climb to the ski resort at Snowbird. From there, the diminutive climber fought through swirling head and crosswinds on the 10-mile, 3,000-foot slog.

Behind Crawford, second overall Francisco Mancebo (Canyon Bicycles) pulled Leipheimer and Alex Hagman (On The Rivet) away from the field. “I knew Levi was coming,” said Crawford at the finish. “There was nothing I could do about it except ride as hard as I could.”

When Leipheimer rode onto Crawford’s wheel, he was alone, having deposited his companions lower in the canyon. The catch came just a few hundred meters from the line. In a gentlemanly gesture, the GC winner stayed in the wheel as Crawford pressed across the line for the stage win, his jersey flying in the wind. “I think the bottom line is that he deserved the stage win more than anybody,” said Leipheimer.

The win – his first in the U.S. – came on Crawford’s last day of U.S. racing in 2010 and was a major breakthrough for the 27-year-old.

Ben Day’s take:
Day missed out on the Tour of Utah with a blood infection that hospitalized him in August.

“I was pretty much bed-ridden for a month.”

“There are a lot of talented bike riders out there that for whatever reason aren’t able to shine as much as their talent portrays. So I’m really excited that he was able to do something on a big stage where everybody was watching and took notice and he really pulled out a good one.”

1. Ben King soloes to road race title

With his 40-mile solo winning effort in the road race at nationals, Ben King earned the VeloNews North American Ride of the Year in our January 2011 awards issue. Below is the recap of his performance from that issue:

USPRO Road Race Championships, 2010
King during his breakaway

At 4:30 p.m. on September 19, the collective feeling in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, was that race fans were witnessing something truly special. Ben King had attacked in the first mile of the professional road championship to spring the day’s long breakaway and was coming through the start/finish solo to start his second of three short finish circuits. King rode away from companions Daniel Holloway (Bissell) and Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies) on the third climb of Paris Mountain and set out alone, much as he had done en route to his U23 national title in June.

At the time, King’s 2011 contract with Radioshack was on the hush and his pseudo teammates patrolled the front of the bunch, smothering attempts by George Hincapie (BMC Racing) and Carter Jones (Jelly Belly-Kenda) to jump across the roughly one-minute gap. Cramps stung the 21-year-old’s legs on the sharp rollers in town, but he stood on the pedals, gritting his teeth in the 90-plus-degree heat.

After 115 miles – 40 of them solo – King turned onto the finish straight for the tenth and final time and pumped his fist as he crossed the line for his third national title in as many months. The easy tongued, hard as nails southerner became the youngest U.S. professional champion in the event’s 26-year history.

King’s ride was one of those seminal moments that journalists look back to decades later. Add to that day his solo wins in the U23 nationals criterium and road race, two U23 Pan-American titles and another long, lonely day on the front of the worlds road race in October, and King was an easy pick for U23 Rider of the Year. Winning the award was perhaps the easiest thing he did all year.

Ben Day’s take:

“He’s a young kid and he’s not afraid to put everything out there on the line.”

“He seems for a young kid to have a great aerobic ability to stay out there and keep pushing away. He spent a long time up the road and ended up finishing in front of a lot of very big name riders. I think it’s exciting for U.S. cycling. It’s a great result.”

Worst moments

For every yin there is a yang and this year wasn’t free of trouble. Jonathon Chodroff turned up with doping suspension on the eve of the professional national championships and David Veilleux won the U.S. criterium championship with his arms raised and his maple leaf Canadian champion’s skinsuit blaring red and white. Below are five of the most forgettable moments of the season.

5. NRC podium mishaps

Podium errors had riders missing out on podiums at Gila, Joe Martin and Cascade. At the Gila, the Phil Zajicek/Dave Zabriskie Gila debacle took a month to resolve.

4. De Maar loses shot at Beauce on saddle problem

Overall leader Marc de Maar lost any hope of an overall win at the Tour de Beauce when a saddle he’d ridden all season — including at the Tour of California — was disqualified by officials minutes before his start. Ben Day took the stage and the overall.

3. Heli-vac at Mt. Bachelor finish

A superfluous, cone-marked corner in the middle of a parking lot 200 meters from the finish of the final stage at the Cascade Classic was the scene of a violent crash in the men’s lead group. Taylor Sheldon and Andrew Talansky suffered facial trauma and the former left aboard a med-evac helicopter before being released late that night. Race organizers claimed rider error and the riders shouted dangerous course conditions.

2. Bahati, Keough clash

An emotional show down between Rahsaan Bahati and Jake Keough, just days after the former lost teammate Jorge Alvarado in a car/bike collision, resulted in a hotly debated crash and an extreme act of unsportsmanlike conduct. The incident was one in a string that led to the demise of Bahati’s team in May.

1. Timing of the Landis bombshell

Attention was ripped away from great racing when Landis let loose on the eve of stage 5 of the Tour of California. The timing of the “leak” of letters between Landis and officials describing drug use within the U.S. Postal Service team coincided with the biggest race of the year in the States — one Landis won in 2006, seven months before being stripped of his Tour de France title. This time Landis found a different way to leave his mark in American cycling, and a cloud hung over the race for days.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.