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GREENVILLE, South Carolina (VN) — Garmin-Barracuda’s David Zabriskie captured his seventh U.S. time trial championship Saturday, demolishing a now-familiar 20.7-mile course at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research in 40:41.
Zabriskie bested BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen and Brent Bookwalter to retain the patriotic skinsuit that has earned him the nickname “Captain America.”
Thirty-five riders tackled the course in the 90-degree South Carolina heat, many utilizing ice vests and other techniques to battle the sweltering temperatures. But in the end it was Zabriskie that set the course ablaze.
Often described as “the peloton’s most aerodynamic man,” the reigning champion dominated the pack despite what he described as an almost half-hearted effort.
“If anything, today I was kind of too confident,” Zabriskie explained during his post-race press conference.
“But I know from experience, never be too confident. I had a good first lap. And then the second lap, it’s not that I didn’t try, but I was kind of like ‘Oh, I’m winning. La-la-la.’ I got kind of complacent out there. But then on the last lap, the last 5k, I was like ‘Dave, you don’t really know what’s going on. You better dig in here, just in case.’ I came across the line and I could tell by the cheers that I’d won, but I wasn’t sure by how much.”
Zabriskie’s narrow margin of victory, six seconds, came as a disappointment to BMC’s van Garderen, who finished in second place with a final time of 40:47.
“I look back and I left everything on the course so I can’t say that I have any regrets,” explained the 23-year-old Washington native.
“But six seconds? That’s a tough pill to swallow. It would have been easier if I’d been in second place by 40 seconds, because then you know there’s nothing you could have done. But when it’s six seconds you look back and say, ‘Well, maybe I could have taken that corner differently or whatever.’ But what’s done is done.”
Van Garderen’s BMC teammate Brent Bookwalter had a strong showing as well, finishing third in 41:08. The one-two punch from BMC came a surprise to some expecting a podium place for Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies’ Tom Zirbel (who finished fourth in 41:23), but not to Bookwalter.
“It wasn’t a surprise. I like to think of myself as a capable time trialist,” noted Bookwalter, who resides in nearby Asheville, North Carolina. “I think I’ve shown some potential and had some success. The longer time trials are still a challenge for me and I’m still working on them, but I think that on an awesome day I have the potential to win a time trial like this.”
Bookwalter made clear that he has dreams of a different podium place.
“Third place is nice, but I’m not going to stop here. I’m going to keep trying to get that jersey someday. That would be nice.”
As for the U.S. champion’s skinsuit, adorned in stars-and-stripes, Zabriskie admitted that he has become possessive.
“Does it ever get old wearing the stars-and-stripes? For me that’s an easy question. It doesn’t. I know I can’t wear my stars-and-stripes in [this] race, but I brought [my champion’s skinsuit] anyway. I hung it up in my hotel room to remind me how bad I like it and how people want to take it away from me.”
With the time trial complete, the peloton’s attention now turns to Monday’s championship road race. While WorldTour teams have often been sparsely represented in Greenville, Zabriskie’s Garmin-Barracuda will line up Monday with a strong squad of seven.
Can the team snatch both jerseys? Zabriskie think’s it’s possible.
“It would be great if the team pulled off a double. There are a lot of guys on the team that are really motivated. And the way we’ve been racing? The way we’re gelling, I guess you could say? I think we’re riding well together, so hopefully we can get organized and pull off [a win].”
But to do so, they’ll have to get past BMC (among others) – which will be represented by van Garderen, Bookwalter and Greenville resident and three-time former champion, George Hincapie. As Bookwalter noted, the veteran Hincapie has helped his teammates to feel right at home in South Carolina.
“We’ve done a lot of laps up Paris Mountain with [Hincapie, who lives near the base of the selective climb],” he said. “Every time we ride back to his house he makes us go over it. So I know [it] well and the atmosphere here doesn’t feel foreign to me — it feels familiar. I’ll have a lot of friends on the course, so it’s good to feel like you’re at home.”
Van Garderen noted that Hincapie’s knowledge of the course may be a disadvantage as well.
“The only thing I hope is that we don’t get into some of the negative tactics. Everyone marking George, or something like that. Then it’s not fun.”
Monday’s course covers 112 miles (181 km), and includes both short circuits through downtown Greenville and four long laps over Paris Mountain.
“I think if we just have a good, hard, clean race where the best man wins then I think [BMC] has a shot,” said van Garderen.
The USA Cycling Professional National Championship road race begins at noon eastern time on Monday. Live streaming video and audio commentary will be broadcast at usacyclingchampionships.com