Rock Racing's Tyler Hamilton won the 177km US Pro road championship in Greenville, South Carolina, beating Garmin-Chipotle's Blake Caldwell in a photo finish Sunday.
The United States professional championship race was without some of the top European-based professionals, such as defending champion Levi Leipheimer (Astana). But this actually made for better racing with a more team-oriented race and not the Europro 'collusion' of the past two years.
Similar to the past two editions the last climb up Paris Mountain was the deciding factor, with the field shattered by the top. A group of around 25 came together on the bottom with most of the big names, but out of this came an attack of five onto the finish circuits – three Garmin-Chipotle riders with and Jeff Louder (BMC).
Here numbers should have benefited Garmin-Chipotle with Danny Pate, Caldwell and Lucas Euser. Coming up to the final lap it was Caldwell who was able to get away, but not from Hamilton. The two rode the final lap with Hamilton forced to lead due to Caldwell playing the team card. Caldwell jumped Hamilton in the final turn at 250 meters, but that was an inch too early as Hamilton came back around him on the line, winning by just that distance.
"I knew I had a chance, that's why I took yesterday off with the time trial," said Hamilton about his decision to only contest the road race. "I am an Olympic champion in time trial but I decided to save my energy for today. I wanted to be a strong helper for Fred Rodriguez who has won this before or take a chance myself."
The 37-year-old, who served a two-year suspension for a positive blood test in 2004, said he almost retired after this very race last year. He showed up in Greenville last year riding as an independent while embroiled in a contract dispute with his then-team Tinkoff. Not racing for much of the season during the dispute meant his form was not on par and he suffered for it.
"Last year I thought the race in Greenville was the last of my career," he said. "Fortunately for me I got another chance. Michael Ball gave me another chance with Rock Racing and here I am. It's really special and a pretty emotional feeling for me."
Hamilton said that once he found himself with the lead group over the final climb he realized he could have a shot at the win. "I thought I could be in the mix, and once you are it just takes a little luck," he said.
For a complete results with photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.