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Monday, May 30, 2011
Georgie Hincapie falls short in road race

Associated Press

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- When Matthew Busche outsprinted hometown favorite George Hincapie at the line Monday to win the USC Cycling pro road race, it brought a rousing end to the national championships.

"It was a great weekend for USA Cycling," said Steve Johnson, the organization's CEO.

And it was a much needed one after last week when riders at the Tour of California spent as much time answering questions of cycling's dark side as about the race.

That was because of a "60 Minutes" report in which Lance Armstrong's former teammate Tyler Hamilton said he saw Armstrong use performance-enhancing drugs. The CBS program also said Hincapie, Armstrong's close friend and ex-teammate, told federal authorities he and Armstrong supplied each other with performance-enhancers and discussed them.

Armstrong has denied Hamilton's claims and Hincapie said in a statement he did not talk with "60 Minutes."

This weekend, though, the focus was on the country's best cyclists and a dramatic photo finish to decide a national championship.

Busche and Hincapie were part of a four-man breakaway with Ted King and Tejay Van Garderen that stayed in synch until the final moments of the 115-mile race. Hincapie edged forward and seemed a few strides from his fourth road race title when the 26-year-old Busche caught him at the line in a virtual dead heat.

Thousands of people at the finish awaited word on a winner, most hoping to cheer Hincapie, who lives and trains in this city. Busche, who finished third behind Dave Zabriskie in Saturday's time trial championship, wasn't sure if he should celebrate or congratulate his rival.

Photos, though, showed Busche on top by the width of a tire as he took the stars-and-stripes jersey for the next year.

"I don't know when this ever sinks in," Busche said.

Busche played over the endgame scenarios in his mind those final miles. Hincapie is one of the best closers in cycling, a Tour de France stage winner who's been a teammate to eight Tour victories -- seven of them by Armstrong.

"It's hard to go to the line with George," Busche said. "But I felt like I had my legs."

Hincapie thought he made his move at exactly the right time and was a bit surprised when Busche fought back. Hincapie was also bothered by a leg cramp down the stretch. "I gave everything I possibly had," he said.

King was third and Van Garderen fourth. Defending champ Ben King was eighth as only 44 of the 105 starters crossed the line in temperatures that reached into the mid-90s.

The heat didn't wilt the enthusiasm of spectators as the city held the championships for the sixth straight year. The weekend was moved from September to May, giving cycling a chance to blossom away from the start of college football, the region's king sport. Crowds also were not turned away by the continuing investigation into Armstrong.

Organizers say 300,000 people have watched over the first five years. "I thought it looked like at least as big as the others, both in numbers and enthusiasm," Johnson said.

Roy Wolfe, 56, of Taylors, said he took up cycling seriously the past couple of years because of the national championships and the support the region's shown for the sport. He's not overly bothered by the allegations. "I wish doping wasn't an issue," he said. "But it's like every sport, it's the world we live in."

The national championships are scheduled to return to Greenville in 2012. Hincapie said the region has taken to the event even more than he imagined when it first raced here in 2006. "This time was huge with some of the parties we saw going on," Hincapie said.

Were organizers worried about the "60 Minutes" report stealing the headlines from rising young competitors here like 20-year-old world champion Taylor Phinney and 22-year-old Ben King? "I think people are ready to move on and think about the future," said Chris Aronhalt, executive director of Medalist Sport which staged the championships.

Joel Ferhrman of Atlanta was the top fundraiser for the Stars and Stripes Challenge, a charity event held Sunday in nearby Travelers Rest. He says the best athletes in all sports are pushing for any edge they can get. "I don't fault them," he said. "I think that's how all sports are really."