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“I’m probably the only guy whose mom dropped him off at the hotel yesterday,” joked Maryland native Scott McGill Friday at a pre-race press conference for the inaugural Maryland Cycling Classic.
It was a lighthearted moment, but also a gentle reminder of the precarious place of professional road racing in the United States right now. For a few years, it has not been possible for an American rider to make such a statement.
Whereas as recently as 2019 there were multiple UCI-level stage races across the United States like the Tours of California and Utah, this Sunday’s single-day Maryland Cycling Classic represents the sole UCI ProSeries or higher event in the country in 2022.
Riders from the US and beyond, and from up and coming talents to WorldTour veterans, are looking forward to making the most of the opportunity.
“It’s always special when I can get some time to come back to America,” said Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), who has been recovering and training at home in California since his standout Tour de France performance in July.
“I’m really relaxed and I always race my best when I’m relaxed, so I’m really happy to be racing in America.”
US national champion Kyle Murphy, who will get the opportunity to showcase the stars and stripes jersey on home soil, echoed those sentiments, saying that his Human Powered Health team is “really excited to be here.”
The dearth of American events hasn’t gone unnoticed in the WorldTour and international stars of the sport are looking forward to racing in the US as well.
“Unfortunately we haven’t had the Tour of California in the last couple of years so that’s been a bit disappointing, but super happy to be back,” said Australian Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) who got second at the 2015 world championships in nearby Richmond, Virginia.
The lack of American races like the Tour of California, and their importance to the future of cycling in the US, was on the top of Powless’ mind on Friday. His answer to the question of what it takes to be a top cyclist? Events.
“Obviously it takes dedication and hard work and all that, but none of that matters if you don’t have an opportunity to showcase that,” Powless said. “Having not only grassroots events to provide kids or young people access to the sport, or even just the Maryland Cycling Classic being able to watch this sport at home and really see that and draw your inspiration from events that are close to home and something you can relate to.
“It’s just so important, this race giving opportunities to so many Americans this year and South Americans and young athletes, alongside WorldTour athletes. It’s a huge opportunity for them. Having the dedication and the hard work, you definitely need all that. But you definitely need the events and the ability to get involved in the sport too.”
Having had the opportunity to showcase his talents at races like the Tour of California as an up-and-coming rider, Powless knows better than anyone the importance of big races to developing and discovering top talent.
McGill, a 23-year-old rider coming off of two stage wins at the Volta ao Algarve who is racing for the USA Cycling composite team, realizes the opportunity he has in front of him.
“For teams like USA Cycling or smaller Continental teams, it’s obviously a big deal to be able to race with the WorldTour teams,” he said. “For me, I’m trying to not be too intimated by the WorldTour teams or the bigger teams and race my own race like any other race.”