A Conversation With U.S. Road National Champion Timmy Duggan


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Duggan becomes the national champion. Photo: Casey B. Gibson.

Liquigas-Cannondale racer Timmy Duggan didn't enter last week's U.S. National Championship road race as a heavy favorite, but he proved that the odds don't always matter. By wresting the win from an elite breakaway the hard-working American earned the right to don the stars and stripes for the coming year.

Duggan rode a gutsy and tactically savvy race. After making the early split then nearly getting caught out by the back-to-back attacks of Tejay Van Garderen and Tom Danielson on the final ascent of Paris Mountain, Duggan clawed his way back to the four-man break, slipped away during a lull, and powered to the finish solo. He crossed the line nearly half a minute up on the splintered field to take the biggest victory of his career. The achievement is all the more impressive when you consider that he and his Liquigas-Cannondale teammate Ted King were a two-man team up against powerful 11-man squads like Garmin-Barracuda.

The 29-year-old from Boulder, Colorado, might not have been the odds-on favorite, but the win also shouldn't have come as a huge surprise. Just a few weeks ago at the Amgen Tour of California, Duggan showed impressive form with immense pulls at the head of the field to help set up teammate Peter Sagan's five stage wins. He's had a solid 2012 spring campaign, including a stint in the mountains jersey at the Volta a Catalunya in March, and he's shown ever-improving results since turning pro with Garmin in 2005. We spoke to the underrated American from Boulder a few days after his big win in Greenville.

So you won the National Championship. Were you expecting that?
It’s been a goal of mine since the first time I did it a few years ago in Greenville. “Win the National Championship”: That’s been on a notecard on my desk ever since that first race. Goals like this are really important to keep burned into your head. It keeps you motivated when things are hard and you’re out there killing yourself. It’s nice to move this card to the pile of the ones I’ve accomplished.

Walk us through how it happened?
With only Ted King and I on our team, our options were limited. So we couldn’t afford to spend energy on something that didn’t work out. I made the first split in the field of around 30 riders. Then at the end of the day, over Paris Mountain, there was another split, with a small group of us up the road. There was still a lot of firepower—Teejay Van Garderen, Tom Danielson, Matthew Busche—and it turned into a tactical game of cat and mouse as everyone was trying to assess the situation and figure out who might have teammates coming up.

With just Ted and me, I knew that I had to be alone and get a good gap to make it work. I took a technical part of the course really fast. I guess I just chose the right moment. When I looked back, I had a gap without really trying, and I took the opportunity and ran with it. I certainly didn’t go into the race hoping to time trial the last 25 kilometers. That’s hard. But I put my head down and it worked out.

Riding for Liquigas-Cannondale and Garmin before that, you’ve mostly ridden as a domestique. Is it difficult to change your mentality and go for the win?
That’s the job of like 85 percent of the peloton. You’re riding for other folks. I’m lucky because at Liquigas we're riding for amazing guys like Nibali and Sagan and Basso. So there are no complaints about what I do at most races. But I think what I showed this weekend is that when I get a chance to ride for myself I can be really successful. We’ve seen the same thing in the past. In the Volta a Catalunya this spring, I was allowed to get in the breakaway and I was able to earn the mountains jersey for a few days. And last year at the Tour of Utah, when I was riding for myself, I was sixth overall. When I get the chance, I can definitely pull the trigger.

Does the title change your career and where you see yourself going?
The National Championship is a good race to win if you’re only going to win a few. It’s hugely satisfying to have that on the resume. But it’s not like one good day of racing necessarily changes what you can do in the future. I still want to progress in my role as a domestique, and I also hope to develop and take more opportunities for myself when they present themselves. I hope the title will also influence my chances at a spot for the Olympics. It’s a really small squad, just five guys, so there are some tough decisions for the committee to make. I’m content that I’ve done my best to show that, if they want me, I can contribute.

There's a changing of the guard in American cycling right now, with the emergence of riders like Tejay Van Garderen, Taylor Phinney, Matt Busche, Brent Bookwalter, Andrew Talanksy. Is this win a kind of vindication for the fact that your name is sometimes overlooked?
Certainly. Everyone you mentioned is very talented. And I think I’m every bit as talented and work every bit as hard as those guys who get a little more press. I was kind of a late-comer to cycling. I didn’t start racing my bike until late in high school and college. I wasn’t a World Tour phenom at age 20, like Sagan. So I’ve had some ground to make up. But cycling is a sport where age and experience go a long way. I came from alpine skiing, where if you’re not on the radar when you’re 13 or 14, you’re washed up and not going to the Olympics. Fortunately, cycling isn’t like that.

Just like in past years, the UCI World Tour racers dominated in Greenville. Is the disparity in the level of racing between international and domestic that big?
It takes the same thing to be on podium at the World Tour level and the domestic level, especially at races like California. The top end is at the same level. The difference is that in the World Tour, the field is so much deeper. At Greenville, the split was 30 or so guys to begin with and then five after that. In a World Tour race, you’d still have 60 guys in there. The big difference is the depth.

It was the same in the Tour of Califoria, with seven of the top 10 from World Tour teams and Sagan winning five of seven stages.
First of all, Sagan is just a ridiculous talent. You have to throw some serious stuff at him to make him lose. And when he has a powerful team behind him like Liquigas-Cannondale, it’s even harder to beat him. But I was surprised that we didn’t come up against more opposition. I was surprised that more teams weren’t trying to throw guys up the road and hit us. Maybe they couldn’t. I don’t know. I guess it just means we did our job.

Rumors are that you might be looking for a new team in 2013?
It’s no secret that my contract is up at the end of the year. No comment other than that. I want to keep going with a World Tour team. I think having the [National Champion] jersey might open some doors, but who knows. I just want to keep progressing.

What’s next?
I’m headed for the Tour de Suisse in June. I think we’ll have Sagan there. There are a lot of stages like Cali that are lumpy and hard, but not necessarily mountaintop finishes. Those should be good for Sagan, so we’ll be looking to get him through and set up the win. On a personal level, I’ll be there hoping to follow up on my strong ride in California, just making it hard for the rest of the field. After that, I have the Tour of Poland in July.

And the Tour?
Of course the Tour de France has always been a goal of mine, but I haven’t really had that dialogue with the team yet. It’s the same with the Olympics. I just do my best to show that I can contribute and then wait and see if I get the nod.

What about the domestic races late season?
Yep, I'll definitely be doing Utah and Colorado. I was already looking forward to the tour of Colorado because it’s coming through both of my hometowns, Boulder, where I grew up, and Nederland, where I’ve moved. But now to be able to go through wearing the Stars and Stripes, it’s going to be incredible.

—Aaron Gulley