Timmy Duggan's 2013 pro cycling season hasn't gone as well as he might have hoped.
The Boulder, Colo., native was coming off a strong 2012 campaign, winning the USA Cycling Professional Road Race Championship last May in Greenville, S.C., and competing in London as a member of the U.S. Olympic team.
Then the wheels began to come off.
He left the Liquigas-Cannondale team to sign with SpiderTech-C10 for 2013, only to have the team surprisingly disband before he had a chance to race for them.
He was able to secure a spot on Team Saxo-Tinkoff for this year, but then misfortune hit again in January with a nasty crash in Australia.
"The season's been pretty terrible so far," he said by phone while at the Tour of California. "I crashed at the Tour Down Under, so I started out the year with a broken tibia and a broken clavicle. Definitely not ideal."
After several months off the bike to recuperate he returned to racing in April at the Tour of Turkey and is ready to defend his U.S. road race title today on the roads of downtown Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain.
Duggan won't be the only rider trying to repeat as national champion today. Rabobank-Liv Giant's Megan Guarnier hopes to retain the Stars and Stripes jersey she won last year in Augusta, Ga., as the women's road race champion.
Duggan said winning the national title has been a major milestone.
"Winning the national championship for me was certainly a bucket-list item for my career," he said. "I wanted at the end of my career to say that I was a national champion. ... It's definitely a real honor to win that last year after focusing on and wanting it and making it happen."
For both Duggan and Guarnier, the Chattanooga route will be a new experience. The city is hosting the race for the first of a three-year run this year, creating a lot of unknowns and uncertainty for the competitors.
"Coming to a new place, you don't know what's going to happen and you don't know how the field is going to race it," Guarnier said. "You can take guesses, but you have to approach the race differently and visualize the finish and how you think will be the best way to go about winning it."
In addition to being defending champions, Guarnier and Duggan also share the fact that they will be riding without teammates today.
Many of the U.S.-based teams in the race will have many riders entered, enabling them to work together on the climbs, while riders such as Guarnier and Duggan are on teams dominated by European riders.
"It's an interesting race, because some of the domestic teams will bring 12 riders while folks like myself may be the only American on our whole team," Duggan said. "You kind of have to look to the big teams with the firepower to do a lot of the work. As a single rider you really have to be wise with how you expend your energy."
Guarnier agreed, saying that it could be to her advantage to be part of a smaller group that breaks away from the main field before the finish.
"If it's a small group, there's not so many teammates to help anybody anyway," she said. "If it's a big group, you have to pick your wheels and pick your lines accordingly."
Regardless, they both said the course for today's road race should provide exciting competition and fun racing both for competitors and fans watching along the route and at the start-finish area near Miller Plaza.
"The route and the profile seems like it will be pretty similar to what we had in Greenville, with circuits, a hard climb and then finishing with downtown circuits," Duggan said. "Definitely a dynamic course where anything can happen."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JFTanner.