History was made on the streets of Chattanooga Monday at the 2014 Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships, as Alison Powers (Pinecliffe, Colo./UnitedHealthcare) claimed her third road title of the year to become the first U.S. cyclist to simultaneously hold three titles at the same time. After winning the 2013 USA Cycling Professional Criterium National Championships last July, Powers completed the trifecta this weekend with a win in Saturday’s time trial and a Memorial Day victory in the women’s road race. Meanwhile, Eric Marcotte (Scottsdale, Ariz/Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) led a 1-2 finish for his team in a field sprint to capture the men’s national road title.
By virtue of their victories in Chattanooga, Powers and Marcotte each received a one-year loan of a 2015 Volkswagen GTI. The all-new seventh generation GTI will be available for sale in the U.S. this summer, featuring a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine and an available roof rack for cyclists.
With just over nine kilometers to go in the women’s 104-kilometer road race, Powers was among a group of chasers that caught her teammate Katie Hall (Oakland, Calif.) and Tayler Wiles (Fairfax, Calif./Specialized-lululemon) after those two riders had maintained a two-woman break for over 15 kilometers. But as the group came together, it was Powers who immediately launched a counter-attack straight away as she morphed into her winning time trial mode and held off all challengers, crossing the finish line alone in 2:55.25. Megan Guarnier (Mountain View, Calif./Boels Dolmans Cycling Team) pulled away from Evelyn Stevens (Dennis, Mass./Specialized-lululemon) in the final corner to finish second, 22 seconds behind Powers, with Stevens rolling in three seconds later to claim her second bronze medal of the weekend.
Powers said her time trial experience was a key factor at the end of the race in helping her stave off the chasing riders.
“When you know you time trial better than everybody else, you have confidence (and know) it’s a five-mile time trial,” she said. “You ride to your strengths, limit your weaknesses, and I had confidence that no one could catch because no one could catch me at time trials. When I came over the really steep little block hill (the final run up Kent Street) and the gap stayed, stayed, stayed with probably three kilometers to go. Then the gap went to 15 seconds, I thought, ‘OK, now I’ve got it.’”
Guarnier acknowledged that the chase group put in the effort but that Powers proved to be too strong on the day.
“Initially when Alison went away, it was both Tayler and Evie,” said Guarnier. “I tried to pull through a few times, and I knew that Tayler and Evie were both really strong time trialists, so I thought we still had a really good chance of catching Alison. We did close it down a little bit, but Alison is super strong through the corners and had that car (2015 Volkswagen GTI) dangling out in front of her, so she knew we were chasing hard, and she rode a really great ride. We did our best behind.”
Mara Abbott (Boulder, Colo./UnitedHealthcare) won the Queen of the Mountains jersey after leading the 71-rider field over Lookout Mountain on the first pass, and cresting the climb in second place the second time up the 1,842-foot mountain.
In the final stretch of the men’s 165-kilometer road race, it was Marcotte and his Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis teammate Travis McCabe (Tucson, Ariz.) rocketing out of the pack to cap off an improbable day for the UCI continental team. The winning time was 4:17.59.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in,” said Marcotte at the post-race press conference. “I told some of the other riders on other teams that I don’t want to be pack fodder; I want to affect the race and help the team do something special today. I took a chance, made the break and rode really smart. I saved it for that final climb and caught those guys on the descent. I’m feeling unreal right now.”
Marcotte also views his win as something that gives hope to the smaller budget teams.
“Obviously it gives our team that exposure that we want to make it to the next level and keep developing and getting a bigger budget to do more and more across the world,” he said. “As far as the other smaller budget teams, it gives us hope. You’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ve raced against this guy; how did he finish this off?’ You can do it. You have to believe in yourself in that moment and not look back. I don’t think I’ll ever get the chance to race this again or I may never get the chance to race this race again, and those final kilometers, I was never going to let it go any differently.”
Soon after Marcotte slipped into his Stars-and-Stripes jersey signifying him as national champion, he was still in awe of what had transpired.
“It’s kind of crazy; it doesn’t even seem real. I certainly was an underdog and probably not on the radar at all for anybody, so it’s pretty crazy. I’m sure a lot of people are just like, ‘Who’s this guy?’ I’ve been doing my homework and staying healthy and well and able to compete at this level, so it’s unreal.”
McCabe was just as happy for both himself and his teammate, Marcotte.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” he said. “With the way that Eric and I have come up racing together, to have him get the win is just absolutely amazing. We’re both Arizona boys, and we train a lot together and race a lot together. I knew with four hours, there’s no one stronger than Eric, especially at the end.”
Alex Howes (Boulder, Colo./Team Garmin Sharp) finished third in the bunch sprint to claim the bronze medal while his teammate, Ben King (North Garden, Va.) won the King of the Mountains jersey.
“It was a pretty tough day,” Howes commented. “Garmin Sharp had a goal to make it a tough day. Pretty much every time up the hill we hit it, trying to make it hard on guys like McCabe here. He said we did, so we did our job. We wanted to make a race out of it, and I feel like we did. I think that shows with only about 20 guys really finishing up there (near the front).”
The men’s road race was marred by a crash on the first descent down Lookout Mountain that resulted in Friday’s time trial champion, Taylor Phinney (Boulder, Colo./BMC Racing Team), suffering a broken leg.
A challenging new section was added to the road race course this year, with downtown Chattanooga and the tough climb up Lookout Mountain featured prominently as they were in 2013. The men’s and women’s races both began with a 5.1-mile start circuit — three circuits for the women and four for the men. The course then took the riders on a relatively flat run out Broad Street to begin the climb up Ochs Highway. The ascent up Ochs Highway was approximately 2.75 miles and climbed over 1100 feet each lap. The race passed through Lookout Mountain to Scenic Highway, and returned to downtown via Broad Street. The men completed four laps up the climb, while the women did two laps. The “long lap” was 16.5 miles in distance.
New for the race this year was the “wall” in North Chattanooga up Kent Street, a one-block section of road with grades of up to 20 percent. The men and women faced this challenge on each of the “long laps” as well as on three shorter 5.4-mile finishing circuits. The course crossed the Market Street Bridge and Veterans Bridge each lap, with spectators able to see the riders cross through the start/finish line 11 times during the men’s race and eight times during the women’s race.
Men’s Road Race – 165.5km
1. Eric Marcotte (Scottsdale, Ariz./Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) 4:17.59
2. Travis McCabe (Tucson, Ariz./Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis) s.t.
3. Alex Howes (Boulder, Colo./Team Garmin Sharp) s.t.
Women’s Road Race – 104.1km
1. Alison Powers (Pinecliffe, Colo./UnitedHealthcare) 2:55.25
2. Megan Guarnier (Mountain View, Calif./Boels Dolmans Cycling Team) +0:22
3. Evelyn Stevens (San Francisco, Calif./Specialized-lululemon) +0:25
King of the Mountains
1. Ben King (North Garden, Va./Team Garmin Sharp)
Queen of the Mountains
1. Mara Abbott (Boulder, Colo./UnitedHealthcare)
Photo © Christy Nicholson / EchelonDesignPhoto.com