The signature event of the four-day U.S. Pro Road, Individual Time Trial and Criterium National Championships concluded Sunday in downtown Knoxville. Two Colorado riders came away with crowning wins that had evaded them on previous tries. Ruth Winder (Boulder, Colo.; Trek-Segafredo) scored the national title for Pro Women and Alex Howes (Boulder, Colo.; EF Education First) snatched a thrilling victory for Pro Men.
The women covered nine laps of the 7.9-mile course for a total of 70.4 miles, punctuated by a steep climb on Sherrod Road with a maximum gradient of 14 percent. Sweltering summer temperatures and high humidity added an extra challenge for all riders.
Winder put in a gutsy attack on the penultimate lap to drop all competitors and continued solo to the finish line. Giving it all she had, Winder was able to hold off a charging small group of riders to claim her first pro road race title. Last year riding for Team Sunweb, she helped teammate Coryn Rivera (Newport Beach, Calif.; Team Sunweb) win the title, and finished 10th overall.
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National Champion!! Unbelievable. . I am so lucky to feel an incredible amount of support. I can’t express my gratitude to every single person that wished me much luck and has supported me through my career. . This is a step everyone is after and I can’t believe I reached it. . Special thank you to my lovely friend and selfless teammate @taylerwiles also to @bouldergrupetto for the mechanical support ( doubling as @zach_edwards as my best friend (it was awesome to not FaceTime) last but not least @oliviadill for your friendship and fantastic DS skillz. WE DID IT. ???? @photowil . . . #treksegafredo #nationalchampion #roadnats #dreams #usacycling #knoxville #wedidit #crazy #thankyou
“It’s not over ‘til it’s over, just keep on going, that’s all I was thinking. Just trying to motivate myself to go as hard as I could,” Winder said of her mind frame while trying to hold off the chasing riders in the final lap. “I thought everyone was going to pass me in the last 100 meters; I had nothing. I sat down, and I was like ‘get up, sprint, sprint, sprint’. Nobody passed me and I can’t believe that I won.”
Winder finished in a time of 3 hours, 17 minutes, 41 seconds, which was only one second ahead of defending champion and now former teammate Rivera.
“My first [National Championship win] as an elite. I actually won my first ever national championships in Bend when I was 15 years old. It feels awesome,” said Winder, whose best finish previously in the Pro Road Race was third in 2017.
Finishing in third, two seconds behind Winder, was Emma White (Delanson, N.Y.; Rally UHC Cycling) to capture her second consecutive Under-23 Road Race national title for women.
“Knoxville, I think has been one of my favorite places in the United States to race. It’s amazing,” said White, who also won this year’s Elite and U23 Criterium titles on Friday. “All the people that come out, they are all over it, in the roads. I am a personal huge fan of country music, so I feel right at home. Everybody is so nice and kind here. The racing is awesome, the courses are super fantastic, I think it gets better every single year.”
Beth Ann Orton (Bend, Ore.; Instafund LaPrima Racing) & Starla Teddergreen (Vancouver, Wash.; Hagens Berman | Supermint) escaped from the 74-rider field after one lap of racing to catch and later drop Julie Kuliecza (Richmond, Va./Hagens Berman | Supermint), who had attacked from the gun. The pair pushed the gap to over four minutes before being reeled in six laps later. Winder’s Trek-Segafredo teammate Tayler Wiles (Fairfax, Calif.) put in a massive attack on the climb to thin out the field before Winder made her move after the feed zone. Lily Williams (Asheville, N.C.; Hagens Berman – Supermint) was the only rider to stay with Winder, but was dropped the next time up the climb.
The men’s Road Race Sunday afternoon covered 15 laps of the circuit for 119 total miles. It took EF Education’s Howes 4 hours, 37 minutes, 5 seconds to secure the victory, three seconds ahead of the hometown-favorite Stephen Bassett (Knoxville, Tenn./First Internet Bank Cycling). Neilson Powless (Roseville, Calif./Team Jumbo-Visma) crossed the line one second later for third place. A charging Tyler Magner (Rally UHC Cycling) crossed the line only five seconds behind Howes for fourth place.
“I was in tears,” said an emotional Howes, who finished second in 2016 and seventh in 2017. “I’ve been running after this one for a while, eight years or so. So, I’ve been on the podium a few times and always an animator, just never there. Today we went early and just kept going. I can’t believe it paid off.”
Following a flurry of attacks, the men’s Road Race had the first real break of the day five laps into the event. Howes broke off the front along with defending champion Jonny Brown (Covington, Tenn.; Hagens Berman Axeon), 2018 runner up Robin Carpenter (San Diego, Calif.; Rally UHC Cycling), Gage Hecht (Parker, Colo.; Aevolo Cycling), and Oliver Flautt (Decatur, Ga.; Team Dauner AKKON). The group gained a maximum of two minutes on the 60-rider field before getting reeled back 10 laps later.
After multiple counter attacks and surges from the peloton, the winning break was initiated by Bassett, who emerged on the decisive climb up Sherrod Road with three laps of racing to go. From there, the battle was on between the break and the chase group.
“The first couple of years it was actually stressful. You get used to it, but you use it to focus on the task at hand. It’s definitely a good motivator,” Bassett said about racing U.S. Pro Road Championships in his hometown for a third year.
It came down to the final three riders who escaped in the latter part of the race, and gained a maximum of 50 seconds over a select chasing group. The threesome took turns attacking each other until Howes was able to come around Bassett after the left turn onto Clinch Avenue and score the win on South Gay Street.
“Neilson Powless is probably one of the best guys in the States right now. This isn’t necessarily his course. Stephen Bassett, hometown hero out there, was unbelievably strong and riding with a full heart. He was hard to get around,” Howes said about his adversaries. “I just timed it right as it flattened out (at the finish) and hit him (Bassett) with some speed.”
The championship by Howes was the first time a WorldTour rider had won the Stars-and-Stripes jersey since Timmy Duggan took the win in 2012 for Liquigas-Cannondale.
Top 5 Elite Women
1 Ruth Winder (Trek Segafredo) – 3:17:41
2 Coryn Rivera (Team SunWeb) – 3:17:42 +1”
3 Emma White (Rally UHC Cycling) – 3:17:43 +2”
4 Chloe Dygert-Owen (Sho – Air TWENTY20) – 3:17:44 +3”
5 Alexis Ryan (Canyon SRAM Racing)- 3:17:45 +4”
Top 3 U23
1 Emma White (Rally UHC Cycling) – 3:17:43
2 Chloe Dygert-Owen (Sho – Air TWENTY20) – 3:17:44 +1”
3 Madeline Bemis (Milligan College) – 3:17:51 +8”
Top 5 Elite Men
1 Alex Howes (EF Education First) – 4:37.05
2 Stephen Bassett (First Internet Bank Cycling) – 4:37.08 +3”
3 Neilson Powless (Team Jumbo-Visma) – 4:37.09 +4”
4 Tyler Magner (Rally UHC Cycling) – 4:37.10 +5”
5 Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale) – 4:37.13 +8”
Photos by Wil Matthews & Casey Gibson
Copyright EF Education First Pro Cycling Team