USA Cycling on Monday crowned the men’s and women’s professional road race national champions in downtown Chattanooga at the 2013 Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road & Time Trial National Championships. Jade Wilcoxson (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Freddie Rodriguez (Jelly Belly Pro Cycling) each topped their respective podiums, capping the event’s first year in Chattanooga.
The course showcased downtown Chattanooga along with the tough climb up Lookout Mountain. The mens and womens races started with a 5.1-mile start circuit one circuit for the women and three for the men. The same circuit would be used for three final circuits for each group at the finish of the race. The course then took the riders on a relatively flat run along Broad Street to begin the climb up Ochs Highway, a climb of approximately three miles, which gained 1,150 feet of elevation on each lap. The race topped out at the summit of Lookout Mountain and descended on Scenic Highway to return to downtown via Broad Street. The men completed four laps up the climb, while the women did two laps. The long lap spanned 16.1 miles in distance.
The mens race began with four fast circuits around downtown Chattanooga. Several early attacks eventually led to a four-man breakaway leading the way as the race headed out on the first of four long circuits. Tyler Wren (Jamis-Hagens Berman Pro Cycling p/b Sutter Home) led the group over the initial climb up Lookout Mountain to collect the first King of the Mountain points. Following the third ascent, Wren had built up a big enough lead in the KOM classification to earn the polka dot Volkswagen King of the Mountain jersey for the second year in a row.
“The tactic was we wanted to be out front and ahead of the action on the climb and get into a good group on the final time over Lookout Mountain,” said Wren. “As it turned out it was kind of a smaller breakaway, so I changed my tactic and I went for the KOM jersey again. I had success with that last year and it feels good to defend it.”
Wrens lead group also included Chris Jones (UnitedHealthcare), James Stemper (5-Hour Energy p/b Kenda) and Saturdays pro time trial winner Tom Zirbel (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies). After holding a lead of around three minutes at one point, the breakaway was reigned in during the final climb up Lookout Mountain.
As the peloton made its way back into the downtown area for the three short finishing circuits in and around downtown Chattanooga, a few short-lived attacks came one after another. Launching himself off the front with about 15 miles to go, Phil Gaimon (Bissell Pro Cycling) built a lead of up to 32 seconds at the bell lap. But with several teams, including UnitedHealthcare, driving the chase in an effort to set up their sprinters, the peloton brought Gaimons lead back to 15 seconds with a mile to go. Gaimon couldnt maintain his monumental effort, and was caught within the final kilometer. The race for the Stars-and-Stripes jersey came down to a drag race to the line.
“It was perfect for me. The speed was high and you just follow a wheel, said Rodriguez. Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman Pro Cycling p/b Sutter Home) attacked and got a little gap, and I chased him down. It was a little rough going through the corners and no one could pass. By the time I caught him at the last corner he had put his effort in, but he was as fresh as I was. He did the leadout and it worked perfect, and I came around him with 150 meters to go.”
The win is the fourth professional road race national title for the 39-year-old Rodriguez, his other three coming in 2000, 2001 and 2004.
“This is amazing,” Rodriguez added. “At my age of 39, cycling is one of those sports where as long as you have passion and enjoy what you’re doing, you can do it for a long time.”
For Bookwalter, he collects his second silver medal of the event after finishing second on Saturday in the time trial. Gaimons time off the front earned him the Erlanger Childrens Hospital Most Courageous Rider award following the race.
“I’m always really motivated for this event and I came here with the goal of being on the top step of the podium, so I’m a little frustrated to miss it twice,” Bookwalter said.
Womens Road Race
Wilcoxson attacked from a chase group to win the professional women’s road race to start things off on Monday. As a lead group of nine riders descended Lookout Mountain for the second and final time, Mara Abbott (Exergy TWENTY16) harnessed her speed to pass the leaders and build a lead as she sped into downtown Chattanooga. However, Abbott was forced to the side of the road in the finishing circuits due to an unfortunate flat tire and the chase group passed her. Wilcoxson was quickly joined by Abbott’s teammate, Kristin McGrath (Exergy TWENTY16), and the two worked together through the finishing circuits.
“I think I just saw it (Abbott’s flat tire) as an opportunity to drill it,” Wilcoxson said. “I was confident in Lauren’s (Hall) abilities in the pack behind me. I was confident in her sprint if they brought me back. I just drilled it as hard as I could and tried not to look back.”
Wilcoxson took a chance and attacked McGrath, who was unable to counter, allowing the silver medalist in the elite women’s race at the 2013 USA Cycling Cyclo-cross National Championships to coast the closing meters across the line. As McGrath faded, the chase group, led by Wilcoxson’s teammate Lauren Hall (Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis for MS), surged past Saturday’s silver medalist McGrath. Hall out kicked Powers, the leader of the women’s standings of the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar and Saturday’s time trial bronze medalist, to finish second to a teammate for the second year in a row.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Hall said. “I think we were close enough to actually see Jade crossing the finish line. Coming around, it was Kristin McGrath and then Alison Powers. Then I just had to make sure I could get through a clean line. Once I could see that I did have a clean line and had enough of a gap to really enjoy the moment – because these moments are so few and far between – I really enjoyed it.”
Before her unlucky flat tire, Abbott earned 17 points to secure the Queen of the Mountains classification. Abbott won the first sprint, edging Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) and placed second to Tayler Wiles (Specialized-lululemon) in the second climb. Wiles, who animated the circuits in downtown Chattanooga, earned the Erlanger Childrens Hospital Most Courageous Rider distinction.
“I think you have to be able to have a good attitude about that kind of stuff,” Abbott said of her late flat tire. “I think that in many ways, bike racing is like life, stuff happens and you can’t control it. You can look back and say, ‘Wow! I raced a really good race. I’m really proud of how I raced.’ Ultimately, stuff happens, and I’ve raced for a while and I’ve had a lot of success. That’s the first time that something like that has happened to me that I’ve had luck play into it. If you look at that, I’ve been really lucky in the past, and hopefully this will set me up for some future luck and not dwell on it.”