The 2019 Road Race National Championships took place Thursday through Sunday in Knoxville, Tennessee. The weekend kicked off with the Individual Time Trial on Thursday and then went to downtown for the Criterium on Friday and wrapped up with Sunday’s Road Race.
Sunday’s marquee road races were both bangers, and cyclocrossers—current and former—and new graveleurs made their marks on the races throughout the weekend.
Fresh off a silver medal in the U23 Time Trial a weekend prior, Gage Hecht (Aevolo Cycling) took 8th in the Pro Time Trial. To put his finish in Maryland in perspective, U23 champ Ian Garrison (Hagens Berman Axeon) also won the Pro Time Trial on Thursday. Eric Brunner (303 Project) also had a solid effort, finishing 13th.
Last summer, Emma White (Rally UHC Cycling) made the decision to stop racing cyclocross to focus on training to make the Tokyo 2020 Track team. With her track focus, White is continuing to race on the road for Rally UHC Cycling.
In Friday’s Criterium, White showed off some of the power her ’cross competitors remember all too well.
After a wide uphill, the Crit course finished with a right-hander into a steep kicker and then two flat left-hand turns to the finish. White powered into the lead right before the right-hander and held her advantage up the steep hill to take home the Crit Stars-and-Stripes.
Lily Williams (Hagens Berman Supermint) continued her impressive road campaign by finishing right behind White and taking the silver. Kendall Ryan (Team TIBCO – Silicon Valley Bank) rounded out the podium.
In the Men’s race, one would have forgiven young Gage Hecht (Aevolo Cycling) for sitting in and being happy to race the Pro Crit. However, the young Coloradan decided he would make his mark on the race.
Hecht went off the front early and after riding near the front of the pack for a good part of the race, he went solo off the front with seven laps to go. His solo move got swallowed up by a train of Rally UHC riders inside three to go, but for the ’cross community, it was fun to see the young star go full send and give it a go.
Travis McCabe (Floyd’s Pro Cycling) showed some line-choice skills at the finish by taking the outside into the right-hand kicker, giving him the inside track to be the first into the final two turns. No riders could come around him, allowing to take the Stars-and-Stripes.
The weekend wrapped up with Sunday’s Pro Road Race. The race took place on an 8-mile circuit that started downtown, went across the Tennessee River to the one big climb up Sherrod Road and back around to downtown. The climb was at the beginning of the lap, a positioning that helped create plenty of drama in both the Women and Men’s races.
After Julie Kuliecza (Hagens Berman Supermint) went from the first minute of the Pro Women’s race, Beth Ann Orton (Instafund LaPrima Racing) and Starla Teddergreen (Hagens Berman Supermint) joined her in the race’s first break about 60 miles out. Orton and Teddergreen dropped Kuliecza and got some quality camera time before the leaders caught them with 20 miles to go.
The two-woman Trek-Segafredo team at Road Nats had some gravel ties, with Olivia Dillon manning the team car in support of Tayler Wiles, who made a cameo in our story of Dillon’s heart-breaking Dirty Kanza 200 experience, and Ruth Winder.
With three to go, Wiles did her part to support her teammate by launching a blistering attack up Sherrod Road and splitting the large chase into a much smaller group of about 15 riders. Winder kept the pressure on with an attack shortly after the feed zone, and Lily Williams and another rider joined her at the front with the now-caught Orton and Teddergreen.
With 16 miles left to go, Williams and Winder dropped the other riders on the Sherrod Road climb to make it a break of 2 with a sizable group of riders that included many of the race favorites chasing them. Their lead stretched up to a minute with 1 8-mile lap left to go.
The previous lap, Winder got some space on Williams on the climb, and in the final lap, Winder broke away from the cyclocross and road racer to go solo off the front. After reaching the bottom of the descent, Winder had 6 miles between her and the Stars-and-Stripes. Behind her, it was a who’s who of U.S. Women’s road racing.
The question was if the chase would be able to work together to bring back the gap. Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) was the first to decide she was going to go down swinging, and her initial attack led to a series of efforts that quickly started to reduce Winder’s gap.
With 3 miles left, Winder’s time gap was down to 25 seconds. A mile later it was down to just 15. The riders in the chase included White, Williams, Rivera, Chloe Dygert (Sho-Air Twenty20), Alexis Ryan (Canyon // SRAM), Leah Thomas (Bigla) and Katharine Hall (Boels – Dolmans), among others.
As the final meters ticked down, the chase closed to within shouting distance of Winder. The race finished with a right-hander onto the same steep hill as the Crit course, and Winder was able to get there first while Wiles wily positioned herself at the front of the chase and slowed the other riders down just enough into the turn.
Winder had enough to get up and over the final rise to hold off the chasers and capture the National Championship in dramatic fashion. Rivera took second in her 2018 title defense and White followed up her 2018 third with a 2019 third.
Williams held on in the chase to finish 12th. Land Run 100 winner Nina Laughlin (CTS Cycling fueled by Organic Valley) made the chase and finished 16th. Regina Legge (Gray Goat – Bullseye Total Medicine) finished 21st, Clara Honsinger (Team S&M CX) 25th, Orton 34th and Laurel Rathbun (Colavita | Bialetti) 46th.
The weekend of racing finished with a Pro Men’s race that provided plenty of fireworks of its own. After a couple breaks came and went, it was again young Gage Hecht off the front with about 100 miles to go in a group of five that included Noah Granigan (Floyd’s Pro Cycling), Ben Schmutte (First Internet Bank Cycling), William Cooper (CS Velo Racing p/b Cannondale) and Evan Huffman (Rally UHC Cycling).
That group did not last very long, but then after an Alex Howes (EF Education First) attack, Hecht got in another break with 85 miles to go. Both Howes and Hecht, of course, being newly minted graveleurs after competing in the Dirty Kanza 200 a month ago.
This break had a bit more firepower with 2018 winner Jonathan Brown (Hagens Berman Axeon), Robin Carpenter (Rally UHC Cycling) and Oliver Flautt (Team Dauner AKRON) in the mix with Hecht and Howes. That group lasted nearly 50 miles before getting caught by the chase.
The next 10 or so miles of racing were relatively fluid, with a group of 15 or so riders trying to withstand attacks and stay at the front.
The race’s next big shake-up occurred with three laps to go when Howes put in an attack up the Sherrod Road climb. Only Knoxville hometown hero Stephen Bassett (First Internet Bank Cycling) could follow his wheel, and Neilson Powless (Jumbo – Visma) stayed close enough to join them after the descent. Would this group with two WorldTour riders and an upstart who recently podiumed at Amateur Nats be the one to stick?
With 1 8-mile lap left to go, the trio had a lead of about 45 seconds on a chase of 9 that included 2 of Howes’ teammates. Off the descent, Peter Stetina (Trek – Segafredo), Larry Warbasse (AG2R La Mondiale) and Ty Magner (Rally UHC Cycling) led the chase effort, still upwards of 45 seconds behind the leaders.
Inside 4 miles to go, Powless decided the time for working together in the break was over. He attacked and only Bassett was able to respond. Howes’ run at a Stars-and-Stripes that had narrowly eluded him several times appeared in peril.
Howes, however, would not go quietly. He put his head down and chased back onto the wheels of Powless and Bassett. With less than 2 miles left, it also meant it was time for the 3 in the break to start sizing each other up. Meanwhile, the chase, led by Warbasse, was quickly closing the gap.
Sensing the approaching WorldTour-laden chase drawing near, Powless was the first to attack. His move quickly sputtered, and the darkhorse of the group, Bassett, powered forward toward the steep kicker before the finish. He held a lead of several bike lengths at the base of the hill, but over the top, Howes passed him and took the lead heading into the final left-hand turn.
Howes held his advantage, and a month after finishing third at the Dirty Kanza 200, he had his first-career Road Race Stars-and-Stripes. With Lance Haidet’s win in the U23 Road Race, perhaps racing the Dirty Kanza is the new way to peak for Road Nats?
Bassett, the hometown hero, finished second and Powless held off the charging chasers to take third.
DK200 runner-up Stetina finished 8th, Cameron Beard (Team Defferdange-Geba) 16th, Lance Haidet (Aevolo Cycling) 19th, Eric Brunner (303 Project) 26th, Logan Owen (EF Education First) 28th and Kiel Reijnen (Trek – Segafredo) 32nd.