CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (VN) — Jade Wilcoxson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) won the women’s road race title on Monday at the Volkswagen USA Cycling Road and Time Trial National Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Wilcoxson was part of a breakaway that formed on the second of two climbs over Lookout Mountain and attacked Kristin McGrath (Exergy Twenty16) to go solo with 2.5 kilometers to go in the 101km event.
Lauren Hall (Optum) was second and Alison Powers (NOW-Novartis for MS) was third.
The 34-year-old Wilcoxson, who interrupted her career as a physical therapist to join the Optum team in 2012, said the result was not one she could have imagined just hours earlier.
“Not at all,” Wilcoxson told VeloNews. “I didn’t have a ton of confidence in my climbing legs. [Teammate] Janel [Holcomb] has been climbing really well of late, so I thought she had a good chance. And Lauren has a great sprint, so I thought that if Janel makes it over [Lookout Mountain] we’d be covered in case of a climbers’ finish. And if it was going to be a sprinters’ finish then Lauren could take that. I was just planning to work for them and do whatever I could.”
Instead of delivering a jersey to Holcomb or Hall, the Oregon resident finished the day in the stars and stripes after a long-range attack in the first professional road nationals in the U.S. for women.
Abbott goes all-in and loses it all
Two 25.9km laps, each of which included the 4.8km, eight-percent Lookout Mountain climb, were the challenge on the map for the first professional nationals event held in Chattanooga. The 101km race started with three laps of the 8.2km start/finish circuit and closed with three short laps over the rolling profile.
Mara Abbott (Exergy Twenty16) attacked the breakaway with 37km to go and went solo until a rear flat and bad wheel change dropped her out of contention.
Wilcoxson knew it was her moment to jump.
“I just saw it as an opportunity to drill it,” she said. “I was confident in Lauren’s sprint if they brought me back, so I just drilled it as hard as I could and tried not to look back.”
Wilcoxson sped away from a small chase group and passed Abbott, who stood over her top tube awaiting a wheel change, to take over the front of the race. McGrath bridged across to Wilcoxson with 16km to go.
Abbott would chase back on with Evelyn Stevens and take consolation in first in the queen of the mountains competition and 10th.
Up ahead, Powers and Hall pursued the leaders, but couldn’t shake the chase group. With 8km to go, seven riders comprised the group trailing Wilcoxson and McGrath by 10 seconds: Powers; Hall; time trial champion Carmen Small and Tayler Wiles (Specialized-lululemon); Amanda Miller (Tibco-To the Top); and Jacquelyn Crowell and Andrea Dvorak (Exergy Twenty16).
Wiles drove the chase, Small tucked in near the back of the group.
Wilcoxson and McGrath still led by 10 seconds with 5km to go.
Powers jumped from the chase with 4.5km to go. Hall and Small followed and the surge dumped the four remaining riders out of the chase. As the gap to the chase began to narrow, Wilcoxson told VeloNews, she decided it “was now or never.”
Wilcoxson knocks and McGrath can’t answer
Convinced she still had more in her, she attacked McGrath on a false flat with 2.5km to go. The Exergy rider — who would finish fourth — had no answer. With 2km to go, Wilcoxson had a 15-second gap.
“I was getting pretty antsy, because the pack was closing in,” said Wilcoxson. “We went from 45 seconds to 30 to 20. When it got down to 10 seconds, I decided I had to go. I was confident that if I blew up that Lauren could most likely take it the sprint. And so I just gave it 110 percent.”
Powers led the pursuit behind, but Wilcoxson would not be denied. She celebrated crossing the line and seconds later, Hall outsprinted Powers for second, giving Optum the top two spots on the podium.
“It was an amazing feeling,” said Hall. “We were close enough to see Jade’s finish and then coming around it was Kristin McGrath and then Alison Powers.
“I basically had to make sure I could get through a clean line, and once I could see that I did have a clean line and enough of a gap to really enjoy the moment. … These moments are few and far in-between. I really enjoyed it.”
Keep your browser pointed to VeloNews.com for more from the Volkswagen USA Cycling Road and Time Trial National Championships.
VeloNews.com editor Brian Holcombe contributed to this report.