2015 Velo Awards: Skujins, Stephens are domestic riders of year

Toms Skujins and Lauren Stephens are named domestic riders of the year after impressive performances in U.S. races.

Men’s domestic rider of the year: Toms Skujins

To the average American, Latvian Toms Skujins’s name is a mess of letters. (Even weirder: It’s pronounced “Skoinch.”) But none of that matters on the bike, where the Hincapie Racing star dominated the American domestic scene in 2015.

He shone brightest at the Amgen Tour of California, where he wore the leader’s jersey for three days after soloing to victory on stage 3. That win came after an impressive attack from a breakaway that saw him ride BMC Racing powerhouse Daniel Oss off his wheel.

He also placed second overall at the Tour de Beauce and eighth at the USA Pro Challenge, won the Winston-Salem Classic, spent a few weeks leading the UCI’s America’s Tour, and took the top spot on the individual NRC ranking.

Hincapie Racing will have to look elsewhere for points in 2016, however. Skujins’s performances in 2015 earned him a spot on Cannondale’s WorldTour roster for next year.

Women’s domestic rider of the year: Lauren Stephens

Lauren Stephens (Tibco-SVB) wasn’t a household name in American cycling at the start of the year. But with her breakthrough win at the Joe Martin Stage Race in late April and third overall at the Tour of the Gila in early May, she quickly became a topic of conversation.

Her momentum carried through to her third-place performance in the Tour of California women’s invitational time trial, where she finished just four seconds behind two-time national TT champion Evelyn Stevens (Boels-Dolmans) and seven seconds in front of two-time Olympic TT gold medalist Kristin Armstrong (Twenty16-ShoAir).

After disappointingly dropping out of the Richmond worlds road race, Stephens bounced back to snag two golds and a bronze at track nationals a few weeks later.

Despite Stephens’s time-trial chops, she’s a longshot for an Olympic road birth, with the likes of Armstrong, Stevens, Carmen Small, and Taylor Wiles all gunning for a spot. But a trip to Rio on the track is not out of the question.

Regardless, she’s established herself as a threat every time she lines up.