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Alex Howes (EF Education First) and Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo) both took their first professional road race titles on Sunday, winning USA Cycling’s professional national championships road race in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee.
For Howes, the victory erased bitter memories of close calls at the U.S. professional national championships. Howes was second place in 2016;third in 2014; fourth place in 2015.
After crossing the line, just ahead of local rider Stephen Bassett (First Internet Bank), Howes was in tears.
“I’ve been running after this one for a while, eight years or so,” Howes said. “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.”
Howes’s victory came after he appeared to be out of the race in the final few kilometers. Howes was part of the winning three-man breakaway alongside Bassett and Neilson Powless (Jumbo-Visma), and the three nursed a 40-second gap on a group of chasers in the final 10 kilometers of the 190km race. A powerful attack by Powless drew out Bassett, and Howes appeared to miss the move. When Bassett eventually joined Powless, the two appeared to slow, giving Howes a window of opportunity to catch back on.
Howes then appeared to be distanced in the final kilometer after Bassett launched an attack on the final uphill ramp before the finish. Somehow Howes reeled in Bassett just before a final right-hand turn, and then eked out a small gap to the finish.
“I thought I might be a little quicker on the bottom corner,” Howes said. “[Bassett]” had a gap going into it and I was able to run up on him a little bit, but when he came out of it, he came out with a full head of steam and I thought he was gone. And then, I just timed it right as it flattened out and hit him with some speed.”
Howes was aggressive throughout much of the race. He attacked into a sizable breakaway that separated itself at the midpoint of the race alongside Jonathan Brown (Hagens Berman-Axeon), Robin Carpenter (Rally-UHC), Oliver Flautt (Dauner Akkon), and Gage Hecht (Aevolo).
In the ensuing three laps the group constantly fractured and regrouped under pressure from Rally-UHC, EF Education First, and even some solo riders, including Larry Warbasse (AG2R-La Mondiale), and Powless.
The final group of three attacked with three laps to go.
An unexpected protagonist was Bassett, who rides for the regional squad First Internet Bank. Earlier this year Bassett won the Joe Martin Stage race and took the Oak Glen stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic. Prior to this season Bassett raced on the Silber and Jamis pro teams.
Bassett said he benefitted from attacking earlier in the race.
“It was hard,” Bassett said. “I kind of slithered off the front a little bit before these guys came across, so that kind of saved me, I think, when they really went full [gas]. I had a bit of a head start.”
Winder holds on
Howes’s dramatic win came just after an equally edge-of-your-seat victory in the professional women’s field. Winder held on for the victory just a few meters ahead of the thundering chase group, which was led by defending champion Coryn Rivera (Sunweb).
The dramatic finish came after Winder attacked with more than 30km remaining in the road race. Winder said she was ‘dying so bad’ in the final push to the line, and had to coax herself to get up and sprint down the final straightaway.
“It’s not over til it’s over, just keep on going, that’s all I was thinking,” Winder said. “Just trying to motivate myself to go as hard as I could. Go as hard as I could in the straightaways and I knew that I had a couple of corners to recover in. So just go as hard as I could, breathe in the corners. And then coming across the finish line, I thought everyone was going to pass me in the last 100 meters just coming down there because I was dying so bad.”
Winder small gap at the end of the 113.5km road race was initially sprung open by the work of her Trek-Segafredo teammate Tayler Wiles. The women competed on the same hilly 12.5km loop through South Knoxville. After an initial breakaway gained time on the field, the peloton was battered with three laps remaining by Wiles, who surged on the front.
The peloton shut Wiles’s move down, but the attack proved to be the springboard for Winder. Winder rode up alongside Wiles to talk with her and then made her move.
“I tried being a little bit sneaky about my attack. I wanted to know how Tayler was of course, but I also used it as a way to be sneaky in my attack,” Winder said. “Because she had just gone really, really hard, and everyone was just started to slow up. I was like ‘hey are you doing okay?’, and she’s like ‘yeah,’ and ‘okay cool, see you.’ And then I ended up staying away.”
Winder gained a gap on the field. Winder was eventually joined by Shayna Powless (Sho Air-Twenty20) and Lily Williams (Hagens Berman-Supermint).
After catching and dropping remnants of the breakaway it was Winder and Williams who struck out on their own. Williams was dropped on the penultimate lap but caught on, only to be dropped on the final lap with 11km to go.
The victory is Winder’s second win of 2019; earlier this year she took the opening stage of Setmana Valenciana in Spain. Winder will now compete in the Giro Rosa.
2019 USA Cycling Professional National Road Race Championship
- Ruth Winder, Trek-Segafredo, 3:17:41
- Coryn Rivera, Sunweb, at 0:01
- Emma White, Rally-UHC, at 0:02
- Chloe Dygert Owen, Sho-Air Twenty20, at 0:03
- Alexis Ryan, Canyon-SRAM, at 0:04
- Leah Thomas, Bigla, at 0:06
- Emma Langley, Racing Women/Dornier, at s.t.
- Katharine Hall, Boels-Dolmans, at 0:08
- Tayler Wiles, Trek-Segafredo, at 0:10
- Madeline Bermis, at s.t.
- Alex Howes, EF Education First, 4:37:05
- Stephen Bassett, First Internet Bank, at 0:03
- Neilson Powless, Jumbo-Visma, at s.t.
- Tyler Magner, Rally-UHC, at s.t.
- Lawrence Warbasse, AG2R-La Mondiale, at 0:08
- Brendan Rhim, Arapahoe-Hincapie, at 0:11
- Thomas Revard, Hagens Berman Axeon, at s.t.
- Peter Stetina, Trek-Segafredo, at 0:17
- Nathan Brown, EF Education First, at 0:21
- Gregory Daniel, DC Bank, at 0:58