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LEUVEN, Belgium (VN) — The American women’s squad rode together for a recon ride ahead of the UCI road world championships Saturday.
The takeaway? U.S. national road champion Lauren Stephens said the rainbow jersey will come down to the technical finishing circuits in Leuven.
“The local circuit in Leuven feels like a big crit. You are almost always turning,” Stephens told VeloNews. “I think it will make it a really exciting race to watch. I think the race will be decided on the finishing circuits in Leuven. The nature of the course is going to cause splits, crashes, and a bit of chaos.”
The women’s race starts in Antwerp and heads 56km south to Leuven, where they will race 1.5 laps of the Leuven local circuit. Then the race heads out for a lap on the Flandrien loop, followed by 2.5 laps on the Leuven circuit.
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Who’s the favorite? Stephens said she expects the race to be wide open.
“I don’t think there are a select handful of riders that could when this race,” she said. “I don’t think there is a single decisive point that can be predicted before the race.”
Despite being a perennial favorite for the gold medal, the last time a U.S. rider won the elite women’s world title was in 1980 with Beth Heiden.
Team USA for the road race includes Stephens, Leah Thomas (Movistar), Coryn Rivera (DSM), Ruth Winder (Trek-Segafredo), Tayler Wiles (Trek-Segafredo), and Kristen Faulkner (Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank).
This will be Winder’s last race as a professional, as she announced her retirement earlier in the year.
Team cohesion for any nation is not a given as the world championships, as riders race on trade teams throughout the year. Stephens said the American squad, however, is all on the same page.
“Half the team raced together at the Olympics earlier this year and many of us have raced together before,” she said. “Saturday we will race as Team USA. Our individual team and personal ambitions will be put to the side and we will all do our best to execute the team plan.”
One week after the worlds is the first-ever women’s Paris-Roubaix, which Stephens will race before heading to the Women’s Tour, in England.
As to how a hard worlds’ course could affect her Roubaix chances, Stephens said she’s had a full week to recover and prepare, and besides, “I like to take it one race at a time!”