Triple crown: Powers wins third concurrent national championship

UnitedHealthcare rider made history as first American woman to simultaneously hold national titles in all three road cycling disciplines

UnitedHealthcare’s Alison Powers made American cycling history Monday in Chattanooga, Tennessee, becoming the first American woman to simultaneously hold national titles in all three road cycling disciplines.

Powers soloed to victory in the Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Road Championship, besting 2012 winner Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) and Evelyn Stevens (Specialized-lululemon) by 22 and 25 seconds respectively.

Powers, who also holds the national criterium championship, won her second time trial title on Saturday.

“It’s amazing. It just proves that anything can happen, especially when you have a really strong team,” the 34-year-old Powers said after the race. “We had a plan of how to win using our strengths.  And it was a plan that we executed perfectly.”

The women competed on a 64.7-mile course that included two 16.5-mile “long laps,” which included ascents of Chattanooga’s Lookout Mountain, as well as three 5.4-mile finishing circuits in the downtown area.

Powers was joined in Chattanooga by UnitedHealthcare teammates Katie Hall and Mara Abbott, who successfully defended her 2013 title as the race’s Queen of the Mountains.

Hall attacked the group of race favorites as the peloton entered downtown Chattanooga for the first of three closing circuits and led the race solo for roughly 10km before being joined by Specialized-lululemon’s Tayler Wiles.

An elite chase group including Powers, Guarnier, and Stevens caught Wiles and Hall with 9.2km to the finish, at which point Powers attacked solo, opening a gap that would prove decisive.

“We had a plan that any of us could win,” Powers explained. “To be honest, I thought Katie and Tayler were going to. Once they were brought back, the next job was for one of us to counter attack.”

All that was left was for Powers to time trial her way to the finish.

“I knew I was either going to win or blow up. With the record on the line it had to be one or the other. [The gap to Guarnier and Stevens] was 10 seconds, 10 seconds, 10 seconds…as soon as it went up to 15 seconds, I was like, ‘Yeah.’

The win is the fifth national championship for Powers, who shared in the 2008 team pursuit title and held the women’s time trial title that same year.

Guarnier, the sole American on the Dutch Boels-Dolmans team, rode the race as a team of one for the second consecutive year.

“It’s definitely different,” the Glens Falls, New York, native admitted after the race. “In Europe I race with the same team support as the other girls here. On a day like today I have to look around to see who will work with me, even though I’m not on their team. It’s a bit of a gamble. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s cycling.”

New for 2014 is a special perk for the men’s and women’s road winners: a one-year loan of a new Volkswagen GTI. (Saturday’s time trial championship was held on the grounds of race sponsor Volkswagen’s Chattanooga assembly plant.)

After being awarded the car’s keys on the podium, Powers announced that the team’s riders had agreed in advance to award the vehicle to teammate Jacquelyn Crowell, who was diagnosed in with a malignant brain tumor in October 2013.

On Monday afternoon Crowell posted a YouTube video of a speech she delivered during the Amgen Tour of California. In it, she vows to return to the race and calls her fight for life “my Tour de France.”

After the race, Crowell’s teammates describe her as the unseen fourth member of their nationals squad.

“We decided [to give Crowell the car] a really long time ago and we just didn’t tell her,” explained 2013 Giro Donne winner Mara Abbott, who spoke with Crowell by telephone just after the race.

“National championships are the trickiest races to win. They get won by fractions of a percent. And I said to her, ‘Do you think the motivation of knowing we could give this to you maybe gave us that extra fraction of a percent?’ It was really a four member team.”