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UCI Road World Championships: US women have ‘a lot of cards to play’ in road race

The squad got off to a good start in Australia with strong performances from Kristen Faulkner and Leah Thomas in the time trial.

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KIAMA DOWNS, Australia (VN) — The Team USA women are brimming with confidence going into this weekend’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships.

Despite some hiccups, U.S. riders have had a standout season in 2022, so much so that they did enough to earn the nation a full selection of seven riders for this Saturday’s race. A full team means plenty of options within a race that many are finding difficult to predict.

The team received a blow when both Coryn Labecki and Krista Doebel-Hickok suffered broken collarbones in the buildup to the event, but Lauren Stephens and Heidi Franz have both stepped in to replace them. With the likes of Kristen Faulkner and Veronica Ewers in the squad, the team is ready to instigate the action, while worlds elite debutant Skylar Schneider is the team’s sprint option.

“We have a strong team. We have a strong climber, we have a strong sprinter, and if we need to chase I think [in Sunday’s TT] we showed that we can chase with our power. I think we’ve got a well-rounded team for the road race and that gives me confidence because we have a lot of cards to play,” Faulkner said.

“We have a really strong climber in Veronica and we have a really strong sprinter in Skylar and Leah [Thomas] and I can chase or attack if we need to so I think we actually have some really strong cards. It’s going to be an interesting race. I think a selection can go on the climb and stay away or it might actually get brought back together if someone like the Italians wants to leave it up to a sprint for Elisa [Balsamo] or something or the Dutch for their sprinters. I think we have a really strong team here.”

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Faulkner has had a rollercoaster 2022 season with big highs such as her two stage wins at the Giro d’Italia Donne and major lows like her struggles through the Tour de France Femmes following a bout of COVID.

Her preparation for the world championships hasn’t been perfect, but she still pulled out a solid performance in the TT last weekend with sixth place and she’s hopeful of a good performance this Sunday.

“For the most part, I had a really stuffy nose with some of the jetlag, I wasn’t feeling super well but I’m happy with how my power was [Sunday] and I’m still feeling ok for the one-day races. Not 100 percent but still good,” she said.

Team USA women will be boosted by the team’s strong start in the time trial with Leah Thomas finishing just ahead of her teammate in fifth place over the 34.2km course.

Thomas hadn’t raced since finishing the Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift in July, but she looked in good shape as she finished just 1:19 behind the day’s winner Ellen van Dijk.

“It’s nice to know that I have some strength there and, obviously, Kristen has raced well all season. I think we have some cards to play in the road race and it’s making sure we’re representative in all of the big moves and playing our tactics from there,” Thomas said.

Thomas has had a season plagued by injury after she had to undergo surgery to fix two slipped discs in her neck in February. She pulled the plug on her racing after the Tour so that she could head home to California for physical therapy on her neck.

So far, it appears to have done the trick for Thomas and she’s been able to start pushing herself far more than she could earlier in the season.

“I felt like I was really able to focus on my ride. Sometimes at nationals, I was riding along and I knew that I was going fast and I was riding within myself and it was easy,” she said. “[On Sunday], a third of the way through the race I thought, this is really starting hurt and I was trying to hold it together and really keep pushing and find that sweet spot of trying to balance it out. I’m happy with how the day went.”

Faulkner and Thomas had hoped to have another outing prior to the road race with some of their teammates in the mixed team relay Wednesday, but the USA was forced to pull out of the event following Magnus Sheffield’s crash in the elite men’s TT last Sunday.