By Neal Rogers
Riding the momentum of Kristin Armstrong’s gold-medal performance at Wednesdays’ world time trial championship, the U.S. women’s road team is hoping to extract a little more hardware out of the UCI world road championship on Saturday.
The six-woman team includes Armstrong and Amber Neben, who have collectively claimed the world TT title for three of the past four years. Rounding out the squad are automatic team qualifiers Meredith Miller, the U.S. national road champion and Kimberly Anderson, overall winner at La Route de France, as well as discretionary selections Mara Abbott, who rode to second-place overall at the Giro Donne, and Evelyn Stevens, the 26-year-old phenom who burst onto the scene in 2009 with overall wins at the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic and the Cascade Cycling Classic.
USA Cycling athletic director Jim Miller said Armstrong and Neben would ride as the team’s protected riders.
“It’s a really good team,” Miller said. “I think with this team we have six girls who can go and go and go — obviously we’re not going into the race with six leaders — but you certainly need a few girls who can do it and a few who can really support them. And any time you have Kristin or Amber on a team, you have leadership.”
The women’s race — nine laps on a 13.8km circuit — amounts to 124.2 km, or 77 miles, with 2,205 meters (7,234 feet) in total elevation gain. Two climbs highlight the course, the Castel San Pietro, midway through, and the climb to Novazzano, close to the finish.
“It’s a hard course, it’s up and down the whole time,” Miller said. “The climbs themselves, you won’t look at these climbs and blown away by their difficulty. But at that speed, over and over, they will become quite difficult.”
As far as the race favorites, Miller said it’s “generally the same cast of characters.”
Germany, which won the women’s road race in 2004 (Judith Arndt) and 2005 (Regina Schleicher), has four women in the top 15 of the UCI World Cup rankings — Ina Teutenberg (fourth), Trixi Worrack (eighth), Eva Lutz (13th) and Sarah Duster (14th). Arndt, who finished fourth in Wednesday’s time trial, has been plagued with injuries this season but appears to be back on form.
Another danger woman is Dutch sprinter Marianne Vos, who won the world road title in 2006 and finished second in 2007 and 2008. Vos, 22, leads the World Cup standings with three wins, at Open de Suède Vargarda in August, La Flèche Wallonne in April, and Trofeo Alfredo Binda in March.
“(Britain’s) Nicole Cooke will be good,” Miller said. “The Italians will always show up good, they’ve always got someone, maybe (Noemi) Cantele. The Germans are always good, Marianne Vos is always good, the Swedish girl, Emma Johansson, she was second at the Olympic road race and was leading the UCI standings for a while.”
Cooke, the reigning world and Olympic road champion, has had a less-than-stellar 2009 season by her standards; she has not won a major race and is ranked 12th on the World Cup standings. Two weeks ago Cooke pulled out of the Tour of Ardeche in France after three stages, reportedly because of health and fitness issues.
Meanwhile, Johansson, who rides for the Dutch Red Sun Cycling team, has made the podium seven times in nine indiviudal World Cup events, including a win at Albert Achterhes Profronde van Drenthe in April and second at Flèche Wallonne, Trofeo Alfredo Binda and Montreal.
Cantele, the Italian, finished a surprising second in the time trial championship Wednesday, 55 seconds behind Armstrong.
Armstrong, the top-ranked American on the World Cup at sixth, said Wednesday that this U.S. team is the best she’s seen in her seven years of racing.
“I am looking forward to it. We have a strong team and I hope to see? another American on top of the podium,” she said. “I cannot think of any better way to say ?goodbye to the sport than to be on top.”
Miller backed that assessment, saying that Armstrong could well leave Mendrisio having accomplished the double in what she has declared will be the last race of her career.
“Kristin is the leader of this team, she’s the most decorated American woman cyclist in history, and when you have your leader win, it starts the week off on a good foot,” Miller said. “This was the best possible way to start the week for the women’s team. We have unfinished business with the road race.”
U.S. national elite women’s team
Kristin Armstrong (Boise, Idaho/Cervélo-Lifeforce)
Amber Neben (Irvine, California/Equipe Nürnberger)
Kimberly Anderson (Santa Barbara, California/Columbia-High Road)
Mara Abbott (Boulder, Colorado/Columbia-HTC)
Meredith Miller (Fort Collins, Colorado/Team TIBCO)
Evelyn Stevens (New York, New York)