HIGH POINT, N.C. (VN) — On a day that promised not much more than dismal weather, Alison Powers (NOW-Novartis) and Amanda Miller (Tibco-To the Top) pulled off an almost unimaginable performance at the 2013 USA Cycling Professional Criterium National Championships.
Across nearly 70 minutes of racing on an eight-turn, 1.3-mile course, the duo parlayed an early attack into a winning move that the rest of the pro women’s peloton could not answer.
Coming out of the final turns, Powers had the fresher legs, and added another national championship to her palmares. A tired Miller took second, while Theresa Cliff-Ryan was the best out of the field for third for Fearless Femme-Pure Energy Cycling.
“I’m amazed,” Powers said. “It’s amazing … totally unexpected. The team goal today was just to start attacking and make the race hard on the sprinters’ legs. So I just attacked. Both of us thought it was suicide.”
Powers’ sentiments echoed that of many cycling fans, who didn’t have much faith in the breakaways. For her part Miller was aware of Powers’ strength in bad weather and felt hers would simply just be a good wheel to follow for the moment.
“Alison didn’t seem to fully attack at the moment,” Miller said. “It was raining and kind of wet, and I knew she would be a good person to follow. We got away just because we were taking the corners better than the other riders and we were comfortable (out there).”
But that comfort factor would only grow so large as the pair of solid time trialists put their heads down and steadily kept the pack at bay. Neither really believed until late in the race that their effort would last.
“I just told Amanda to keep working as hard as she could,” Powers said. “I said if we get caught and dropped, we’ll both have teammates to take over. But I felt pretty good throughout. It was a nice course, because there were moments on it where you could sit on the other person’s wheel and recover some.”
Miller was not having such an easy time of it. By the time the two had logged an hour out in front of the pack she could feel her will starting to slip.
“I was suffering about an hour into it,” Miller said. “And then I saw nine laps to go, and started to dig deeper.”
Behind them the peloton was unable to muster the necessary organization to bring Miller and Powers to heel. The weather was steadily improving, but even once they regained visual contact with the break, the sprinters spooked themselves out of contention.
“I think that all the sprinters were worried about the counter.” said Cliff-Ryan, who found herself frustratingly in range of re-claiming her 2012 title. “We got it so close but all the sprinters were looking at each other, and by the end all the teams were just cooked.”
With the final gap hovering around five seconds over the two final laps, Powers began to feel as though she too was running out of gas, and urged Miller once again to work harder so that they could bring home their improbable win.
“I still thought we weren’t going to make it,” Powers said. “I looked over my shoulder and they were right there. But I knew my team was there trying to slow things down. I decided we needed to step on the gas one more time. I needed Amanda to pull on the slight downhill before the final two corners to go, but then I just took a slingshot off of her wheel. That last 200 meters felt like forever.”
Powers left Miller behind with that decisive move and came across the line to add yet another national title to her name. The win softened the blow somewhat of having not recaptured the time trial championship in Chattanooga earlier this year. She only needs the road race title now to complete the road trifecta.
“I’ll admit that there’s a brown cloud over the nationals TT,” Powers said. “But this year has been super successful. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve won a fair amount of races, and I’ve been on the podium a lot.”
For the men, a field sprint
In the men’s race a more traditional script was played out, with all escapees being dragged back to the main field before the final moments of racing took place. Out of an early break, former Michigan state criterium champion Chris Uberti (Team SmartStop-Mountain Khakis) made a good show of strength.
“I just kind of rolled off the front, and I got a gap right away.” Uberti said following the event. “I felt good, and then I realized that I had (built up) 1:10 really fast. I just wanted to take it as far as it could go. But it was a long race, and with 10 laps to go the field started to ramp it up.”
Uberti, who was riding for teammate Shane Kline, knew that the longer he remained out front, the longer his team could rest in the field behind him. But the UnitedHealthcare squad, somewhat diminished by not having its full complement of non-U.S. riders, wasn’t willing to abandon its trademark strategies. The team dominated the front of the chase and soon had Uberti back in the ranks. A counter-attack from Scott Zwizanski (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) was short-lived, and then it was Jelly Belly’s turn to wrestle for the front of the race.
With laps ticking down, however, things became a bit chaotic, and Optum’s Eric Young knew that his team’s pre-race plan was ready to be put into effect.
“Things got a little disorganized, but all along we really wanted to wait until the last lap and choose our moment.” said Young. “We tried to hit them on the backstretch. Tom Soladay did a great job there. Then Alex Candelario, Ken Hanson and I got a good inside line going into the final turns. That gave me good momentum coming into the last stretch.”
Young catapulted himself to a win ahead of Hanson and Jake Keough (UnitedHealthcare). It was one of the few times this season that the dreaded “Blue Train” hasn’t taken the top step of the podium.
“We really haven’t really had our lead out team together in crits much this year.” Young said. “We won two stages at the Tour of Korea and that was kind of the start of it, and we did well in BC Superweek too. For a guy like me that’s the way I want to build up to things like this and Elk Grove, so I was pretty confident we could beat them.”