During the Women's US Professional National Championship Road Race, Mara Abbott (Exergy TWENTY16) was the only rider from the field to bridge a 1:30 gap to the leaders on the final ascent of Lookout Mountain. Now in the company of several fast finishers at the head of the race, Abbott knew her only opportunity for victory would be in attacking prior to the flat, windy finishing circuits in downtown Chattanooga following the descent off Lookout Mountain.
Abbott soon took the race into her own hands and launched a solo attack with 37km to go as the lead group made its way back to begin the finishing circuits. Abbott built a lead of over 20 seconds before Jade Wilcoxson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) responded with her own attack on the first of three 8.2km finishing laps. Wilcoxson was mid-effort when she saw Abbott in trouble.
"I thought she had flatted," said Wilcoxson. "I saw her bouncing before the corner, and then she went real slow through the corner, and then she stopped and Shimano neutral support was helping her, so I just flew right by."
The mechanic attempting to fix Abbott's flat appeared to have issues while trying to put in a new wheel. In the midst of the wheel change Abbott's derailleur hanger snapped off, rendering her bike unridable, and requiring her to wait for a new bike from the team car which effectively eliminated her from the race.
There was a virtual groan across the Twitter-sphere as viewers of the live Tour Tracker feed voiced their opinions. Many fans complained about the quality of the wheel change, while others speculated that the mechanic's job was more difficult since Abbott didn't unclip and dismount the bike.
"I got a flat and then the derailleur broke, and I hit a pothole earlier. I don't know exactly what happened. We had a little bit of bike melt down," said Abbot who had clinched the Queen of the Mountain title and was going for the overall win. "First Jade went by, then the whole group went by, and then I got on my bike, and I was alone. You keep riding hard because you don't know if people are going to sit up but when we got through the start/finish and I was a minute back it was not looking good."
It was a heartbreaking race for Abbott's Exergy TWENTY16 team which quickly sent Kristin McGrath after Wilcoxson. McGrath bridged the gap to Wilcoxson to make it a two-rider race for the stars and stripes jersey, but in the closing kilometres Wilcoxson attacked and McGrath wasn't able to respond.
While Wilcoxson soloed to victory, the Exergy TWENTY16 rider would then be caught by Wilcoxson's teammate Lauren Hall plus Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis for MS) inside the final kilometre with McGrath ultimately placing one spot off the podium in fourth.
Abbott was philosophical about the day's events which resulted in a 10th place finish for her, 4:19 in arrears of Wilcoxson. "I've raced for a while, and I've had a lot of success. That's the first time something like that has happened to me where I've had luck play into it," said Abbott about her bittersweet day. "Hopefully this will set me up to have future luck and not dwell on it."