Amber Neben is confident that, despite the absence of sprinter Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, the HTC-Highroad squad will deliver a victory at the upcoming UCI 1.1 Liberty Classic held in Philadelphia on Sunday. The former world time trial champion believes that the assembled team is capable of winning the race from either a breakaway or a bunch sprint.
HTC-Highroad’s roster also includes Chloe Hosking and Adriana Visser, who are well known for their fast sprints, along with strong climbers Amanda Miller, Ally Statcher, Evie Stevens.
"Chloe is growing and learning with each race and she is fast at the finish, so we do have someone who can sprint and Adri is a good sprinter as well," Neben said. "It’s not like it will be a bunch of 150 coming to the finish, it will be a bit smaller so I’m sure one of those girls has a chance to win and I would be confident with either of them."
"The rest of us will come in fit and we will race hard," she added. "It has been our goal the whole year, to be aggressive and look for opportunities and not necessarily wait for a sprint. If it comes down to one, we know that we have people that can finish, but we have other cards to play along the way."
Teutenberg will not compete for her fifth title at the Liberty Classic and will instead compete in the GP Ciudad de Valladolid World Cup held in Spain on the same day.
"She will be racing the World Cup," Neben said. "It would changed everyone’s dynamic not having Ina here. Ina is Ina and to not have her here, we will miss her. She’s won it four times but at the same time we have a strong team."
The women will complete four laps of a challenging circuit that includes the steep 800-metre ascent over Manayunk Wall for a total 92.8 kms. The race will start outside the Art Museum on Benjamin Franklin Parkway, up Manayunk Wall followed by a blazing descent toward the final two climbs Strawberry Mansion and Lemon Hill, before returning to the Logan Square finish line.
"I don’t think it’s that hard of a course which is why it typically comes down to a field sprint," Neben said. "It is fast everywhere except for going up the wall. It is easy to chase on it because it is not a technical course, it has straight roads and it is easy to line up a team and chase if you need to."
"The climb is hard but it is short enough that it is a sprinter climb, it is a minute effort and that is a great length for a sprinter," she added.
"They can get over it without any issues. I think that is why it comes down to a sprint because it is only four laps, it might be different if it were more laps so then you would have to factor in the heat and the course length. But it is short and flat enough that it is not super difficult. It is still a hard race but the course is not super selective."
The event has come down to a field sprint on 12 of the 15 editions, Petra Rosner won seven times, Teutenberg won four and Regina Schleicher won one. A breakaway has succeeded on three occasions won by Chantal Beltman, Lyne Bessette and Clara Hughes. According to Neben, the possibility of a breakaway succeeding to the finish line should never be ruled out.
"I think the possibility of a breakaway always exists and it is not impossible," Neben said.
"It can happen, but the odds are better for it to be a bunch. If it gets raced hard enough, our whole team is there and we have people that can keep it away. There are a lot of strong teams and world class sprinters and they will be motivated to bring it to the line. So, I think for a small group to stay away the timing will have to be just right. That’s the fun thing about bike racing is that you never know."