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Carmen Small (Specialized-Lululemon) realizes she's the new National Champion.
Female athletes finally alongside their male counterparts
The 2013 US Professional Road Race and Time Trial Championships will be remembered not only for the racing, but because it's the first US Championship race in modern American history where the top women will be racing alongside the top men.
The scheduling change raises the profile of women's cycling and places it right next to professional men's cycling, which has grown dramatically since Greg LeMond won his first Tour de France in 1986. In addition to the increased media exposure, the women are also competing for equal prize money, $5000 for the Time Trial and $10,000 for the Road Race. The new parity struck a positive chord for both the men and women who landed on the podium at Saturday's Time Trial Championship.
Alison Powers (NOW-Novartis for MS) has been one of the top US women cyclists for over five years and her experience in Chattanooga was filled with firsts. "I feel honored," said the former National Champion, and third place finisher Powers "I've never done a press conference before and we get prize money. It's like 'Finally.'"
For men's TT runner-up, Brent Brookwalter (BMC), whose wife Jamie Brookwalter (Colavita) was also racing in yesterday's time trial, it was a special moment and a logical step in the progression of the sport. "It gives even more legitimacy to the event," said Brookwalter. "People keep asking women, 'Aren't you proud and excited to be racing with the men?' But the same goes for us, I think we're proud and excited to be racing with the women. What's a national championship if it's a half National Championship?"
Men's winner Tom Zirbel (Optum) is familiar with the ups and downs of being a professional athlete, and was no less supportive. When asked his thought on the change Zirbel's response was ardent and simple, "It just feels right, doesn't it?"
The completion of the women's time trial was one of the day's highlights as several of the final riders including Jade Wilcoxson (Optum), Kristen McGrath (Exergy-TWENTY16), and Carmen Small (Specialized-lululemon), each set a new course record as they finished right after each other. The crowd waited with baited breath to see if Powers and Evelyn Steven's (Specialized-lululemon) could beat the top times as they finished.
"We know that we are as exciting as the men," said Kristen McGrath who lost first place by a mere one second. "It's an honor to be here and we are very grateful for it, and I hope that we can continue to progress and show the fans and everyone that it is an exciting sport."