Newly crowned US criterium champion Kendall Ryan (Tibco-SVB) is set to debut her stars-and-stripes jersey during the stage 4 final criterium on Sunday at the Joe Martin Stage Race in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In an interview with Cyclingnews, the American sprinter spoke about how close she came to losing the title in a recap of the chaotic last lap of the championship race in Greenville, South Carolina last Saturday.
Ryan watched the replay of the USA Cycling Professional Criterium Championships on Youtube and gasped as she watched herself bomb through the inside line of the final corner and narrowly avoid the crash that had taken down defending champion Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) and Erica Allar (Colavita-Bianchi), while she sprinted to her first-ever national championship jersey in the elite category.
"The crash happened right in front of me, on the outside line, and I couldn’t believe that I had missed that. I missed that crash by an inch and I had to throw my bike to the far left to avoid it and still ended up in the gutter once I had straightened out," Ryan told Cyclingnews.
"I had no time to think, I just had to go. It was 300 metres to the line, a long sprint slightly downhill and then flat into the finish. I put my head down and I could see my director Ed Beamon out of my peripheral vision jumping up and down and screaming. It made me think someone was right behind me drag racing, but there was nobody there. I couldn’t believe that I had won."
After crossing the finish line, her thoughts immediately turned to Rivera, and her lead-out rider Ruth Winder, who had slid out through the corner. "I was so happy that Coryn was OK. The first thing that went through my head after I crossed the line was that I hoped they were all OK."
Ryan, 22, crossed the line one second ahead of former six-time criterium title holder Tina Pic (Pepper Palace Pro Cycling) and another second ahead of third-placed finisher Brianna Walle (Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies).
"I wanted to win a pro national title since I started racing. It was dream come true. There were so many emotions going on; I cried, I laughed, I screamed my head off at the line, I was so excited. Every emotion possible happened that day."
UnitedHealthcare had a strong hold on the front of the field with a steady lead-out train for Rivera, but Ryan noted that with in the last 30 minutes of the race, riders were taking additional risks in order to gain positions among the peloton.
"It was a very sketchy race with everyone fighting to be there in the last couple of laps," Ryan said. "Going into the final corner with two laps to go, I started fighting with Coryn a little bit and she sent my sister, Alexis Ryan, back to sweep her wheel, which made it harder for me to take the line I wanted behind the blue train.
"I fought my sister in a drag race to the second corner on the last lap, ended up overtaking her and Coryn, and got on Erica [Allar]’s wheel, which was exactly where I wanted to be. With two corners to go, Coryn came up underneath me and took Erica’s wheel, and then she overtook Erica and was behind her own teammate.
"I went into that last corner on the inside. I wanted the inside line because I knew that I could take it sharp and if anything were to go wrong I wouldn't be taken out." Her instincts were right and she squeezed through the corner with out going down in the crash.
Gaps had opened up on the final lap and so Pic was slightly off the back of the UHC train when the crash happened. She made it through the accident too and, although she had lost her momentum coming into the sprint, she was able to make up ground on Ryan and finish second.
"When the three went down in the corner, I was thinking we were pretty lucky to not be right on the train at that point. Although Kendall made it around, I think she barely got out of that one upright."
Pic, 49, said she would have liked to have added another criterium title to her accolades, but that she was pleased to see a young rider like Ryan take her first win at the event. "I would have loved to add another, but mostly would just have loved someone on the team to pull it off," Pic said. "Kendall was so stoked, though. I’m very happy for her - well done."
Ryan and her Tibco-SVB teammates are current racing at the NRC/UCI 2.2 Joe Martin Stage Race. The team’s clothing sponsor Voler is designing a national champions skin suit for Ryan, which she hopes to debut during the finale criterium on Sunday.
"Hopefully Voler gets it done in time," Ryan said. “If I don’t get the new one in time then I’ll wear the national champion’s jersey, and that’s fine. I’m sure whatever they’ve come up with is going to look sick."
Following the Joe Martin Stage Race, Ryan hopes to make the Tibco-SVB’s team for the Amgen Tour of California Women’s Race (May 8-10), and looks forward to competing for the first time at the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic World Cup (June 7).
"Philly is the big one because I’ve always wanted to do that race," said Ryan, who believes the steep finish on Manayunk Wall suits her. "I’ve never done that race before, so I’m excited to see what it’s like. I’m normally good at the steeper, shorter stuff, power climbs."