Optum Pro Cycling's Jade Wilcoxson will have a difficult time on her hands come Monday when she attempts to defend her US Professional Road Championship in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A wide-open, star-packed field will challenge the 2013 winner and her team throughout the day.
Monday's race will take place on an almost identical course as last year - with just one significant change. Organizers have added a short, steep climb in North Chattanooga that riders will have to power over five times.
The 103.2 km route begins with three laps of an 8.2 km starting circuit before a relatively flat run to Lookout Mountain. The 4.5km climb on Ochs Highway ascends nearly 350 meters, and the riders will face it on both of their trips around the 26.5km "long" circuits. The new wall is a one-block section of road with grades of up to 20 percent. The women will tackle it on each of the long circuits as well as on three shorter 8.6km finishing circuits.
Wilcoxson won her jersey last year by joining forces with Twenty-16's Kristin McGrath to counter a solo move by Mara Abbott (UnitedHealthcare) on the final trip over Lookout Mountain. The duo caught Abbott on the run into town before Wilcoxson dropped McGrath and soloed in for her only US pro title. Wilcoxson's teammate, Lauren Hall, finished second last year, crossing the line 11 seconds later ahead of Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare) and McGrath.
Powers and Abbott will be part of a four-rider UnitedHealthcare team that will have had a morale boost from Powers' win Saturday in the time trial. Abbott is one of the world's best climbers and will no doubt try and make things difficult on the climbs, while powers showed her current form in Saturday's time trial. The reigning US pro criterium champ can also win from a group when she needs to.
McGrath, who finished second in the time trial but passed on it this year, will be part of a nine-rider Twenty-16 team hungry for a stars-and-stripes jersey after stepping back from the UCI ranks this season.
Team Tibco, one of three US women's UCI teams along with Optum and Specialized-lululemon, will hunt for a stars-and-stripes jersey with seven-rider team that includes Andrea Dvorak and Amanda Miller.
Specialized-lululemon will have time trial runner-up Carmen Small, Ally Stacher, Evelyn Stevens and Tayler Wiles fresh off successful European campaigns. Small recently won the circuit race at the Tour of California, and all but Stacher made the top five during Saturday's time trial.
Wilcoxson will not only have the support of five teammates, including Hall, but she'll also benefit from knowing she finished Saturday's time trial in the exact same spot as she did last year heading into her win. Brianna Walle finished the time trial two places behind Wilcoxson, and she rode consistently well during the women's races in California.
Megan Guarnier, the 2012 US national champion who rides for the Dutch Boels-Dolmans Cycling Team, recently notched two podium finishes at the Pan American Championships and is well suited to the Chattanooga course.