A day after winning the national championship time trial, Amber Neben put her soloing skills on display again in Knoxville, Tennessee, claiming the American national road race title on Sunday.
The 42-year-old Veloconcept rider jumped clear of the peloton on the sixth of eight 12.7km laps to bridge to breakaway rider Emily Newsom (Team Elevate Racing), and ultimately soloed away to seal the victory with a comfortable margin.
Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) pounded her handlebars in frustration after winning the bunch sprint - second place for the third year in a row - 11 seconds short of catching Neben. UnitedHealthcare's Ruth Winder rounded out the podium in third.
Neben was speechless at winning her second title in a row this weekend, five years after her last time trial title and a full 14 years since her last win in the nationals road race. According to the race announcer, Neben is the first woman to do the nationals double - something she found surprising.
"That's really cool actually. It's beyond words," Neben told Cyclingnews. "I am still a little bit in shock. My intention today was just to come out and play and ride hard, there was no pressure - I have no team here, no expectations from that sense. I was going to take a risk at some point, I didn't know where. I was going to let my instincts direct that. It worked out well."
Rivera, however, was heartbroken that she finished second for the third year in a row in a race she has been targeting since joining the elite ranks. "Third time was not a charm this time around," she bemoaned. "It's definitely really frustrating for sure. I guess it's always the one you want the most that you can't always get. All props to Amber, it was a huge ride from her."
The women set off for 101.1km of the 12.7km circuit, facing eight trips up the daunting Sherrod Road climb - an ascent reminiscent of the Manayunk wall in Philadelphia, and technical, undulating roads over the rest of the laps. The early breakaway went clear on the first lap, with Emily Newsom (Team Elevate Racing), Abigail Mickey (Colavita | Bianchi), Janelle Cole (Unitedhealthcare), Holly Breck (Sho-Air Twenty20), Monica Volk (Rally Cycling), and Jennifer Tetrick (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank) representing most of the major teams.
The leaders were allowed three minutes at the halfway point before the attacks kicked off, both in the breakaway and in the field. Newsom was the first to jump, taking a major risk by going clear midway through lap four and quickly opening up 1:40 on her former companions.
In the field, the breakaway was swept up on lap six, and Alexis Ryan (Canyon-SRAM) lit the fuse on the TNT in the bunch, sparking attacks that were quickly reeled in. But a move from Neben, the time trial world champion, put the peloton on the defensive.
Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank led the chase, with UnitedHealthcare also pitching in, but with two laps to go, it was 1:06 to Neben and 1:58 up to Newsom.
Knowing that they were riding into the final lap, the big teams began putting in a much more concerted effort to bring back the two escapees, and it was pedal to the metal on the penultimate climb, and the bunch shattered, leaving a group of 11 riders with defending champion Megan Guarnier, Rivera, and Winder amongst them.
There was some reluctance to bring the teammate-less Guarnier and Rivera to the line, and some riders were sitting on with hopes of a sprint finish. But without the impetus of all 11 riders, a time triallist of Neben's class could stay clear.
Rivera was keen to the danger of Neben's lead, and was frustrated that there wasn't a cohesive enough effort to chase. "I knew I was going to be frustrated at a lot of different moments in the race, being alone. There's only so much you can do without teammates. When you want it really bad, it's harder to deal with," Rivera said.
Winder said her team - which had three riders in the chase group - did their best.
"We were doing our best to get the group to cooperate, because we know how strong Amber is," Winder said. "We've know that from years of racing with her, and obviously she's riding well with her win yesterday. We were trying to convince everyone to pull through, but there were still some riders sitting on the back, not interested in working. That's a little disappointing, but you can only control what you can control. We did the best that we could."
Neben caught and dropped Newsom on the last lap, and then held her lead to win by a healthy margin. Her risk was well worth it.
"This course was not the kind I was going to win in the finish," Neben said. "That climb was only a couple minutes long, so it's really a punchy sprinter's type climb," Neben said. "The way I was reading the race, I figured I was either going to win or get 30th. If I was going to win, I had to go early. The moment just happened, and I reacted and went for it. When I went, I went hard. I committed right away."
When she finally caught Newsom, the Elevate rider took a few pulls, but finally gave up by the climb, leaving Neben on her own for almost 10km.
"I knew she was on her last legs," Neben said of Newsom. "I knew if I sat up at all, we were going to get caught. If I was going to get caught, I wanted it to be after the hill, not on it. Having put that kind of effort in, if they caught me on the hill I'd have been in trouble. So that was the first priority. Then when I made it over, and I still had 30 seconds, I knew I had a chance."
The course doubled back on itself twice in the last half of the lap allowing Neben to get a glimpse of the chasers. At the second time, she said the gap was larger and she finally knew the win was possible.
"They were coming - the guy on the motorbike said I had time to celebrate, but I wasn't going to even think that until I could see the finish line. I took a look back to make sure. You don't get these very often, so I wanted to get a chance to soak in the last 100m."
While Neben celebrated, the sprint was on for second, with Rivera overhauling Winder to take second place.
Winder, who has racked up numerous road victories so far this season, but missed out on sprinting for the victory this time.
"We missed Amber's attack, unfortunately," she told Cyclingnews. "Katie and Tayler did a really good job of driving it hard, and we just came up a bit short. They tried to set me up for the sprint best as possible. I ended up going a little early in the sprint, but I can't be too disappointed with a third placed finish."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Amber Neben (Team Velo Concept)||2:49:34|
|2||Coryn Rivera (Sunweb)||0:00:11|
|3||Ruth Winder (Unitedhealthcare Pro Cycling)|
|4||Alexis Ryan (Canyon Sram Racing)|
|5||Emma White (Rally Cycling)|
|6||Lauren Stephens (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank)|
|7||Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans Cycling Team)||0:00:12|
|8||Leah Thomas (Sho-Air Twenty20)|
|9||Emily Newsom (Team Elevate Racing)||0:00:15|
|10||Brianna Walle (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank)|
|11||Tayler Wiles (Unitedhealthcare Pro Cycling)||0:00:18|
|12||Katharine Hall (Unitedhealthcare Pro Cycling)||0:00:30|
|13||Kat Sweatt (Mellow Mushroom Racing)||0:01:54|
|14||Erica Allar (Rally Cycling)||0:02:27|
|15||Janelle Cole (Unitedhealthcare Pro Cycling)||0:02:28|
|16||Heather Fischer (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank)|
|17||Samantha Schneider (IScorp Powered By Progress)|
|18||Skylar Schneider (IScorp Powered By Progress)|
|19||Jessica Cerra (Hagens Berman | Supermint)||0:02:29|
|20||Jennifer Valente (Sho-Air Twenty20)|
|21||Mandy Heintz (Visit Dallas Dna Pro Cycling)|
|22||Irena Ossola (Sas-Macogep)|
|23||Gray Patton (Freddie Fu Cycling Team)|
|24||Hannah Shell (Pastaria - Big Shark Racing Tea)|
|25||Monica Volk (Rally Cycling)|
|26||Beth Ann Orton ()|
|27||Rebecca Fahringer (Amy D. Foundation)|
|28||Shayna Powless (Sho-Air Twenty20)|
|29||Margot Clyne (Groove Subaru Excel Sports)|
|30||Tarah Cole (Qcw Breakawaybikes.Com P.B. Jlv)||0:02:30|
|31||Julie Emmerman (Amy D. Foundation)|
|32||Allie Dragoo (Sho-Air Twenty20)|
|33||Whitney Allison (Colavita | Bianchi)||0:02:31|
|34||Jennifer Tetrick (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank)||0:02:47|
|35||Amy Benner (Rally Cycling)||0:02:48|
|36||Holly Breck (Sho-Air Twenty20)||0:03:43|
|37||Kendall Ryan (Team Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank)|
|38||Erica Clevenger (Visit Dallas Dna Pro Cycling)||0:04:18|
|39||Tabitha Sherwood (Pastaria - Big Shark Racing Tea)||0:04:38|
|40||Jennifer Luebke (Visit Dallas Dna Pro Cycling)|
|41||Hannah Arensman (Twenty20 Pro Cycling)||0:06:56|
|42||Caitlin Laroche (Rally Cycling)|
|43||Lori Nedescu ()||0:06:57|
|44||Lexie Millard (Team Illuminate)|
|45||Breanne Nalder (Visit Dallas Dna Pro Cycling)||0:06:59|
|46||Katherine Salthouse (Landis/Trek)||0:07:22|
|47||Alison Tetrick (Cylance Pro Cycling)||0:09:11|
|48||Danielle Clark (Rto National Womens Cycling)||0:09:13|
|49||Judah Sencenbaugh (Cth Performance Project)|
|50||Jennifer Hale (Birchwood/Gis)||0:09:14|
|51||Nicole Pressprich (Amy D. Foundation)|
|52||Danielle Morshead (Amy D. Foundation)||0:10:15|
|53||Leah Thorvilson (Canyon Sram Racing)|
|54||Victoria Kanizer (Orthocarolina Winston Women???S)|
|55||Hannah Swan (Cycle Haus Racing)|
|56||Sarah Guilbert (Rto National Womens Cycling)|
|57||Ann Mallin (Nashville Local Cycling)|
|58||Jessica Edens (Nashville Local Cycling)|
|59||Ellen Noble (Colavita | Bianchi)|
|60||Catherine Dewberry (Team Belladium P/B Red Kite)|
|61||Charlotte Backus (Prestige Imports/Porsche/Audi R)|
|62||Alex Christofalos (Cth Performance Project)|
|63||Jennifer Schuble (Infinity Cycling Team)|
|64||Morgan Miller (Cth Performance Project)||0:10:27|
|65||Catierowan Thompson (Eliel Factory Team)|
|DNF||Scotti Lechuga (Hagens Berman | Supermint)|
|DNF||Stefanie Sydlik (Visit Dallas Dna Pro Cycling)|
|DNF||Abigail Mickey (Colavita | Bianchi)|
|DNF||Amber Pierce (Colavita | Bianchi)|
|DNF||Jennifer Wakeman (Rto National Womens Cycling)|
|DNF||Maria Danker (Hicks Orthodontics Womens Raci)|
|DNF||Christy Keely (Totalcyclists)|
|DNF||Lauren Dodge (Wv Zeeuws-Vlaanderen)|