North Star Grand Prix stage 1 winner and overall leader Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare) made her life a little simpler this year after winning the US professional championship time trial and road race last month while already owning the criterium title from last year.
"I was packing to come here to Tulsa, and then we go straight to the NorthStar Grand Prix, which has road races, crits and a time trial, so I just packed the same kit for everything, I mean not one kit, but they were all the same," Powers told Cyclingnews last week at the Tulsa Tough National Criterium Calendar omnium. "When I looked inside my bag, I thought, 'That is really cool.'"
Powers' history making accomplishment as the first US rider to simultaneously hold stars-and-stripes jerseys in all three disciplines seemed like a long shot just a couple of years previously, when she considered retiring in 2011 after sustaining a serious injury in a bad crash at the Redlands Bicycle Classic criterium.
At that time, Powers sole US title was in the 2008 time trial, and she figured that might be the only national title she'd ever win. But NOW and Novartis for MS director Kurt Stockton convinced Powers to come race with his newly forming team, and the change proved to be a good move for the 34-year-old rider from Pinecliff, Colorado. Powers rode for NOW through the 2012 and 2013 seasons, piling up a handful of wins and finishing last season by winning the national criterium title. But when NOW folded in the off-season Powers moved to the new UnitedHealthcare women's team.
"When I couldn't get the time trial jersey anymore, I thought, 'Whatever, I'm done. Just go for something else,'" she said. "So it took some pressure off me this year, and the team is so well supported, it just makes it easy to ride fast with this good of a team."
Powers rode fast enough at the US pro championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to first win the time trial and then follow it up two days later with an impressive win in the road race. Powers said she could hardly believe what was happening when she crossed the line solo to take the road race win.
"It was like, 'Wow, I'm making history. That's cool,'" she said. "I mean, yes, it was a surprise to get that opportunity to go for the win, but that's how road racing is, and it's just cool. I still can't believe that it happened and it's me, because I just feel normal. But I have achieved something cool."
Powers went from Chattanooga to the Philadelphia Cycling Classic six days later and was in Tulsa the weekend after that. Although she's had very little time to pause and reflect on what the accomplishment will mean for her career, Powers said she hopes it stands the test of time as something truly extraordinary.
"Hopefully I'm remembered forever," she joked. "But I'm just enjoying it now, and who knows what happens in the future. But this is what happened, and now I get to wear [the stars-and-stripes jerseys] for the rest of the year."
Powers will get the chance to defend her criterium title on September 6, but she said winning two years in a row will be tough to pull off with all that she has already accomplished this year.
"Last year I kind of one by accident," she said. "But I don't care who wins as long as it's someone on our team, and that's what we'll go for.
"Just like today," Powers said after the final race in Tulsa, where she led out teammate Coryn River to win the final day and take the overall. "Everyone was waiting for me, so I just wasn't going to go anywhere then."
Powers doesn't plan to go anywhere for awhile, actually, saying she plans to ride for Unitedhealthcare again next year.
"I can't go anywhere else," she said. "This team is amazing."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.