Amber Neben (PX4 Sports) and Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue Sport) will line up on Sunday in Knoxville with an opportunity to defend their respective US Pro Championship Road Race titles on a course with a slightly tweaked finish to last year’s, and with an added lap in each race.
Warbasse won last year's race from a three-rider group that escaped on the penultimate climb up Sherrod Road, the one-kilometre ascent with pitches of 10 per cent. He joined Neilson Powless (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Alexey Vermeulen (Interpro Stradalli) in the move that, over the following lap, and a half-built a lead that allowed them a three-up sprint for the title.
Neben jumped away from the pack on the sixth of eight trips up Sherrod Road, bridged to the lone breakaway rider and then went solo to the line to win by 11 seconds over the field, which an obviously frustrated Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) led across the line, her third second-place finish in the race in as many years.
This year’s course is mostly the same as last year’s, but the finish has been moved to the downtown urban core with a small kicker leading to the final 125-metre finishing straight. The road race finish line will be in the same place as Friday night’s criterium. However, neither Warbasse nor Neben thought changing the finish location would have much effect on the race.
“I think the bigger change will be the extra lap,” Warbasse told Cyclingnews. “I think that will make it a little bit of a war of attrition. You saw last year with two laps to go there were only seven of us at the top of the climb, so if that happens a little earlier it’s just more time for the race to break up.
“That will be the biggest change, Warbasse reiterated. “I don’t think the finish will change much other than some nice photos. And maybe if it comes in with a small group it will be slightly different just because then it will be whoever has the strongest legs on that last kicker, but before that, the kicker’s not going to do much.”
Neben agreed that the hill leading to the finish isn’t enough of a challenge to affect how the race ultimately plays out.
“It’s a kicker going into the finish, but it’s a short sprinter kicker, so essentially it’s a sprinter finish still,” Neben told Cyclingnews. “The extra distance definitely makes it a heavier race. I haven’t looked at the forecast, so depending on how hot it gets, that extra lap could be very tough. It’ll be interesting. It’ll be fun. It’s a fun lap, so it makes for good racing.”
Both Warbasse and Neben are back at this year’s race without teammates, a factor that obviously didn’t inhibit their success last year. Nonetheless, racing without teammates does pose challenges.
“There are only so many moves you can mark as one person, and I don’t know how I’m going to feel,” Neben said. “I’ll do my best to read the race, and then take advantage of places where I can. When you’re alone and you don’t have teammates, I think it’s really hard to make a plan, and it’s just better to react on the road.
“I just have to really be alert and be aware and maybe take some risks in different places,” Neben said. “I can’t imagine anybody’s going to let me go this year after what happened last year. But the race dynamics are always fluid and changing on the road, so we’ll see what happens.”
Warbasse is looking forward to the extra lap, which makes the race closer to the length he and the other Euro-based riders are used to.
“I think for me, the longer the race the better,” he said. “A lot of the European national championships are like 240-250km, so it’s nice to get up there at least close to 200km, which will be plenty long with the heat. I like that addition. I think that’s really good and it will play into our hands a little better.”