Less than 24 hours after Zoe Ta-Perez (LUX-CTS p/b Specialized) earned the U23 stars-and-stripes jersey in the elite women's time trial at the USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships, most of the stars were out of her eyes already and she was refocused on the next challenge in the pro criterium championships in downtown Knoxville.
Previously a junior world champion on the track, the 20-year-old Ta-Perez was still appreciative of the under-23 honour, but her smile broadened at the mention that the accomplishment may have been a bit overshadowed by the bronze medal she earned in the overall standings among the elite women. It was her first elite medal in cycling.
“I could tell I was going pretty quick, so I was just trying to hold on for dear life to the end. And then in the last 500 [metres] I was like, ‘OK, you’re not going to lose it here, so just stay on the gas’,” Ta-Perez told reporters at a press conference Friday morning in Knoxville, hosted by the Knoxville Sports Commission and USA Cycling.
“I really just wanted to ride my own race and focus on the execution. So to get third really means a lot to me.”
The only two women faster than Ta-Perez on the 23.2km time trial course in Oak Ridge were seasoned WorldTour rider and new national champion Leah Thomas (Trek-Segafredo) and four-time US time trial champion and two-time TT World Champion Amber Neben. Not bad company.
Using both power and speed, Ta-Perez finished one minute, 53 seconds behind Thomas. There were six accomplished women behind Ta-Perez in the final results who couldn’t come close to her time, finishing another 27 seconds or more back, including US Pro Road Champion Lauren Stephens (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) and US track Olympian Lily Williams (Human Powered Health).
“Personally, I think the time trial requires a little more regiment and mental focus. I stick to my routine and my schedule,” the California native said about being prepared for Thursday’s event.
“The road race is a little more relaxed. We are a development team, but I think we have a few cards to play with our girls. I think that our plan for the road race, we’ll just take it lap by lap. We have a flexible plan and really just see how everyone is riding, and how the heat and the race unfolds.”
On Sunday this year’s road race for elite women is similar in distance, 109.4km (68 miles), covering a 10.9km (6.8-mile) circuit 10 times. There is an extra pass up the Sherrod Road climb on the smaller circuit, the stiff, one-mile ascent coupled with a wall of heat and humidity adding to the late-morning mix.
“I want to focus on the crit right now, to be honest,” Ta-Perez added, saying she would focus on supporting teammate Olivia Cummins, just 18 years old, for the next chance at a national champion’s jersey. Cummins scored three top 10s in the elite women’s criterium events at Saint Francis Tulsa Tough this year and took third overall in the Omnium.
“I’ll ride to support Olivia, she had a great Tulsa Tough. It’s very much a team sport. Crits are exciting. But I love to race. Just anything on a bike is fine. Track and road, my competitive side comes out.”
Roy Knickman, who was a junior national team and men’s road coach at USA Cycling, has been the team director for LUX for more than eight years. His long weekend in Knoxville was already a success, with the elite medal and U23 victory in the time trial for Ta-Perez and a U23 silver medal for Cummins in TT as well.
He told Cyclingnews that his development squad serves as a step in the development direction and his goal is for Ta-Perez, and teammates like Cummins, to get her to a WorldTour team.
“We are part of the development pipeline. Unlike some of the other pro teams, where they have to have results, we think that we can chose young talent well and support them properly, they will get the results. And as soon as they get the results, and move up to that level to handle the next step, we can make the calls and try to move them up. I don’t want to be a marketing machine. If we are doing our job, it’s rewarding.”
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