The lionesses of L39ION of Los Angeles proved their dominance in one-day races this year with a sweep of the podium at the women’s pro criterium nationals, the second day of racing at the 2022 USA Cycling Pro Road Championships on Friday. In the past 15 years, no other team has pulled off this feat, women or men.
The 70-minute contest was held in the twilight in downtown Knoxville, Tennessee with Kendall Ryan leading the procession for her second consecutive criterium crown, followed by Skylar Schneider in second and Alexis Ryan in third. Diving back into the archives of the US women’s elite and pro criteriums, L39ION of Los Angeles pulled off a unique triple on Friday, at least since records from 2007 were checked.
Using the lead-out from her teammates in the closing 500 metres on the tight, punchy climb from State Street to Clinch Avenue, Ryan replicated her victory from a year ago.
“The game plan was to repeat where I made my move last year, which is fighting for the right-hand corner into the last two turns. That's kinda the sweet spot for this course. It's really hard to pass after you make that right-hand turn because it's so tight and quick. [The plan] was basically lead me out to get to that point,” Kendall Ryan recounted to Cyclingnews after the race about the orchestrated attack.
“I know the sweet spots of this course, and they captured and killed everything. They made it an easy race for me. Honestly, I wish they could win the national championship jersey with me."
Five riders lined up for the L39ION women in the criterium, Samantha Schneider making it a second pair of sisters in the group as well as Shayna Powless. Attacks by powerful sprinters like Coryn Labecki (Jumbo-Visma), Debbie Milne (SupraBars.com), the duo of Lauren Stephens and Emily Newsom from EF Education-TIBCO-SVB and multiple riders from LUX-CTS p/b Specialized, DNA Pro Cycling and Human Powered Health put L39ION in a reactive mode throughout the race. But the plan was to wait, wait, and wait.
“I was definitely fighting for my own teammates’ wheels multiple times, as people try to get on to our L39ION train and it's been happening all year, and it doesn't matter who it is. Coryn is smart, she knows who to mark and who to challenge. I let her in most of the race, but when it counted I didn't. It's knowing when to fight for wheels and when to spend energy," Kendall Ryan said.
“I tried to be patient as long as I could and going into the last couple laps, I was not going to budge! It's my teammate’s wheel, it's my wheel. You're not going to take it.”
The newly-crowned three-time pro criterium champion, having won her first pro crit title in 2015, explained how her team kept Labecki from slithering through their ranks on the final turns. Labecki, the 2018 road race national champion and 2017 Tour of Flanders champion, would finish two seconds back for fourth place on Friday.
“I was sitting third wheel and Shanya [Powless] pulled off to the left, we were up on the barriers, and Coryn was on my left, and when Shanya was going backwards, Coryn had to go around her and I think that slowed her down and the wind was coming pretty hard from the left, so she slowed down a lot and as she was going around Shanya. Alexis hit the gas and I got a nice slingshot into that right-hand turn.
“Then I had Sky behind me sweeping, and yeah, all three of us threaded together in that turn and held it to the line! It's not as easy as it looks, it's scary and you have to keep your cool and trust your teammates! There's a lot of trust in our team and we executed better than we planned. You have to trust your teammate’s wheel.”
Season of success
The L39ION women charged into championship weekend with a string of successes, their sweep in Knoxville on Friday night picking up where they began in March with the same trio dominating the Birmingham Hammerfest, on that occasion the podium order going Alexis, Skylar and Kendall, and Samantha Schneider grabbing fourth.
Skylar Schneider then opened the American Criterium Cup series with a victory at the Sunny King Criterium. The team honours for the seven-race SpeedWeek in late April went to L39ION of Los Angeles as Kendall Ryan scored four victories, Skylar Schneider won two and Alexis Ryan added four second-place finishes.
Most recently Skylar swept all three days at Saint Francis Tulsa Tough and took the Omnium title, and then won her hometown Mt. Pleasant criterium at Tour of America’s Dairyland three days before heading to Knoxville.
It was on the third day of Tulsa Tough that the famous Cry Baby Hill proved to be a threat to the string of success. After crossing the line in 35th position, her work for Skylar done, Kendall collapsed and fainted. Her sister took her to a local hospital where she was treated for heat exhaustion. She managed third place at the Harlem Skyscraper Classic a week later, but more rest paid dividends in Knoxville.
"This year has been pretty victorious for our team. My job was super easy today because of them.”
In 2018, the second year for Knoxville to host the USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships, the Pro Criterium races were added to the lineup, having previously been held in conjunction with the U.S. Amateur Road National Championships for many years. Road titles for elite women go back to 1985, and in 2013 the women’s pro designation was included for events.
Contributions to this story made by Joe Fritz.
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