Emma Langley (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) broke free from breakaway companion Lauren De Crescenzo (Cinch Rise) to win the women’s road race title at the US Cycling Pro Road National Championships.
She bolted off the front on the final three short corners in downtown Knoxville to take the title, just a few bike lengths ahead of De Crescenzo, who earned the silver medal. Third place was secured by Langley’s teammate and defending road race champion Lauren Stephens. Shayna Powless (L39ION of Los Angeles) won the field sprint for fourth place, just ahead of Coryn Labecki (Jumbo-Visma), who settled for fifth.
With six laps to go in the 10-circuit road race, Langley made a move with Skylar Schneider (L39ION of Los Angeles) and De Crescenzo on her wheel. That move stuck, with Schneider holding on until two laps to go.
Langley said she watched the criterium on Friday night and learned how to use the final section of that course to approach the finish line on Sunday.
“It’s so special. We knew coming into today that it was on us to defend and any five of us could have won. And it’s just a huge honour that I am the one [to get the jersey],” Langley said at the finish.
“I think each of us [in the breakaway] were trying to play to our strengths, and they were different. We were able to drop her [Skylar Schneider] on the climb. And from there I knew I could not sustain a long-range attack so waiting until the finish is the way I could win.
“My goal was to get over the climb with her, see if she would continue to a bit of work and then give it a punch at the finish. That third to last corner was really the time to go. It gets tight and then downhill after the corner.”
De Crescenzo, who made a name by winning Unbound Gravel 200 last year then launching a long solo attack at the US Pro Road Race, only to see it fade away to an eighth-place finish in Knoxville, came back for redemption.
“I am thrilled to be a silver medallist, and it’s so much better than last year,” she told Cyclingnews, but added, “I’d rather be the hammer than the nail.”
How it unfolded
For a fifth time, the women's peloton set off for the stars-and-stripes road title in Knoxville, Tennessee. This year the distance of the circuit was reduced from 12.6km to 10.9km, which meant riders would make 10 laps for the total distance of 109.4 kilometres (68 miles). An extra pass of the 1km climb of Sherrod Road, with gradients of 10%, was followed by a series of rollers and then 10 repeats of the Clinch Avenue punchy ascent to lead to the finish, all contributing to the wearing down process.
“I’m just going to go as hard as I can, and make the race as hard as I can make it,” De Crescenzo told Cyclingnews at the start line. “I do like climbing, so I was excited that when they shortened the course they added an extra climb [Sherrod Road]. It’s more like a gravel race, a race of attrition.”
And for a second time at these championships, the majority of the women at the start line kneeled during the National Anthem to protest the US Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Rowe v Wade.
Straight away Rachel Gordon (3T/Q+M Cycling) launched a short-term move at the front to lead the peloton of 69 riders across the Tennessee River on the Gay Street Bridge for the first of 10 laps. In the first five minutes of racing, Cinch Rise kept the pace high in the humid, overcast conditions to begin the attrition process as early as possible for leader De Crescenzo.
With six laps and 66km to go, the Sherrod Road climb began to take a significant toll, with not many riders able to stay together. Veronica Ewers (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) took the opportunity to make a move over the crest of the climb, followed by Shayna Powless (L39ION of Los Angeles), De Crescenzo, Skylar Schneider, and Emma Langley (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB).
A light rain began to fall on the lap, making the descent on the tight road even more technical on the back side. Once on the out-and-back section of James White Parkway, Langley made a move with Skylar Schneider and De Crescenzo on her wheel.
Coming through the start/finish line at the mid-point of the race, the trio held a 45-second advantage. The main peloton was whittled down to about 35 riders in the chase behind, with some of the favourites still intact - Labecki, EF Education-TIBCO-SVB quintet of Stephens, Ewers, Honsinger, and Newsom, as well as Lily Williams and Kaia Schmid of Human Powered Health and Heidi Franz (InstaFund). L39ION’s Alexis Ryan and Shayna Powless rode in the pack, but like the EF riders had no interest to chase too hard.
On the sixth pass of Sherrod Road, the breakaway increased its margin over a minute by the time the trio crested the climb. Two laps later the gap was hovering at two minutes.
On the penultimate lap, Skylar Schneider was not pedalling in circles any longer on the signature climb and dropped from the lead group. Leading the chase behind was Rivera, Franze and L39ION now moving into full chase mode.
The duo of Langley and De Crescenzo received the bell for the final lap looking strong with 1:30 on the chasers, the cloudy conditions holding down the heat but the humidity still as much of a wall as the final pass of Sherrod Road ahead.
Langley showed a bit of fatigue on the last few kilometres of the ride, but it was a decoy as she sprang out of the saddle to launch her final attack on the technical corners that were used in the criterium on Friday night. De Crescezno, who finished eighth in the road race last year after launching a long solo attack, did not seem to expect the final surge from Langley and settled for second.
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