It was a great day for the Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies women's pro cycling team. A really great day.
Jade Wilcoxson attacked on the final run through the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus and rode to a comfortable win Monday in the USA Cycling Professional Road Race Women's Championship.
It finished in downtown Chattanooga after taking riders over 63 miles and two climbs up Lookout Mountain.
Wilcoxson won in 2 hours, 46 minutes and 39 seconds, and Optum teammate Lauren Hall outsprinted Alison Powers and Kristin McGrath to the line to make it a 1-2 finish in the first women's pro road race U.S. championship. Powers was third for the second time during the weekend.
Hall pumped her fist as she crossed the line.
"We were close enough to see Jade cross the finish line," she said. "I just had to make sure I could have a clean line, and once I could see that I did have a clean line and enough of a gap to really enjoy the moment.
"These moments are so few and far between, so I really enjoyed it."
Wilcoxson and Exergy TWENTY16's McGrath had been riding ahead of about a half-dozen chasing riders when Wilcoxson decided to launch her attack on Fifth Street about a mile and half before the finish. McGrath tried to go with her but couldn't match Wilcoxson's pace.
"I was actually thinking it would come down to a sprint, and I'm confident in my sprinting ability," said Wilcoxson, who's from Talent, Ore. "The [chase group] was closing in, and I think they were about 10 seconds back at that point.
"I knew they were going to catch us at the pace we were going, so I just attacked. I figured it was all or nothing at that point."
Taylor Wiles was named most courageous rider, and Mara Abbott won the Queen of the Mountains award for being first over the climbs up Lookout Mountain.
Abbot could have had a shot at even more glory, as she led the race in the final laps through downtown on a solo breakaway and looked primed to take the overall victory. But tragedy ended the two-time U.S. champion's hopes for a third title when she suffered a flat tire with about 10 miles to go -- a misfortune compounded when her rear derailleur broke as a mechanic was trying to change her tire.
Abbott lost several seconds waiting on a new bike to arrive and wound up 10th, but she was philosophical after the race about her bad break.
"You have to look at it in perspective," she said. "It's bike racing, and bikes break and crashes happen.
"I've been racing for a long time and I've never had something like that happen to me before. I've always been very, very lucky. So maybe sometimes stuff happens. ... I can't control that."
NOW and Novaris rider Powers also was third Saturday in the women's time trial national championship, which was held at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant.
"Obviously it's best to win," she said. "But if you can't win, at least have representation for yourself and your team and your sponsors. So I am very glad to represent us on the podium, even though in third place."
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JFTanner.