Women racers Steal the Scene

Women racers Steal the Scene

May 23rd, 2014 by Jim Tanner in Sports - Professional

Lauren Hall cheers as she crosses the finish line to place 2nd in the Women's USA Cycling Professional Road National Championships

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Chattanooga resident Amy Phillips

Chattanooga resident Amy Phillips

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

Kristen McGrath, second place, left, Carmen Small, first place, center, and Alison Powers, third place, right, celebrate their win while on the podium during the 2013 Volkswagen USA Cycling Professional Time Trial National Championships

Kristen McGrath, second place, left, Carmen Small, first...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Be sure and cheer on these competitors from the Southeast

Christy Keely Asheville Bicycle Racing Club Greenville , SC

Lauren Komanski TWENTY16 Pro Cycling Winston Salem, NC

Shannon Parrish Cloud Racing p/b Ride2Recovery Atlanta, GA

Amy Phillips Pepper Palace Pro Cycling Chattanooga, TN

Ally Stacher UCI WPT: Specialized-lululemon Asheville, NC

The women cyclists made history in 2013 in Chattanooga, and they're back for more.

Last year was the first time USA Cycling held the women's road race and time trial championships in conjunction with the men's races, and it was the first time the women winners were awarded prize money equal to that awarded to the men. The top-finishing women at last year's races expressed gratitude for the opportunity to compete on an equal footing and stage as the men's peloton.

This weekend, they're returning to Chattanooga for the city's second year to host the USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships.

The women put on a great show last year, riding well on the time trial course at the Volkswagen plant and the road race course that ran through downtown Chattanooga and up Lookout Mountain.

Carmen Small won the time trial championship in 2013 by the smallest of margins, edging Kristin McGrath by less than two seconds to win the race against the clock on the 19-mile course.

In the road race last year, Jade Wilcoxson attacked on the run through the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the final circuit. She ended up riding to a comfortable win ahead of her "Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies" teammate Lauren Hall and third-place finisher Alison Powers.

Unlike the world of men's pro cycling, which sometimes lags behind Europe in producing the top riders, American women are consistently ranked among the best riders in the world. Evelyn Stevens is ranked sixth in the UCI world rankings of pro riders, and UCI ranks the United States as third-best in the world for women's cycling. American rider Kristin Armstrong has won gold in the women's time trial at the past two Olympic Games in Beijing and London, and Stevens and Small have been on the podium in the women's time trial at the past two world championships.

Women's cycling has definitely grown in stature and prominence in recent years, including its important inclusion in the USA Cycling national championships in Chattanooga last year and the addition of women's events in conjunction with the Tour de France and the Amgen Tour of California. However, there remain disparities between women and male cyclists in pay, sponsorship dollars and recognition.

Filmmaker Kathryn Bertine recently released "Half the Road," a documentary film dedicated to the triumphs and struggles of women's pro cycling. Bertine, a pro cyclist from St. Kitts and Nevis, interviewed women cyclists from around the world as she chronicled her attempts to make the 2012 Olympics.

"Half the Road" was screened in Chattanooga on Thursday at the Majestic 12 theater. The film was brought to town by HUB Endurance.

Chattanooga will get a front-row seat as America's best women's cyclists continue their quest for equality and recognition this weekend at the USA Pro Championships. And they're expected to once again show that they can race in a way that is as exciting as any bicycle racing in the world.