Howes, Winder win USA Cycling road national championships

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Alex Howes won his first national championships with a deftly played chess match.

Ruth Winder won hers with brute power.

After getting dropped by breakaway companions Stephen Bassett and Neilson Powless, Howes caught back on in the closing miles Sunday, then swept to the lead on the final climb. The EF Education First rider cleanly made it through the last left-hand turn and raised his arms in victory.

Bassett came through in second and Powless rounded out the podium.

“I’ve been running after this one for a while, eight years or so,” Howes said. “I’ve been on the podium a few times and always an animator and just never there, and today we went early and just kept going and I can’t believe it paid off.”

Earlier in the day, Winder won the women’s race after a dramatic solo attack six miles from the finish, holding off hard-charging Coryn Rivera and Emma White at the finish line.

“Just keep on going, that’s all I was thinking. Just trying to motivate myself to go as hard as I could,” Winder said. “Coming across the finish line, I thought everyone was going to pass me in the last 100 meters, just coming down there because I was dying so bad. I had nothing. I sat down. And I was like, `Get up! Sprint, sprint, sprint!’ Nobody passed me and I can’t believe that I won.”

The men’s race came down to a cat-and-mouse game between the three breakaway riders.

Powless was the first to attack with about four miles to go, then Bassett – the hometown hero – countered and Howes was dropped from the group. That left the best-known rider in the trio fighting to get back with the leaders on a scorching day in Tennessee.

The Denver native finally caught back on, and it became a tactical battle among the trio.

Powless was the first to crack on the final hill, and Bassett ramped up the pace to create a gap, raising the hopes of his personal cheering section. But as he crested the final hill, Bassett looked over to see Howes pulling even, then swinging to the lead on the final downhill push.

He breezed through the final left-hand corner to claim a long-awaited national championship.

The women’s race covered just over 70 miles, but nothing was decided until riders returned to Knoxville and began making laps toward a large crowd awaiting them at the finish.

Winder’s teammate, Tayler Wiles, began to set the pace for a chase group up Sherrod Road, and Lily Williams and Shayna Powless soon joined Winder on the attack. They swept up a pair of breakaway riders and kept working together until Winder and Williams built a gap.

“It’s just really hard to get away in a breakaway in these races,” Winder said, “because everybody is watching everybody else so intently, so I tried being a little bit sneaky about my attack. I wanted to know how Tayler was, of course, but I also used it as a way to be sneaky in my attack. Because she had just gone really, really hard and everyone was just started to slow up, and I was like, `Hey, are you doing OK?’ And she’s like, `Yeah.’ And, `OK, cool. See you.”‘

Winder left Williams behind on the final climb of Sherrod Road, but she still needed to survive about six miles with a strong but reduced peloton giving frantic chase.

Wiles was there to help once again, going to the front and effectively slowing it down. Rivera finally managed to get around her and launch a sprint, but she couldn’t get Winder at the line.

“I knew I could go in the straightaways and I knew that I had a couple of corners to recover in,” said Winder, who was born in England but raised in Lafayette, California. “So just go as hard as I could, breathe in the corners, and go as hard as I could.”

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Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”