USA Cycling Women's Road Race, Knoxville, June 2023
The USA Pro Road National Championships first landed in Knoxville in 2016. The road race expanded the following year to add the Criterium, a 1.1 mile loop through downtown that features all-out sprinting for 70 exciting minutes. While the established custom dictated that the championships reside in one place for only two consecutive years, the event remained in Knoxville for all the following years until now. Its next location has not been announced, but race officials made clear that a return to Knoxville in the future remains a possibility.
After time trials in Oak Ridge, events shift to downtown and South Knoxville on Friday night and all day Sunday. Excitement charged the streets on Friday night with the men’s and women’s Criterium. The speeds dazzle, and the 1.1 mile loop, navigated for approximately 70 minutes, provides the best spectator engagement of the weekend as the riders pass at a stunning pace and do so repeatedly.
Coryn Labecki won the women’s criterium with a late surge that appeared to leave last year’s winner, and this year’s second place finisher, Kendall Ryan stunned. The photo of the finish shows Coryn with arms raised and Kendall with an expression that asks how this could happen. It happened on the final uphill sprint on Clinch Avenue just before the race turns (brutally) onto Gay Street for the finish.
The crowds continued to build on a perfect night for racing as the men’s race quickly followed the women’s. It proved to be about as close as the women’s race. With no team able to establish any significant break away from the peloton, despite numerous attacks, the group largely entered the final lap as a group. Luke Lamperti, who won the previous two Criterium championships in Knoxville, raced without a team, clinging to the tail winds of leading teams as his strategy.
While in the previous two races he had made his final sprint just before the last three turns, he missed that chance this year, as Tyler Williams surged first. It was just before the final turn, however, that Tyler had a bit of a bobble on his bike, opening the way for Lamperti to pass him for the victory. Williams slipped to third place as Colby Simmons also passed him to take third.
The perfect weather persisted through the women’s race on Sunday morning, though the humidity built as they raced. The peloton splintered almost immediately, as the group climbed Sherrod. In the end, only forty-seven of the original ninety riders would complete the course. The final significant breakaway included Lauren Stephens, Coryn Rivera, Skylar Schneider, and Chloe Dygert. The group was pulled back into a group of fourteen riders with about three miles to go.
The remnants of that breakaway remained near the front and ultimately Stephens, Schneider, and Chloe Dygert would finish in the top four. Coryn Labecki, who won the Criterium the night before would duel Dygert for first place. Dygert attacked in those same final turns where Labecki had attacked two nights earlier, and Labecki responded, but was unable to pass Dygert who crossed the line for the wine. Schneider finished third and Stephens came in at fourth.
The race also carried the first air of obvious controversy I’d noticed in all the years the race has been in Knoxville. Several people mixed in with the crowds of fans carried signs suggesting that trans athletes should not be allowed to compete in women’s races. Emotions were stirred recently when Austin Killips, who is transgender, won the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico, becoming the first transgender woman to win a major cycling event. The issue pits the desire for inclusion against the need for fair competition and finding the balance has proven difficult in several sports. In this event, Killips finished ninth.
I missed the final event of the weekend, the men’s road race. Originally scheduled to begin at 1:15, it was delayed twice due to lightning. It eventually launched, but as I watched the race on television from home, I also watched lightning continue out my window. I made the call to keep myself and my camera in the dry.
Due to the late start, the race was shorted from about 115 miles to about 102 miles. Like the women’s group, the men’s group shattered on Sherrod, though it was the second pass, rather than the first. With two laps to go, Quinn Simmons and Tyler Williams had a lead on the main group. After the descent from Sherrod on the final lap, Simmons pulled away and went on to win the race, with Williams in second and Tyler Stites in third.
This has been a great event for Knoxville in economic terms and with regard to exposure. That it was so successful they returned for extra runs is a tribute to Visit Knoxville, the City of Knoxville, and the fans who supported it. We also weren’t hurt in the cause by having a beautiful city situated in one of the most beautiful areas in the world.