KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Amber Neben has been on the podium at USA Cycling’s road national championships more times than she could count, but she knew exactly how many times she had been to the top step.
She doubled the number on Saturday.
The 42-year-old world champion won her second national time trial championship, covering a three-lap course in Knoxville in 30 minutes, 27 seconds. The gold medal followed her 2012 title – and eight runner-up finishes and a pair of bronze medals in the time trial going back to her first silver medal in 2002.
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She has also been on the podium three times in the road race.
”It’s funny, honestly. I don’t know how many second places I’ve got,” Neben said after finishing 32 seconds of ahead of Lauren Stephens and another 32 seconds ahead of Leah Thomas.
”It’s been an elusive championship,” she said, ”so it’s extremely special to win it. You don’t ever take it for granted, and I didn’t take today for granted. There are too many talented riders who can bring it. I knew I had to ride well, it just feels good to put it together and get it done on race day.”
In the men’s race, Joey Rosskopf edged BMC Racing teammate Brent Bookwalter to win his first national title. Neilson Powless was third, followed by William Barta and Larry Warbasse.
The men covered four laps on a 4.78-mile course that began and ended on Jackson Avenue in the Old City. Overnight rains combined with warm temperatures made conditions brutal in the race against the clock, sweat drenching just about every rider as they crossed the finish line.
The victory for Neben was especially sweet after a rollercoaster 2016 season. She finished second to Carmen Small at nationals, then lost an appeal to be selected for the U.S. team for the Rio Olympics – she was passed over in favor of eventual gold medalist Kristin Armstrong.
Neben bounced back from those bitter disappointments to scorch the world championship course in Doha, Qatar, where she spent more than 2 hours in the ”hot seat” with the best time before everyone finished.
That gave her the chance to wear the coveted rainbow stripes of the world champ on Saturday, when she surpassed Stephens by the second lap and extended her advantage on the final circuit to claim victory.
”It’s my first time on the podium,” Stephens said. ”Last year I was fifth, the year before I was fourth, and so I’m pretty excited to make my way onto the podium in second place.”
Rosskopf knew he was in shape after finishing the demanding Giro d’Italia earlier this year, but it was Bookwalter – a former silver and bronze medalist – who came into nationals the heavy favorite.
Rosskopf set down the time to beat early in the day, and Bookwalter knew what he had to beat when he was on the course. But try as he might, the 33-year-old from New Mexico couldn’t pull back the time that it would take to finally claim the elusive stars-and-stripes jersey.
On Sunday, Greg Daniel and Megan Guarnier will attempt to defend their road national championships when they tackle a 7.9-mile course that travels into South Knoxville before returning to the Old City.
The women will do eight laps for 63 miles and the men will cover 14 laps for 109 miles.
”Obviously, it is a great honor to be able to wear the national championship stars-and-stripes jersey for an entire year, and hopefully longer,” said Daniel, who grew up in Newport, Tennessee. ”I am representing my country, so I always make sure to remind myself of that.”