U.S. Racing This Week: Evelyn Stevens, London via Augusta

The West Coast and Midwest are criterium central this weekend in the U.S., but the women’s elite national championship in Georgia take top billing.

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The West Coast and Midwest are criterium central this weekend in the U.S., but the women’s elite national championship in Georgia take top billing. Evelyn Stevens (HTC-Highroad) opened nationals with a razor-thin win in the time trial and Thursday night looked ahead to Sunday’s road race, October’s world championships and next year’s Olympic Games.

Before they stormed the Nature Valley Grand Prix last week, Stevens and HTC teammate Amber Neben were in Augusta, Georgia. They returned on Monday and yesterday Stevens won her second national time trial championship in a row. On Sunday, they, along with Amanda Miller and Ally Stacher, will look to pull the road race jersey that eluded Stevens in Bend, Oregon, a year ago.

In just her third national championships since her upstart 2009 season, Stevens topped former world champion Neben by less than a second Thursday. Neben was runner-up in 2010 as well when Stevens scored her surprise win. The two-time champ told VeloNews about pulling the stars-and-stripes skinsuit over the last 12 months.

“It’s such a great honor. Every time. Overseas and in the U.S.,” said Stevens. “Today was a big focal point of my year.”

After a solid spring campaign in Europe, Stevens finished second to Clara Hughes in the Pan-American Games TT and had a rocky go of the Amgen time trial in Solvang, California. She finished 39 seconds behind Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) in the last long test against the clock before nationals.

“Of course you try to take something from every race you do. I learned a lot from the Amgen TT to develop into this race,” said Stevens before crediting her pre-race trip to Augusta with Neben and director Ronny Lauke. “I’m so new to the sport, competing against Kristin Armstrong and Amber, you have to have your A game.”

With her win, Stevens automatically qualified for the world championships in Copenhagen this fall, as well as the long team for the London 2012 Olympics. Armstrong this spring said that the upcoming worlds, the last before the Games, were the most important benchmark leading up to London. Stevens said Thursday she is gunning for the Olympic time trial, something she never dreamed of until late last year.

“For me, I would love to go for it. For women’s cycling, worlds and the Olympics are the events,” she said. “I never thought I would be a pro athlete let alone go to the Olympics. I never thought in my wildest dreams I would ever have a chance of going.”

Now, in just her second year as a full-time professional, Stevens has an inside line on that selection. With a podium finish at worlds, one of the USOC selection criteria for the women, she would be a virtual lock to make the four-woman squad. With her dual ability as an all-rounder in the road race, some might argue that even without the worlds podium she’s an odds-on favorite the selection, which the committee will finalize next June 15.

In the meantime, HTC has the job of winning the national road race title that Stevens missed in 2010 when Mara Abbott and Shelley Olds – then teammates at Peanut Butter & Co. – played the perfect team tactic to launch the former into the jersey for the second time. Stevens and company will skip Friday’s pancake-flat, four-corner criterium to focus on Sunday.

When asked whether that disappointment in Bend has stuck with her, Stevens said, “Of course.”

Although they’ll be tightly marked, Stevens said that her squad is strong enough – and united so closely – to take home the jersey that eluded them last year.

“The four of us were all there at (the finish of the Stillwater Criterium),” she said. “What’s so special is that we ride as a team. All we care about is, whoever it is, for HTC to win that jersey.”

Stevens said that, this being her sophomore season in Europe and returning to the U.S. in May, she arrived to Augusta mentally fresher than she did to Bend. When pressed on whether she’d imagined winning the TT and road race, she said no.

“Obviously it would be really exciting to have both, but honestly I’d be more excited for one of my teammates,” she said. “We want that jersey on HTC. All of us are of the same mentality and that’s what will allow us to ride well. To succeed at nationals, if we can ride that way, we’ll have a good shot.”

If the Stevens, Neben, Miller or Stacher stand atop the podium Sunday, that will make two HTC women arriving to the start of the final pre-Olympic world championships in their national champion’s uniform. That’s a lot of momentum for a tight-knit group headed for London.

USA Cycling Elite, U23 & Junior National Road Championships

Augusta, Georgia
June 22-26

The weekend’s main event is the national championships for elite, U23 and junior men and women in Augusta. It’s swampy hot right now in Georgia and the weather should play as big a factor as the parcours and the competition in the final results. Stevens and Jonathan Jacob (Indianapolis Cycling Club-NUVO Cultural Trail) took top honors in the time trial to open the elite racing Thursday. All categories will contest the criterium Friday, with road races split over the weekend with U23 men on Saturday and both elite categories on Sunday (U23 women race with elite women).

Tour of America’s Dairyland

Wisconsin, Illinois
June 16-26

The Tour of America’s Dairyland wraps up this weekend. Most of the heavy hitters have come and gone, with Jonathan Cantwell (V Australia), Rahsaan Bahati (Sklz-Pista Palace) and Laura Van Gilder (Mellow Mushroom) each taking wins in the milk race. Van Gilder and Sergei Tvetcov (Aerocat) led the overall standings ahead of the closing weekend for the down-home Midwest omnium. The finale includes Friday’s Fond du Lac Gran Prix, Saturday’s ISCorp Downer Classic and Sunday’s Madison Capital Criterium.

Glencoe Grand Prix

Glencoe, Illinois
June 25 4:00 p.m. (women) / 6:00 p.m. (men)
70 min. (women) / 85km (men)
$3,000 (women) / $15,000 (men)
*National Racing Calendar men only

Home of the 2010 men’s national professional criterium championships, the Glencoe Grand Prix is back this year and on the NRC for the first time. The Glencoe course is brutal, with a hard, full-speed right-hand corner at the bottom of the circuit and a tough, two-stepped climb to the finish. David Veilleux and Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colivita-Forno D’Asolo) won here last year with Daniel Holloway the first American and national champ.

Hyde Park Blast

Cincinnati, Ohio
June 25 6:55 p.m. (women) / 8:30 p.m. (men)
40 min. (women) / 90 min. (men)
$2,000 (women) / $10,000 (men)
*USA CRITS series

The heart of the USA CRITS series started last week in Grafton, Wisconsin, and continues Saturday in Cincinnati with the Hyde Park Blast. Grafton winner Van Gilder and Christian Helmig (Elbowz) lead the overall standings before the Blast, but neither were on the early start list. Defending Hyde Park men’s winner, Juan Pablo Dotti (Aerocat), was however.

Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix

Manhattan Beach, California
June 26 11:15 a.m. (women) / 2:10 p.m. (men)
$2,500 (women) / $15,000 (men)
*National Racing Calendar men only

The NRC criterium weekend continues Sunday on the west coast with the Manhattan Beach Grand Prix. With Jonathan Cantwell (V Australia), Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home) and Rahsaan Bahati (Sklz-Pista Palace) among the registered riders, the MBGP will be a seaside showdown between many of the country’s top crit racers.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.