The US Pro Road National Championships return to Knoxville for a sixth time in seven years this week, from June 22-25, bringing an end to the long run of racing in Tennessee. A familiar sight on the women’s road race podium over those years has been Coryn Labecki with three second placings and a victory in 2018 while in the pro criterium she earned the bronze in 2021, finishing fourth or fifth in her four other appearances.
Labecki returned to the US in early June to prepare for another go at the stars-and-stripes jersey. She has had a full schedule of spring Classics for Jumbo-Visma and two early-season stage races, which included a podium and top 10 at Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. Now back in North America she will be be lining up in both the pro criterium and the road race, which will be heading to a new, as yet unannounced destination, in 2024..
Either title would be fine, Labecki said since “I always race to win”.
“I am definitely motivated for this year’s nationals especially since it will be the last year here. Knoxville has been good to me and I intend to end the time here well,” she told Cyclingnews.
Prior to Knoxville, she owned another pair of runner-up finishes in the road race for a total of five. So a fifth place in one of her favourite races was disappointing last year, with the rider noting that “I broke my second place curse but went the wrong direction results wise”.
Labecki returned to the US after getting sick right after the Women’s Tour of Britain last year. This year, however, she says she’s healthy and ready to go.
“Last year was definitely a struggle in the second half of the season. I picked up a stomach virus before Nationals, then went directly to altitude after [Knoxville] to prepare for Tour de France, but that backfired being there. I attempted to turn it around for Worlds but broke my collarbone at the end of August and was forced to end my season early and miss Worlds,” Labecki recounted.
“After my off-season and recovering, I started training earlier for this season but I still had a hard time this spring. I did my best to help the team with the form I had. I’ve had a good training block at home in the US and looking forward to my next goals this season.”
That domestic training block included a start at the Armed Forces Cycling Classic outside Washington, D.C. She had not raced there since 2016, when she won one of the two race days. No surprise, this time she finished in the closing bunch for sixth place.
“I grew up racing crits; that’s how I learned my race craft,” she said. “I raced Air Force since I was in the area and got a feel for racing in the US again. Felt good to be back racing in the US. It’s certainly different to what I used to know and also what it used to be when I was racing the crit circuit.”
The California native feels right at home in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, since the hot and humid terrain was where she trained each spring with her Marian University cycling team. Even though the team hit the Appalachian hills in March with slightly cooler temperatures, the familiar roads make it a relaxing environment for Nationals.
“I really do love the riding down here and am thankful I had the opportunity to learn about these roads while I was attending Marian University on spring break,” she told Cyclingnews. “To be honest, I love the area. I mean, I travel all over the world and I always come out here a week early to try and get used to the heat.
“Being in Knoxville healthier than last year is already a great start. I’m also thankful to have family and friends travel to watch me race. I love this event for gathering the people that mean a lot to me.”
She has no teammates from Jumbo-Visma at Knoxville for Nationals, which could be a major disadvantage for some riders. However, she will again have support from Professional Cycling Foundation, with qualifying riders receiving mechanical, logistical and ground support that their foreign trade teams are unable, or unwilling, to provide.
From the lofty roads of Tennessee to lofty goals in Europe, she hopes to continue in the summer for another try at the Tour de France Femmes, then the World Championships.
“A win at the women’s Tour de France, it’s a big goal,” said Labecki of her pursuit of a stage victory at the French race.