Kira Payer never expected her first national championship jersey to be put over her shoulders in Thursday’s time trial.
The Fort Lewis College student and proud alumna of the FLC cycling team had a strong collegiate racing career and famously held the White Rim women’s fastest known time for one day before seeing her record broken last summer. But it was at the women’s under-23 time trial race Thursday at the USA Cycling Pro Road National Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she would earn her first stars and stripes jersey.
Payer, from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, conquered the winding course in 34 minutes, 22.68 seconds to win by 1:40.49 in front of Ava Sykes.
“It feels really good. I didn’t expect it, so I don’t know what to think at the moment,” Payer said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “I have struggled to come to terms with it. It’s been a lifelong dream, and to have it happen unexpectedly is pretty awesome.”
Payer, who has one semester left at FLC before graduation, rides professionally for CCB BikeReg team. She handled the two laps of racing for a total of 14.4 miles in a smooth fashion to earn the victory.
“It was a pretty technical course with a lot of out-and-backs,” she said. “There was a pretty substantial climb with a fast descent. Two laps of that made it tight, twisty and technical.”
Payer plans to race in the 71.2-mile road race Sunday morning in downtown Knoxville. Then, she will prepare for more of an off-road season this summer with races at the Leadville 100, Steamboat Gravel and gravel worlds before jumping back into the road calendar with the Joe Martin Stage Race and Tour of the Gila.
“Training has been going pretty good while trying to juggle it with work,” Payer said. “My coach, Carmen Small, has been doing a great job getting me into shape and prepared for anything to come. It’s been pretty smooth this year.”
The pro women’s time trial went to Olympian Chloe Dygert, who made her return to racing less than a year after a horrific crash at last year’s nationals. She finished ahead of Amber Neben and third-place rider Leah Thomas. Dygert’s winning time was 30:11.22.
The men’s race tackled three laps of the same course for 21.68 miles. Olympian Lawson Craddock won the pro race in 41:33.90, which was 17.54 seconds in front of second-place Chad Haga. Tejay van Garderen was third, 29.29 seconds behind Craddock.