(photo credit: Bart Hazen)
My European road race campaign is officially underway with stage one of Trophée d’Or. I arrived in France on Tuesday after a long but smooth travel day. Lauren Hall, Megan Guarnier, Sam Schneider and I had a few days to settle in and get acclimated before racing began. Amanda Miller rounds out our squad of five riders. Her block of racing began two weeks ago at the Route de France with the US National Team.
We expected the first stage between Saint-Amand-Montrond and Mehun-sur-Yèvre to come down to a bunch sprint. We were right. Still, there was plenty of action before the inevitable finish.
Despite the late start, we raced in extremely hot conditions. It was 41°C at the start line at 4PM. For those of you that don’t speak Celsius, that’s 106°F. Really stinking HOT.
We faced the first of three QOMs practically from the gun. According to the technical guide, the third category Cote de la Gazonneire was 4.5 kilometers from the start. It seemed to sneak up on us more quickly than that. Amanda was the first to cross the QOM line, taking top points. Later, she would manage third in the second and third QOMs. She’s not in the climber’s jersey yet, but we have our sights set on factoring into that competition.
The early first QOM got speeds up pretty quickly, but it was so early in the race that nothing much went away. After the initial increase in speed, people settled down a bit, and the race wasn’t that animated until we hit a long, wide open stretch of road. Crosswinds came into play here, and people were a lot more aggressive in this section. The field was strung out, and we were guttered in certain places. It was hard and fast – and totally manageable for us.
Although this section saw more attacks than any other section, the field stayed together. Various riders tried to get away, but no one gained any time. I’d guess that the maximum advantage any move attained was less than 20 seconds.
We were always present at the front. I was still testing the waters a bit. Today was my first European road race in three years. I was happy to notice that I immediately felt comfortable in the bunch, but I wasn’t represented in moves or near the front as much as I wanted to be.
As it became clear that other teams were invested in a sprint finish, we sat back a bit and began to play it safe. We were going with moves that had the potential to be significant, but we weren’t doing much to animate the race on our own.
The speed of the peloton varied quite a bit throughout the stage. Because of the heat, everyone fed far more than usual. It was brutal out there. We’d slow down to allow teams to take on drinks. We’d pick up the pace when everyone was back together again.
The first part of the race took us from Point A (the start town) to Point B (the finish town). Once we arrived in the finish town, we crossed the finish line for the first time to complete an 11-kilometer loop. We then crossed the finish line for a second time to complete the first of two three-kilometer loops to wrap up the stage.
The field was together coming into the longer loop. This loop included the last QOM. The second and third QOMs were fairly insignificant. The first was by far the steepest and longest. With the other two, I barely even noticed that I was going uphill, so we tackled those pretty quickly.
We hit the finish for the second time to start the last two three-kilometer loops. The bunch remained together, and the pace was consistently high. A lot of people were getting pushed around and bumping off wheels at this point. Even though I felt comfortable in the bunch, I wasn’t quite ready for all that, so I rode somewhere in the first third of the peloton. Megan and Sam represented us on the front.
There was a significant crash inside the final kilometer. Sam went down, and Amanda and I were caught behind riders on the ground. Megan made it through and she ended up taking fifth on the stage. Elena Cecchini (Mcipollini) took the stage win and will wear the leader’s jersey at the start of our double day tomorrow.
The day begins with a team time trial in the morning. We’re heading into stage two with every intention of winning. I haven’t been here enough recently to know what teams work together well in this discipline or really to have a good sense of what individuals have been time trialing well. I do know that the top time trailing teams are in Vargarda, Sweden for two World Cup races, including the only stand alone team time trial event ahead of the team time trial at Worlds. Without the top tier of that discipline, I think we have a reasonably good chance of taking the win. If not, something would have to go wrong for us not to ride into one of the lesser podium places.
There’s a 95-kilometer road stage tomorrow, too. We’ll think about that after we get through the team time trial.
Strava file from Trophée d’Or Stage 1.
Want to know more about Trophée d’Or? Check out this English language guide to the race that includes stage descriptions, profiles and more.