Our goal for the queen stage was to put Sam Schneider, Vero Fortin, Lauren Hall or me up the road. With the team represented in the break, Megan Guarnier and Amanda Miller could conserve energy in the bunch before climbing up to Volterra (twice!) at the end of stage two.
Around 20 kilometers into the race, the break went up the road. I was back at the car getting my bike worked on at the time, so I missed the move. As I made my way back to the field, I saw riders off the front, and I picked up my pace. I needed to get to the bunch as quickly as possible to ensure that Team TIBCO was represented in the move – if we weren’t, I would play a role in chase.
When I got to the front, I realized pretty quickly that Lauren had made the break. I think she has made the break in nearly every race this entire trip. It’s pretty impressive. She definitely gets the MVP award for this block of racing in Europe.
With Lauren up the road, we were pretty happy with the race situation. Most other teams were as well. Faren Honda missed the move, so they weren’t as happy. In fact, they were doing quite a bit of work in an attempt to bring them back. The rest of us were sitting behind them, watching them attempt to get organized. Nicole Cooke (Faren Honda) must have died a thousand deaths on the front. She would take these monster pulls, get popped, come back to the front and take another huge pull before getting popped again. She did this over and over and over again.
That’s mostly how the stage went. Faren Honda worked. The rest of us sat behind. The break opened the gap up the road.
At some point in the second hour of racing, I crashed. I’ve crashed with some regularity when training and racing mountain bikes these last two or three years, but I’ve been fortunate enough to escape crashes on the road for the last couple of years. Luckily, as far as crashes go, this one wasn’t too bad.
I was fighting for position with another rider, and she started to make a big noise about it, so I backed off and let her have the space she wanted so badly. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but she must have hit something or someone on her left – and she bounced into me. I bounced into the ground and fell facing backwards with my arms up in the air, hoping not too many people would run into me. (Amazingly, no one did).
I escaped with a bit of road rash and big bruise on my hip and a few other scrapes here and there. My bike emerged in better shape than I did, so I was able to get back without too much trouble. I rejoined the peloton quickly and went straight back to the front to help the team control things again.
The first categorized climb came somewhere around the 60 kilometer mark. Everyone stayed together over the third category climb. The break remained up the road with an ever-increasing lead. When we hit the bottom of the Volterra for the first time, Lauren’s group had a six minute advantage.
Fabiana Luperini (Faren Honda) went to the front and set a wicked pace that blew the field to bits and pieces. I actually felt pretty good today, which I was really happy about, but I started the climb too far back and missed out on the climber’s group. As we churned towards the summit, a few riders began to open up gaps. I made my way around them and closed a pretty significant gap myself to ride myself into the group with which I would end up finishing the race.
The group, which included Vero, set a pretty good tempo the first time up the climb. We weren’t racing full gas, but we didn’t want to be out there all day, so we weren’t riding “piano” either. We set a pace that stung but nothing crazy, and we weren’t attacking each other.
We made it over the top of the climb the first time and immediately hit the descent. The downhill portion was pretty fun despite the wind that made some of the hairpin turns a little sketchy. We made our way around to the other side of the Volterra, and from there it was ten kilometers uphill to the finish.
Once again, the group set a steady pace up the climb. At that point, I didn’t know if the break had stayed away or how things had played out for everyone ahead of me, so when we got to the top, I was thrilled to hear that Lauren’s break was a winning move. She finished second on the stage and moved up to second on general classification. Basically, the break now occupies all the top places on the overall.
Lauren has been racing so strong during our entire European block of racing. I’m really excited how she has stepped up her game during this last trip. Lauren has had a strong season all around, but this block of racing, and in particular yesterday, tops the charts. She has been working really hard – every, single day – and she deserves a top spot on the general classification.
We’ll see what will change in the next two days of racing. We’re committed to do anything and everything to get Lauren or someone else from the team into the leader’s jersey. That said, today was the queen stage, and I’m not sure how much things can change given the profiles of the last two stages. You never know what can happen in bike racing, though, so we’ll go out there and continue to ride aggressively, play our cards and see what we can do.
Pictures today include some of the amazing scenery spotted from atop the Volterra. Didn’t have a chance to enjoy it much during the race. Luckily my teammates let me stick around at the finish for a few minutes to capture these shots to share with you. (Scroll below the images for my Strava file + results)