The first road stage of the Tour de ‘Toona included a punishing hilltop finish. As predicted, the ascent on Blue Knob shattered the field and saw riders trickle across the line one by one.
Tara Whitten started the day in the leader’s jersey less than two seconds ahead of teammate Jennifer Wheeler. The two time trialed to the top podium spots during yesterday’s opening prologue, and Team TIBCO was ready to defend yellow.
“We had a plan, and, for the most part, we stuck to it,” said Team Captain Meredith Miller. “With a climb like this at the end of the race, team tactics often can’t play too big of role. It’s becomes a matter of who has the legs and who doesn’t — and how quickly we can each get ourselves to the top.”
“The team rode a great race,” Miller continued. “The course was a lot hillier than I expected. We managed to keep things together until the base of the climb. A few riders launched attacks to get away solo, but they were never out there for too long.”
Miller described a late race attack by Kristen Lasasso (NOW and Novartis for MS) as the only cause for concern.
“Lasasso made a move later in the stage and gained around a minute,” explained Miller. “I wouldn’t say we were worried. We just wanted to make sure that we reeled her in somewhat before the climb. I didn’t want us to full on chase. I also didn’t want us to soft pedal and watch her advantage creep up. We launched our own attacks to keep the field active and the pace high.”
The strategy proved successful as Lasasso was reabsorbed by the field before the climb would split things completely.
Whitten rode to sixth on the stage that Veronique Fortin (PX Express/HNZ Strategic.com), first atop Blue Knob, move into the yellow jersey. Whitten slipped to fourth and now sits 0:38 out of the race lead.
“Tara and Carmen [Small] both did well with the climb today,” noted Miller. “Tara especially did a really great job. Prior to the start, she wasn’t feeling that confident with how she’d go on the climb. I hope today gives her more confidence for Saturday. I know we can get the jersey back.”
While Miller, as usual, was full of praise for her teammates, she was less impressed with her own effort.
“I completely cracked,” she reported. She finished mid-pack in 34th place. “I had nothing. It felt like my brakes were rubbing.”
The less than stellar result came solely from time lost on the final climb. Prior to Blue Knob, Miller provided direction and leadership on the road. A teammate commented that she was impressed with Miller’s ability to always be in exactly the right place over the rollers that gave way to the mountaintop finish.
“It’s disappointing to not be able to perform the way that I know I’m capable of racing,” said Miller. “It’s bad legs not bad luck. I’ll need to talk to my coach to address what kind of changes I need to make if this continues. I should be able to hang with girls who finished far in front of me on a climb like this.”
Miller will have tomorrow’s rest day to find her climbing legs before racing continues on Saturday with a 91-mile road race that includes a section with an 18% gradient.