After back-to-back wins at Joe Martin, we started stage three with a single goal in mind – to protect Claudia’s pink leader’s jersey. Claudia did all the work on stage one to put herself in the lead by 6” over Ali Powers (NOW). We helped her pick up four bonus seconds on stage two to start stage three with an extra cushion of 12” over Powers (a 2” gap at the finish helped extend her lead). Our objective today was to keep Claudia safe in the bunch and further extend her lead in the process.
In our pre-race meeting we discussed various scenarios that would allow us to accomplish the task at hand. We knew that we would want to be attentive, but if one or two people got up the road, we wouldn’t necessarily want to bring the move back right away – or at all. We’d look to control the race and keep any gaps that opened at a reasonable distance. In the finish, we’d position Claudia for the sprint if bonus seconds were up for grabs and ideally secure additional seconds for her or, minimally, prevent Ali from gaining any time. Essentially, this is how the race played out.
The rain soaked course was an out and back with two circuit laps in the middle. We rode 11 miles out to the circuit, rode around the circuit twice and then headed back to the start/finish. After rolling slowly for about nine miles, NOW launched their first missive – and then another and another. We calmly shut each attack down until Alexis Ryan escaped just before the climb we call ‘The Wall’ early on in the first lap. We were unbothered by the solo move, so we let her go and kept her pegged at 30”. Had we brought her back, the attacks would have started all over again, so allowing Alexis to stay up the road actually made the race a bit easier for us to control.
The first time up the climb was pretty mellow as Alexis set the pace up front. After ‘The Wall’, we hit a series of rollers on our way to the first intermediate sprint. With bonus seconds on the line, people got a little fired up for the sprint, so the attacks began again. The injection in pace brought Alexis back to the group.
There were a few counter-attacks once Alexis had been caught, none of which had any impact. Finally, at the end of the first lap, Katie Donovan (NOW) and Amber Jackson (Optum) slipped away from the bunch. Rushlee went with the move. They opened up a decent sized gap fairly quickly, extending their lead to more than a minute inside the start of the second lap. We came to the front to control the advantage before we hit ‘The Wall’ for the second time. Over the top of the climb, Rushlee was called back to the bunch to help keep the duo at a more comfortable distance.
Seven miles from the finish, race radio reported a car accident on the course that blocked the road to the finish. Directors were warned that the finish line might be moved to a point ahead of the accident if the roads did not clear quickly. Upon hearing this news, Manel had Chantal go to the front and shut the break down. She drilled it and managed to bring back one minute in one mile (which is super quick!). In the end, the road was clear, and the race continued all the way to the finish.
We were back together five miles from the finish, and the last ditch effort attacks came fast and furious. We did a great job marking and following, keeping the race together for a sprint. With Shelley as her lead out, Claudia was third fastest on the stage behind Joelle Numainville (Optum) and Mia Loquai (ISCorp). With the four bonus seconds Claudia earned for the third on the stage, she starts the final stage criterium 16” ahead of Ali.
The team did a fair amount of work out there today, but everything went according to plan, and we never felt like our lead was under real danger. We accomplished our objective – we kept Claudia safe and helped her get more time over her nearest competition. It was another perfect day from a team perspective.
We have one major obstacle left. Tomorrow’s criterium is no walk in the park. In fact, it’s reminiscent of Stillwater for those of you that are familiar with the beast of a race that closes out Nature Valley Grand Prix each year. The circuit is fairly technical with a major climb on the front side of the course and a flying descent on the course’s backside. I expect we have our work cut out for us tomorrow, but we all feel very confident that we can keep Claudia’s jersey. Wish us luck!
[...] Stage Race – we really liked Meredith Miller‘s race reports – Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3 and Stage [...]