Cascade Classic – Stage 4: Game Changer

The Downtown Twilight Crit is a fairly standard four corner course with two long stretches of wide road connected by two shorter ends. The only thing that provides a slight challenge is that the road narrows in the third corner. Riders outside of the top ten have to slow significantly going into corner three. The finish line comes about 400 meters from the final corner, and with a bit of a headwind last night, we knew it would be a long sprint.

We were in for a semi-surprise and a total game-changer during staging. The announcer began to call up the jerseys to the start line, and he said something to the effect of ‘We would normally start by calling up the yellow jersey, but she has hopped on a plane to prepare for the Olympics.’ – he was telling us that Kristin Armstrong (Exergy Twenty12) had withdrawn. The Olympic road race is only one week away, so some of us were surprised that she was here at all. So, while we weren’t entirely shocked about her withdrawal, we were surprised that we learned about it only minutes before starting the race.

Ahead of stage four, Kristin was leading the race by 2:23. She had won the first three stages, the prologue, first road stage and time trial, and her lead was starting to seem insurmountable. Remove Kristin from the equation and 18 seconds separate the top three riders with Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis for MS) leading Carmen Small (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) by 14 seconds. My teammate Megan Guarnier was bumped up to third, four seconds behind Carmen. While we might have wanted the chance to rethink tactics, the timing of the announcement regarding Kristin’s withdrawal made that impossible.

Really, though, we knew we wanted to be aggressive, and we knew we wanted to be in a break with at least two other riders to allow the escape group to gobble up the time bonuses available on the finish. Kristin or not, our strategy there remained the same.

We gave it our best effort to get something up the road. Certain other teams seemed to want a break as well. Northing formed off the front – at all. As the laps ticked down and the speed picked up, we knew we were heading for a field sprint.

The last few laps of the race were super hectic. Because of the way the course narrows, it’s possible for riders to go from the front of the bunch to the back in a matter of a half lap because of the narrowing, swarming and bunching in the turns. Being on the wrong side of the road could prove a critical error. It was easy to get pinched. The end of the race lacked organization in part because of this.

My teammates and I found each other in the last couple of laps. I knew it was a matter of getting on the right wheels and keeping the speeds high enough to string out the field. We had planned on having Sam Schneider on my wheel with Lauren Hall behind. Megan would be in the final position, and she’d sprint for the bonus seconds up for grabs on the finish line. My goal was to keep my teammates on my wheel rather than have them fight for position on the back of the Exergy train.

I chose to lead our train up the right side of the peloton because I had previously found myself pinched off on every lap when I had chosen to take the left hand side.  There was metal fencing that narrowed the road as it stuck out a bit between the second and third corners, and, as the fence pushed me in, I would be left with nowhere to go. I specifically mentioned to Sam that we’d be moving up on the right, and that’s what we did.

Apparently Jade Wilcoxson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) hadn’t experienced the same run-ins with the metal fence that forced me to choose the right side of the road because she jumped up the left hand side with Carmen on her wheel. The jump afforded them the chance to hit the third corner first, and they remained on the front out of the fourth turn. When the sprint opened up, Carmen came off of Jade’s wheel to take the win. Theresa Cliff Ryan (Exergy Twenty12) took second with Loren Rowny (Stevens Bikes p/b Pactimo) rounding out the podium. Megan managed to mix things up with the sprinters to come in fifth place.

There was nothing more I could have done as the finale unfolded, except be faster. I was sitting right next to Exergy’s train, and I honestly believed the right side was where we needed to be. When Jade and Carmen came up on the left, they were out of the wind but they were also in danger of getting pinched out of position.

Carmen’s win allowed her to put an additional ten seconds into Megan. Heading into the final day of racing, Ali leads by four seconds over Carmen with Megan an additional 14 seconds down. Today is going to be crazy with a full gas stage from the start. It’s anyone’s race to win on a very demanding circuit.

Stage results from the Cascade Twilight crit can be found here. 
With the overall battle heating up, you may want to check out GC results, too. 

Here’s my Strava file from the night.

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