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July 8th, 2011
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.
July 6th, 2011
World Track Champion Tara Whitten rode to a decisive victory on the opening prologue of the Tour de ‘Toona. She covered the three mile Altoona Sunset Time Trial in 5:39. Jennifer Wheeler finished less than two seconds back to secure second place. Anne Samplonioius (NOW and Novartis for MS) rounded out the podium.
“Obviously, this is a pretty fantastic result for the team,” said Team Captain Meredith Miller. “We all felt that Tara was very capable of winning the prologue, but to have Wheeler, who rode early on in the stage, in the hot seat for so long and then end up in second is really awesome. It’s a great way to start the Tour.”
Carmen Small made the top ten out of a field of nearly 80 riders. Her ride of 5:49 put her in ninth place. Miller sits 0:14 behind Whitten in 13th.
“I felt good tonight, so my result is a little bit disappointing — especially because I felt like I put in a good effort,” Miller said. “I haven’t been able to nail a time trial yet this season, but it is what it is. Right now, I’m focused on keeping a good head on my shoulder for all the hard racing that lies ahead.”
Tomorrow’s hard racing takes the form of a 74-mile road race with a hilltop finish up to Blue Knob.
“It’s a long, hard climb that is going to blow the race to bits,” predicted Miller. “I expect GC to get shaken up tomorrow.”
With four riders in the top-fifteen, Miller believes the team has multiple cards to play.
“There are a lot of really strong riders here, and we’ll need to see who is on form, but I expect us to be very competitive,” said Miller. “While Tara might not be well-suited for this type of course, Carmen, Carlee and I could fare well. Our plan to defend yellow includes the possibility that it might be on someone else’s back within the team come tomorrow night.”
June 19th, 2011
Erinne Willock finished fourth on the final stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Part of an elite group of twelve riders that made the selection forced by a fast, hard tempo set by HTC-Highroad, Willock’s finish on Stillwater clinched her second-place position on the general classification. Team Captain Meredith Miller watched the action unfold from the sidelines.
“My race was pretty much over before it began,” said a disappointed Miller. “A rider dropped a chain on the run-up to Chilkoot Hill on the first lap, and the reaction behind forced about 30 riders to unclip. Megan [Guarnier] and I, unfortunately, were among those caught behind. Without having any momentum leading up to the climb, it was nearly impossible to chase back on to the riders in front of us. I had to run up the hill.”
“After I pulled from the race, [Sports Director] Lisa Hunt asked why we hadn’t taken a free lap,” continued Miller. “This race is so different than any other criterium — it didn’t even occur to me to go to the pit! It was such a bone-headed move. Luckily, I can take some solace from knowing, in hindsight, that it wasn’t a game-changer for the team.”
Two laps into the thirteen lap race, the front group had dwindled to a group of around 30 riders. Along with Willock, Joëlle Numainville, Carmen Small and Sam Schneider represented Team TIBCO on the front. Two laps later the group would split into two. Willock and Numainville made the front group along with race leader Amber Neben and three of her HTC teammates, Giorgia Bronzini, Kristin Armstrong and Kristin McGrath (Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12), Anne Samplonious (NOW & Novartis), Katyee Boyd (Bike NZ), and Jade Wilcoxson (Nature Valley Pro Team).
“Carmen and Sam were in the group behind, and Leah Kirchmann [Colavita Forno d’Asolo], who was in third place overall, was in that second group as well,” said Hunt. “It was good for us that she was gapped off. Carmen and Sam didn’t do any work — they didn’t have to do any work — to chase back to the first group.”
Chase efforts from the second group proved futile as HTC set a brutal tempo up front. Kristin Armstrong attacked from the group a few times, but her efforts did nothing to force a further selection or allow her to get away.
“We had talked about attacking today, but we knew it would be a bit risky,” said Willock. “Evie [Stevens] (HTC-Highroad) got to sit in a little yesterday, and I was worried she would counter any move we would make. She was close enough on the overall that we couldn’t afford to allow her to get away.”
Instead, Willock followed wheels keeping a close eye on both Neben and Armstrong. Following the penultimate climb, Armstrong accelerated, and Stevens jumped to cover the move. Brozini charged from behind to close the gap to the duo. Willock and Neben followed. The five riders descended together and came across the start line with a gap on the now shattered front group.
Stevens attacked first, but the stage belonged to Bronzini who came around Stevens for the her third stage win of the race. Armstrong finished third on the stage with Willock on her wheel.
“By the last lap, my goal had become to hold onto to second in GC,” explained Willock. “I did — so it was good. We had a really good day with fourth on the stage and maintaining our position on the overall. I’m happy with it.”
The Nature Valley squad will now part ways as the American contingent heads to Augusta, GA for USA Cycling Elite Nationals and the Canadians make their way to Ontario for Canadian Cycling Nationals. Emma Mackie, Jo Kiesanowski and Carlee Taylor will represent Team TIBCO at the Glencoe Grand Prix.
June 18th, 2011
After patiently waiting for good luck and good legs to align, Team TIBCO reaped the benefit of aggressive racing on stage five of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Erinne Willock finished third in Menomonie from a group of eight that had gained a gap of 1:13 on the field. Her efforts earned her the most aggressive jersey and catapulted her from eighth to second overall.
Race Leader Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12) missed out on the move and suffered the consequences. Amber Neben (HTC-Highroad), the highest-placed GC rider in the break, will start the final stage oin yellow. Willock is 21 seconds back on Neben. Stage five winner Leah Kirchmann is in third.
“Everybody rode strong today,” said Jo Kiesanowski. “It was awesome teamwork. We looked like the strongest team out there. We had two of the seven riders in the initial move, and then, when Erinne bridged up, we had three riders. It was great that we really got it together today to produce such fantastic results.”
Megan Guarnier found herself off the front with Robin Farina (NOW and Novartis) on the first QOM. Shortly after their catch, counter-attacks started to fly.
“Things reshuffled a bit,” said Sports Director Lisa Hunt. “I don’t know who initiated the move, but I know the girls made sure they were in it.”
Seven riders slipped away from the field. Guarnier and Sam Schneider represented TIBCO in a move that included Leah Kirchmann (Colavita Forno d’Asolo), Anna Barensfield (Missing Link), Ally Stacher (HTC-Highroad), Taylor Wiles (Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12) and Inga Cilvinaite (Diadora Pasta Zara).
“Megan and Sam worked the break and saw the gap grow to over two minutes,” said Hunt. “As the gap grew, the break became less cohesive. Ally, Taylor and Leah stopped working, and the gap was reduced to 30 seconds by the second QOM.”
Neben bridged across the break shortly after the second QOM. Her added firepower, plus the cooperation of her teammate, Stacher, allowed the break’s advantage to climb once again.
“On the third QOM, Amber and Leah got a gap,” said Hunt. “At most, their advantage was around 20 seconds, and they only stayed away for about five kilometers.”
Behind, Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12 put their entire team on the front in an effort to bring back the break.
“Peanut Butter was chasing all day,” said Team Captain Meredith Miller. “Their riders would come to the front. Take hard pulls. Go backwards. Come to the front again. Take another pull. Go backwards. All day. Even Kristin spent a lot of time on the front. The rest of the peloton never had to touch the wind because Peanut Butter took complete control of the chase.”
Wiles sat up in the break and dropped back to contribute to the chase. Even with her help, the seven-riders remained seemingly untouchable out front. When Willock realized the move had a chance to be the winning break, she launched an attack at the top of the QOM.
“When Erinne made it up to the break, Amber and Leah were still off the front,” said Hunt. “The break came back together before the finishing circuits. Their gap yo-yo’d between 35 seconds and a minute as they headed back into town.”
The break hit the final circuits with a 35 second advantage on the Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12-led field.
“We wanted to keep the pace as high as possible on those circuit laps,” said Schneider. “With one lap to go, our gap had grown to over a minute. Ally, Amber, Erinne and I kept rotating, and I took the last pull. I dug deep on the last straightaway and kept it as fast I could. Once I was done, Erinne attacked shortly before the last corner.”
Kirchmann and Neben would pass Willock in the sprint.
“We weren’t really too concerned with the place,” said Schneider. “We just wanted to increase the gap on that last lap to earn as much time back on the overall as possible.”
“With the time bonuses available at the finish, Erinne essentially lost two seconds to Amber,” explained Miller. “Still, she clearly gained more than she lost. It was really the best possible scenario today. The fact that Sam and Megan were both there in the break when it formed. We already had the numbers up there. When Erinne jumped across and gave us three in a break of eight, it was incredible. We’re really happy with our day.”
Still, she knows much work lies ahead, and Stillwater, the sixth and final stage of the NVGP, is often a game-changer.
“Tomorrow is going to be a hard race,” noted Miller. “Kristin is not going to simply give up. We’re going to have to think tactically and consider all our options. HTC has Amber, Evie [Stevens] and Ally in the top-ten overall, so we’re in a tough position given the number of cards they have to play. There’s still a lot of racing left. Anything can happen tomorrow. We’re prepared to do everything we can to be there for Erinne.”