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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.
June 26th, 2011
Meredith Miller wrapped up the USA Cycling National Championships as the highest placed rider for Team TIBCO on the final day of racing. Heading to the line as a part of a five-rider break that formed on the final lap of the race, Miller finished fifth. In the field, Sam Schneider sprinted to fifth in the bunch, tenth overall, to win the U23 National Criterium Championship title.
“It was tough out there today,” said Miller. “It was hot, and the course is hard. I’m really proud of Sam. She’s been riding so strong lately, and this is a well-deserved reward for her efforts.”
Team TIBCO animated the race from the start. Alison Starnes (Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12) put in the first true attack on the first climb on lap one. Jennifer Wheeler and Kasey Clark (Primal / Map My Ride) followed. Ally Stacher (HTC-Columbia) and Janel Holcomb (Colavita Forno d’Asolo) led the chase.
“The plan was that Wheeler would go at some point on the first lap anyways, so that was pretty perfect for us,” noted Miller. “Sometime during the third lap, we heard that Starnes was off the front alone, so we had free reign to start attacking.”
With Starnes away solo and Wheeler and Clark less than a minute from the bunch, Team TIBCO began its assault on the field.
“It was clear that everything was going to be chased down,” said Miller. “We weren’t the only ones attacking. HTC was being pretty aggressive at this point, too.”
The peloton caught Starnes on the first climb of the final lap of the race.
“From that point on it was attack, counter-attack, attack,” Miller said. “We wanted to make the race hard, so we were throwing bombs. We wanted to make people chase us — not the other way around.”
An attack from Amanda Miller would prove to form the winning move. Robin Farina (NOW – Novartis) and Kathleen Billington (Danbury Auto) jumped on her wheel. Eventually Miller and Andrea Dvorak (Colavita Forno d’Asolo) bridged across.
“I’m not exactly sure how the five of us came together,” explained Miller. “We were six at first but Alisha Welsh [Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12] got gapped off. I wasn’t feeling that great so I skipped a few pulls in the beginning but as we headed close to the line, I started to contribute. We worked well together.”
As the five-riders took even pulls, Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12 led the chase from behind. Their efforts were not enough to pull back the break. Heading into the final kilometer of racing, the break had thirty seconds on the group behind.
“The last K came up pretty quickly,” recalled Miller. “By the time we hit the final climb, I was feeling a little bit better, and I decided I should attack first. When I was thinking about where I wanted to make my move, Andrea went. Robin and Amanda followed her wheel, and I couldn’t close the gap.”
Two years ago, in Bend, OR, Miller was part of another five-rider move heading into the finish of the USAC National Road Championship. She was the first to attack her breakmates on the run-in towards the finish. The attack stuck, and she soloed to the line for her biggest career win to date.
“This was the exact same situation I was in two years ago, and I was able to win from the break then,” she said. “Obviously I’m extremely disappointed not to be able to repeat that here. I had the exact same feeling this year that I had then: ‘Don’t screw up. Don’t let anyone down.’ Last time things worked out perfectly. This year, not so much.”
Miller was unable to close the gap Dvorak’s acceleration created, and the three ahead came to the finish together with Farina beating Dvorak in a photo-finish. A. Miller rounded out the podium. Miller conceded fourth to Billington and nabbed the final medal up for offer with her fifth place finish. Twenty seconds later, Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita Forno d’Asolo) won the bunch sprint for sixth.
“The team rode a great race,” said Miller. “I wish I could have pulled off a better result for them. Sam winning U23 today was definitely a much-needed silver lining. I’m really proud of her.”
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.”
June 17th, 2011
Team TIBCO suffered some tough luck on the third stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. After animating the stage with aggressive attacks in the hopes of putting race leader Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12) on the defensive, sprinter Joëlle Numainville punctured on the gravel section that connects the large circuit of the race to the finishing circuit in downtown Cannon Falls.
“When Joëlle flatted, Carmen [Small] stopped to give her a wheel,” said Miller. “Unfortunately, we ended up losing both of them as a result. Neither of them were able to make it back up to the front group, and Carmen lost valuable time on the overall. Given Carmen’s current condition and where she had been sitting on the general classification, this was a tough break. The finish suited Jöelle, so it was a bummer to lose her for the sprint.”
Up until that point, the 66.5 mile race unfolded as Miller had predicted. “It was hard and fast from the gun,” Miller said. “Attacks were constant. If the crit last night was any indication of how the road race would go, we knew it would be hard race — and it was. It was hard and animated.”
HTC-Highroad shared Team TIBCO’s intent to make Peanut Butter & Company Twenty12 work to hold onto the race lead. “Our goal had been to get into a move with HTC and work the break,” explained Miller. “They raced super aggressively, and it was clear that if they had gotten into a move with us, they would have worked it. Lots of different combinations of riders got off the front. Although Peanut Butter never let any move get too far, they definitely expended a lot of energy defending the jersey. If we can keep wearing them down like that, hopefully that will give us the opportunity to make something happen for Erinne [Willock] in Stillwater.”
Without a sprinter to contest the stage that would eventually end in a bunch sprint, Miller’s main concern became keeping Willock safe.
“Megan [Guarnier], Sam [Schneider], Erinne and I ended up in the front group on the final circuits,” Miller said. “Those last six laps were fast. Erinne got into a good position right away, and she was able to hold it until the end. Basically, as the laps ticked down, all the teams started to set up for their sprinters.”
World Champion Giorgia Bronzini (Colavita Forno d’Asolo) took her second win of the race ahead of Chloe Hoskings (HTC-Highroad) and Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita Forno d’Asolo). Armstrong finished with the bunch to hold onto the leader’s jersey.
“Erinne finished the stage in eighth,” noted Miller. “She had to do a lot of work today. She covered attacks on the circuit. She really did a great job up there. The stage moved her up two spots, to eighth, on the overall.”
Miller also saw herself make a small leap in the general classification. Although she remains a minute behind Armstrong, she now sit just outside the top-ten in 11th place.
“My legs definitely felt better today than they did yesterday,” Miller said. “I wish I could have done more in the finishing circuits, but at the time, it was just so hard. It’s similar to how I felt after the time trial. Hindsight. I could have gone harder. I should have done this or that. At the time, though, harder didn’t feel possible.”
Once again, Miller lavished praise on her teammates. “All day long, we were all over everything,” she said. “We rode great as a team. We had a plan, and we executed it. I think that’s what stings the most about our bad luck. I’m confident we would have a good finish for Joëlle.”
Team TIBCO will have another chance to convert good legs into good luck on stage five in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. Pro women will race 30 laps of the evening criterium that follows a similar format to the one used during the St. Paul Downtown Criterium on Wednesday. With intermediate time bonuses and sprint points once again up for grabs, the stage promises to be another fast, exciting affair. Catch the LIVE action Friday night at 6:15PM (CDT) here.