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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 25th, 2011
The third and final USA Cycling National Championship title is up for grabs tomorrow in the 120 kilometer road race. Team Captain Meredith Miller will lead a seven-rider Team TIBCO squad on its quest for victory.
“I think tomorrow will be a race of attrition if it’s raced hard,” said Miller. “Those climbs will take their toll on our legs. The course is hard enough, and with the heat on top of the terrain, people will feel an impact.”
Temperatures have soared in the mid- to high-90s with high humidity in Augusta, GA. Even during the relatively short time trial, weather was a factor.
“The course is wide open and exposed, and the sun will be barring down on us,” explained Miller. “We have to stay focused on hydration and nutrition much more than usual. We can ruin our chances before we even get to the start if we’re not well-hydrated.”
The women’s field will contest five-laps of a single 24 kilometer loop.
“The course is one big circle,” Miller explained. “We don’t make any actual turns. There is one or two soft turns, but other than that it’s just following the loop. The first 11-12K is rolling with no flat road between. We’ll either being going up or down. The last half of the course is flatter and faster until we get to the last climb up to the finish. The final climb begins about one kilometer from the line and then flattens out for maybe the last 300 meters or so.”
Miller calls the course a “power riders course” and suspects that it won’t necessarily favor the climbers or the sprinters.
“The person who wins tomorrow will be somebody who can go the distance,” noted Miller. “I really think that could be any rider on our team. We have a lot of different cards to play tomorrow, and we’re excited to use them all.”
Miller joked that the Team TIBCO juniors who collected six medals, including four golds, at Nationals have set a high standard for the elite team.
“It’s been awesome watching the juniors race, and it’s been cool to see the younger sisters [Alexis Ryan and Skylar Schneider] of both our teammates [Kendall Ryan and Sam Schneider] win two races each,” Miller said. “We keep joking that they’re putting the pressure on us. Alexis’ win in the road race sends her to Junior Worlds, and that’s a big deal. We’re stoked for her and excited to have her join us in the elite race tomorrow.”
Miller, the Ryan sisters and Sam Schneider will be joined by Megan Guarnier, Carmen Small and Jennifer Wheeler in tomorrow’s road race.
June 24th, 2011
The elite women took the line in Augusta, GA tonight for the USA Cycling Elite National Criterium Championships. The evening race had been scheduled for 50 kilometers but was shortened dramatically during the first third of the race due to thunderstorms.
“We went from 28 laps to go to five to go,” said Sports Director Lisa Hunt. “There was lightening and thunder in the distance. The wind picked up. It got super dark. It was clearly going to rain.”
Many predicted the race would come down to a bunch sprint, and the shortening of the race didn’t allow for many alternatives.
“Our plan had been to work to get into a break and then to start throwing bombs with five laps to go,” said Hunt. “When the call was made to reduce the race, Carman [Small] made a move, but she was pretty quickly brought back.”
A last lap crash contributed to the chaos and confusion.
“It happened right next to me,” said Team Captain Meredith Miller. “Girls were going down left and right.”
In the end, Shelley Olds (Diadora Pasta Zara) successfully defended her title to take the win ahead of Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita Forno d’Asolo) and Coryn Rivera (Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12). Rivera’s finish earned her the U23 National Criterium Championship Title. Sam Schneider was Team TIBCO’s top finisher in fifth.
“It’s really unfortunate the race ended the way it did,” said Miller. “I can’t say I’m too sad the race was shortened. The course was pretty boring, and it was wide open — making crashes inevitable — but for them to actually give out a jersey for less than thirty minutes of racing seems pretty unfair.”