Here’s how we started the day.
From there, we had a hard race, but raced very well as a team. I think we had the best display of teamwork out there that day. We had a plan going into the day to save Janel and myself for the climb. Brie, Amber and Grace were suppose to cover early breaks so we could sit in and relax. They did their job perfectly and delivered us to the base of the climb. Once their jobs were done, they were free to blow up.
We suffered up the climb and to our surprise our little sprinter was right there with us! So, much for just being a sprinter! We re-grouped after the climb, looked at who was left and decided Lauren would work our break and cover attacks while Janel and I sat in.
Lauren covered an attack that I felt had all the right people in it to establish a break, so I bridged up to it. I was then able to sit in while Lauren again continued to work selflessly to bring our break to the base of the climb. Janel was in the chase group marking Evie Stevens, Alison Powers and Mara Abbot, our biggest threats on the climb. Tactically, we had set ourselves up perfectly.
Lauren brought me to the base of the climb, we had 1:30 gap on the peloton. We climbed steadily and only lost about 30 seconds on the climb. Mara bridged up to us, Evie didn’t make it. I kept looking back to see if Lauren was still with us. If I lost her, I’d be isolated in the break with 4 Exergy riders. That would be bad. She stayed right with us and made it over the climb with about a group of 8 riders.
Once we were back on the flats, it was a sprinters game. So, Lauren and I decided she would sit and I would protect her. So, I went to the front and started working to maintain our break and let Lauren rest up for a possible sprint finish. Mara Abbott then attacked and I made the mistake of not going with it. I thought those of us in the break would work together to bring it back, but they left it up to Taylor Wiles and me. We took some hard pulls to try to bring Mara back but it wasn’t working and I wasn’t interested in killing myself dragging the whole break back up to Mara just so another Exergy rider could attack us. When you’re a climber and you make it over the wall with a kick ass sprinter like Lauren Hall, you don’t want to bring her to the line. So, as soon as Mara would have been reeled in, another counter attack would have launched.
So, to avoid constant attacks from other teams, I attacked the group and bridged up to Mara. I had her within about 5 seconds when she had an unfortunate mechanical. I blew by, put it in overdrive and pushed as hard as I could to increase my gap. Once Mara was gone, Kristen McGrath bridged up with 2 laps to go. With an Exergy and Optum rider up the road, half of the group Lauren was this wouldn’t work to bring us back. So, Lauren just had to watch a couple riders, mainly Alison Powers.
On the last lap, we were getting reeled back in. the gap went from a minute down to 5 seconds. With 4k to go we were at 10 seconds, but still losing ground. I considered my options. At the speed we were going, we were definitely going to get caught. If I attacked and Kristen held my wheel, she would basically have a free ride to the finish and possibly sprint around me at the line. If I attacked and blew up, I was confident the chase group would catch us and Lauren would sprint for the win. I had no choice but to go all in. With about 3k to go, I attacked Kristen and she couldn’t close the gap.
I rode as hard as I possibly could to that finish line. I was sure they were going to catch me. I kept looking back and then telling myself to put my head down and don’t look back. I reminded myself how hard Janel rode off the front in stage 2 of Gila and told myself if she can do it, I can do it.
I guess now we all know how the rest unfolded….
I truly wish the entire team could wear stars and stripes for the rest of the year. Every single one of them deserves it, I just happened to be the lucky one that crossed the line. Cycling is funny that way. It is 100% a team sport, but in many ways, only one person gets the recognition.
Thanks to Optum Pro Cycling for providing me the means to accomplish this goal, to our sponsors, our director Rachel Heal for turning herself inside out for us, our awesome support staff Jeremy and Mike, and my coach Kendra Wenzel. We all have a share in this accomplishment.
Thank you Casey B Gibson for the photo documentation.