Women’s PD Kevin Field reports on two highly competitive races at North Carolina’s Winston-Salem Classic.
Biking is a series of ups and downs, and you’re always fighting to keep things going up and up.
The women’s season so far has been for the most part a sequence of ups. That trend continued in Winston-Salem, a two day event featuring a UCI 1.2 road race and criterium. We came to this race with some butterflies as a team – we knew our riders were ready to race and capable of winning, but the “new-ness” of the race and the incredible field that the organization was able to attract ratcheted things up a bit.
This would not be a typical domestic NRC race. There was significant horsepower from Europe. We knew Shelly Olds (Cippolini Team) would be good, and probably the favorite to win. We also had riders like Elena Cecchini , Polish Champion Eugenia Bujak, rising stars like Liisi Rist, and some extremely strong teams from Colombia and Mexico on the start list. It was definitely the most competitive field we have seen all year.
Next, the course – a huge congratulations should go out to the organizer for designing a truly balanced course. It was “heavy”, with lots of undulations that would wear on the field, and the final 2km were set to make for a really interesting finale. As a course that has never been raced, there were no historic patterns to study. making tactics a unique challenge.
Early on we wanted to let things develop and look for opportunities to breakaway with Janel Holcomb and Denise Ramsden. Jade wilcoxson and Brie Walle were working to contain the race from about 30km, ensuring no dangerous riders got away. In the final 30km, the race got very active, and several times we had great representation in splits or small moves, but nothing was staying away. The girls did great to pivot toward setting up a finale where Denise and Joelle could race for the win.
In the end, our girls delivered a great result. The final came down to a truly difficult sprint. It was crucial to have a front position over the top of the final climb. Jade delivered our Joelle and her leadout Denise to the top of the climb among the front five riders. From there, Denise punched it hard over the top and through the technical left/right corners with 400 meters to go. Denise had to keep the pressure on for another 200 meters to let Joelle get the jump on Shelley. In the end Shelley got the best of Joelle at the line. She is one of the best riders in the world, and Joelle just coming back from an injury that seriously hampered the start of her season. She’s only been riding outside and racing for 2 weeks! So all things considered, it was a fantastic result.
Day two’s criterium is where our great season took an inevitable dip. It wasn’t a terrible race for us – we had five girls in the fray in a very active, hard, and technical criterium. Jade, Denise and Janel were all active throughout the race, attacking and making moves. Nothing was sticking or the combination of riders just wasn’t right for us – we were always getting marked by a dangerous sprinter. Time for the back-up plan.
Our back-up plan hinged off Joelle and Brie, with Brie being the designated “go-to girl” for the day. Unfortunately she just didn’t have the legs, and neither did Joelle. Brie is coming back from a nasty concussion and a dip in fitness due to her early season race block in Belgium and she’s still not back to 100%. In the final eight laps, we towed her into the front 10 to setup the final sprint, but she was gassed and couldn’t stay there. In those clutch situations, it can get hard to communicate. That’s what we had – a communication problem, and it that meant we couldn’t pivot the race to let Jade ride the final 3 – 4 laps for the win.
This weekend we took away some success and some important lessons on how to race better as a team. Overall, we’re really happy with where the team is at how we’re looking heading into the Tour of Britain.