After nearly a month of racing and training in France and Spain and a yearlong focus on capturing a result in the event, the Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies women’s team finished 4th overall in Sunday’s UCI World Championship Team Time Trial in Ponferrada, Spain. The six-woman team of Annie Ewart, Lauren Hall, Janel Holcomb, Leah Kirchmann, Brianna Walle, and Jade Wilcoxson averaged over 29 miles per hour to deliver a time of 45:59.10, just six seconds away from a spot on the podium. The US-based Specialized-lululemon team took home gold medals for the third consecutive year with a time of 43:35.35.
“This race was a big objective of ours this season. We brought a team here in the best position to do the fastest ride they could, and they delivered,” said Performance Director Kevin Field. “While missing the podium by six seconds leaves you feeling a bit gutted, the riders should have no regrets. The team proved it’s one of the best in the world today and we are extremely happy with the result.”
The rural course was defined by a highly technical finishing descent over its closing kilometers. Descending on time trial bikes can be particularly treacherous, and the mood was darkened slightly when race favorite Rabo Liv Cycling Team suffered a devastating crash in the final kilometer.
“It’s terrible to see what happened to the Rabo Liv team today,” said Performance Manager Pat McCarty. “We wish them the best – it was a fast, dangerous descent. In the pre-ride, we watched how everyone was navigating the downhill and it looked like it was going to be a bit of a controlled fumble out there. Especially on time trial bikes, descending is extremely tricky and you just have to accept it and go – we were definitely happy to see the team make it through in one piece.”
Field and McCarty, a new directing duo for the Optum p/b KBS women in 2014, made the team time trial a major emphasis for the team throughout the season, beginning with the team’s Southern California training camp in February.
“We really tried to build a year-long program around improving the team’s skill in the discipline,” said Field. “It began at training camp – just getting everyone comfortable riding in a tight formation on TT bikes is tough itself, and by continuing to practice things at different phases of the year, we saw a ton of improvement in both technique and speed.”
Several additional training camps throughout the season, including sessions following the Nature Valley Grand Prix and a standalone camp in Colorado later in the summer, helped prepare the team for one of cycling’s most technically difficult and truly team oriented disciplines. In 2013, the women finished 8th in the event, and their improved standing against the world’s best riders and teams helped validate Field and McCarty’s approach.
“It definitely verifies a lot of the additional training and teaching we did for the TTT this year,” said Field. “There are not many opportunities to actually race in a team time trail situation in the US, but I have had a lot of experience directing in Europe and Pat had a lot of racing experience in Europe, including winning a team time trial with the Garmin team at the Giro d’Italia, so we both have some knowledge about what it takes to deliver a really fast time.”
From 8th in the world to 4th in the world in one year’s time, the result is also positive sign heading into another incredible team opportunity in 2015 – the long awaited return of the World Championships to US soil in Richmond, Virginia after a nearly thirty year absence.
“This will certainly motivate the team for ’15 Worlds in the USA,” said Field. “They now have the confidence to know they are within reach of a podium against the world’s top teams, and we plan on another year-long program to get the team ready for Richmond.
UCI World Championship Team Time Trial Results
1 Specialized – Lululemon 0:43:35.35
2 Orica – Ais 0:01:17.56
3 Astana BePink Womens Team 0:02:19.64
4 Optum presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies 0:02:25.75
5 Boels Dolmans Cycling Team 0:02:26.33
6 UnitedHealthcare Professional Cycling Team 0:02:43.80
7 Bigla Cycling Team 0:02:55.54
8 Team Giant-Shimano 0:03:45.05
9 Hitec Products 0:04:01.38
10 Rusvelo 0:04:07.66
11 Tibco / To The Top 0:04:10.25
12 Btc City Ljubljana 0:04:19.93
13 Topsport Vlaanderen – Pro – Duo 0:05:45.82
14 Rabo Liv Women Cycling Team 0:10:05.32