The team opened a busy Memorial Day weekend of racing with standout performances in two countries. Leah Kirchmann won the Tour de Lafayette, the opening stage of St. Louis’ Gateway Cup race series, with Brad Huff taking second in the men’s edition of the popular main street criterium. Mike Woods got his first chance to test his climbing legs after his career defining performance in last month’s Tour of Utah, this time on native soil at the Tour of Alberta. Woods finished fifth in the race’s first climbing stage through the cold, alpine terrain of Jasper National Park.
Kirchmann, Huff Shine in St. Louis
Leah Kirchmann and Brad Huff contest the Gateway Cup for the Orange & Black – Huff flying solo, and Kirchmann alongside teammate Maura Kinsella. All three riders are recovering from big stretches of racing; Kirchmann And Kinsella from a month of racing in Europe, and Huff from two brutal high altitude contests at the Tour of Utah and USA Pro Challenge. Kirchmann opened the team’s account in St. Louis with a nail-biting victory, besting Lauren Tamayo (UnitedHealthcare) by a bike throw.
“It was really nice to get some down time after such a long time away in Europe,” said Kirchmann. “I’ve used these past few weeks to visit friends and family and get in a final block of training leading into Worlds in Richmond. I decided to race the Gateway Cup this week to get in some intensity and to work on my technical skills and sprinting. It was a fast race from the start, with many of the bigger teams attacking and looking for breakaway opportunities. UnitedHealthcare had their train set up on the final lap and were controlling the corners. Maura was able to help me hold my position near the front, and I jumped on the outside 100 meters from the final corner to attempt to overtake their train and the other sprinters. It ended up as a drag race to the line on the final straightaway, and I was able to come out on top.”
Huff, a Missouri native and a standout on the American criterium circuit, found himself back in his comfort zone after absorbing a liberal dose of punishment in Utah and Colorado. He found himself in another drag race to the line, finishing inches behind veteran criterium racer Dan Holloway (AltoVelo-Sea Sucker Factory Racing).
“Thank God for the Midwest! The Rocky Mountains are breathtaking, literally, but nothing beats a hot, humid, Midwest criterium,” said Huff. “I feel like my form is great after training the last two months with ‘America’s best sprinter’ Eric Young, and hopefully some of his ability rubbed off on me. The race was extremely fast, averaging close to 30 mph, and things got dangerous at times, mostly due to low light conditions of a 9:15 PM start time. Riding via braille isn’t fun when you’re leaned over at 30+ mph, with 130 guys doing the same thing. Unofficially, I took the fastest Strava lap for the course. BOOM! Real victory.”
Alberta Shocks Peloton With Cold, Snow, and Verticality
The first mountaintop finish in the Tour of Alberta’s history was a doozy, with temperatures hovering above freezing and a punishing sequence of climbs. Tom Zirbel formed part of a 6-man escape for the majority of the stage, attacking and dropping his breakaway companions late in the race before being reeled in by the splintered peloton. Inside 10 km to go, Guilaume Boivin and Jesse Anthony worked hard to position Woods for the steep roads to Miette Hot Springs.
See photos from stage 3 of the Tour of Alberta.
The Orica-GreenEDGE and Katusha teams drove the pace into the final kilometer, and Woods rolled the dice a final time with a solo attack. He was caught in sight of the line, ending the day in 5th. Woods hovers just outside the top 10 on the overall standings, but tomorrow’s 12 km climb to Marmot Basin Ski Area in Jasper National Park will be the true test in the hunt for yellow.
“We wanted to cover the early move to have an extra body late in the race, but otherwise it was all-in to set up Woodsy for the climb,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “Temperatures dropped into the 30s today, and it was cold and misting all day – it was pretty brutal out there. The stage win came down to the final kilometer, and Woodsy jumped a bit too early – he was closing a gap, had momentum, and noticed a hesitation at the front, so he went for it. It’s easy to second guess his decision in hindsight, but sometimes you just have to go for it, and no one is going to fault him for that. It was a very impressive performance, especially given the conditions today.”
More mountains are in store for the 8-man Tour of Alberta roster, while Kirchmann and Huff will continue to battle in the Gateway Cup sprint series as Memorial Day weekend rolls on.