Carmen Small (Specialized-lululemon) and her teammates put in a smart race on the long and wind-swept Cannon Falls course, letting the teams with greater numbers of riders battle it out for breakaways and hitting hard when it counted. Her decisive kick up the finishing hill to the finish line from five riders back gave her the stage win and with it a 12 second time bonus which was enough put her in the yellow leader’s jersey.
Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare) started the stage 10 seconds ahead of Small, but finished five seconds behind her on the stage. Powers now stands at second place on the general classification at seven seconds back.
The strong winds and long distance made this a race of attrition, with a third of the peloton falling off the lead pace within the first several miles of the 97.1 mile rural course, with a select group of 20 riders formed within the first 23 miles, spurred by Tayler Wiles’ (Specialized-lululemon) attack into the second Queen of the Hills competition. Though she, Flavia Oliveira (FCS/Zngine p/b Mr. Restore), and Amanda Miller (Team TIBCO) made a slight gain, they were quickly brought back and Team Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies were immediately on the counter-attack.
This early group of 20 contained all eight members of the UnitedHealthcare team as well as five Team Optum riders, three Specialized-lululemon riders, and two each from teams TIBCO and Vanderkitten.
UnitedHealthcare was sure to stay on top of every attack, launched mostly by Team TIBCO and Team Optum, with support from Specialized-lululemon.
A chase group of 9 riders trailed behind the lead group of 20 for about 18 miles, hovering at 40 seconds back. The two groups eventually merged after the first feed zone, 39 miles into the race, as the lead group’s momentum was broken and UnitedHealthcare showed signs of wear from the wind.
Once merged, all but two riders from the chase group stayed on. It was this selection of 27 riders that made it through into the finishing circuits at Cannon Falls.
Attacks were minimal through second-third of the race. As the field neared Cannon Falls the attacks started again, with a few groups of four formed that were able to secure up to 30 seconds advantage before being absorbed again.
A break consisting of Ally Stacher (Specialized-lululemon), Annie Ewart (Team Optum), Sharon Laws (UnitedHealthcare), and Olivia Dillon (Colavita-Fine Cooking) gained a one minute advantage at mile 75. Gillian Carleton (Vanderkitten) bridged up to this group, and the quintet entered the final circuits together.
This break was caught in the first lap of the four laps of the finishing circuit.
“I stayed calm and collected because it can be a really stressful situation,” said Small of her effort in the final few laps. “I knew that UHC had done so much work that they wouldn’t be able to do a lead out like they had been doing the last few days, and I used that to my advantage. I had a plan about how I wanted to do the sprint, I had that in my head, I had Tayler helping me out getting me up to the front in good positioning and she hit it pretty hard coming into the finish. Then I took a run at everyone, I went from fifth wheel, right where the course flattens out before the hill I kicked really hard and passed everyone in the field.”
Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) and Leah Kirchmann (Team Optum) rounded out the podium in second and third place respectively.
Riders who were not part of the 27-woman lead group were stopped before entering the finishing circuits and given calculated times based on the time they crossed the deviation point.
Kelly Catlin and Ariane Horbach of the Collegiate All Stars composite team made it into the finishing circuits, with Horbach finishing ninth and Catlin finish 17th.
“I was confident with that duo – Kelly with her raw talent and Ariane with her experience,” said Jenn Reither, Collegiate All Stars’ director sportif and coach. “I gave them the job today of staying together, encouraging them to stay on and push harder.”
Three of their teammates – Sara Bird, Cinthia Lehner, and and Allison Arensman – finished in the second group.
“This was my first NRC race,” said Bird. “It’s definitely the longest race I’ve ever done. I was really nervous coming into this, but once I got going, the nerves went away and we realized, we can hang here, we belong here. To finish in the second group with other pro riders was really exciting.”
Janel Holcomb (Team Optum) was aggressive throughout the race, instigating several breakaway attempts out on the road and also taking a full lap solo in the finishing circuits. She was awarded the Penn Cycle Most Aggressive Rider jersey for today’s stage.
Wiles leads the Jelly Belly Queen of the Mountain competition.
Kirchmann started the day two seconds behind Wiles in the Tria Orthopedic Best Young Rider competition. She finished six seconds ahead of Wiles and her third place finish came with six seconds of time bonus, placing her in the lead by 10 seconds after today’s stage.
Rivera holds the Xcel Energy Sprint Competition jersey for at least one more day, as does Catlin with the North Star Best Amateur Competition jersey.