Today's stage was our first big day. Like yesterday, the weather was perfect, riders were fresh and in great moods and there was slight anxious vibe in the start area. It's always funny to watch the start line energy trajectory dip as a stage racing week continues. Today we were amped for the gun to go off. By Saturday, most of us will be so spent that clipping into our pedals will feel like a chore.
Our energy was calmed by a 10-minute neutral rollout to navigate a few hundred racers over a washed out bridge. The Cooper's Gap stage started up a steep doubletrack climb that led to a somewhat terrifying grassed-over, washed out rocky doubletrack descent.
We hit some road then took a sharp turn into what felt like the longest, greatest singletrack loop ever. Being the crafty local, Vicki [Barclay] knew when we were heading into singletrack from the road and got in front of me for the first long, technical singletrack climb. Being the nicest Scot you'll ever meet, she graciously let me pass about half-way up the narrow climb so I could go at my own pace. When I got to the top and started cruising along the undulating track, all of the sudden I heard Sue [Haywood]'s sweet southern twang asking if she could go by. Of course, I gave her the pass.
I guess this is a good time to address the huge, pink Stan's NoTubes elephant in the room.
Sue, Sarah, Vicki and I are all teammates. But, we are all great friends and really and truly genuinely like each other on and off the bike. They are an incredible group of smart, funny women that I would choose to hang out with in real life, bikes or no bikes. We are all sharing a tiny little cabin, are all being supported by the same folks and all happen to be (so far) the fastest women at the TSE. So, how does this work?
Really, really well. Although we are competitors, we are also allies. We are there to encourage and support each other and of course do favors like give and take passes. But, when it's all said and done, once we roll up to the line, our pink gloves come off. We are there to win and at the end of the day it really is every pink jersey for herself.
Sue and I ended up riding neck and neck for well over two hours of the the stage until I was able to open a small gap on a steep, long singletrack climb. But up until that point, it really felt as if I was on a ride with my big sister. If you have a sibling, you know that dynamic I'm talking about: super competitive but also really fun, tearing down descents trying to shake each other, neither giving up but neither really sweating the details. Because Sue is a legendary descender, I was stoked that I could keep her in sight for it all. And, as sisters do, as hard as we went at each other we really enjoyed ripping around the woods on each other's tails!
I came into the last aid at mile 22 with a slight gap over Sue and grew my lead from there, careful to stay on race pace, but also careful not to ride too hard. The stage finished with a pretty significant gravel road section, a lot of false flat and a ton of climbing. I focused in, pushed the pace and time trialed it to the end. In the end, it was another totally pink podium with me taking the stage win 6:30 up on Sue with Sarah in third. And yes, Vicki rolled in shortly thereafter with a strong fourth.
The forecast for tomorrow is a lot of gravel grinding and possibly rain. Hopefully I can maintain the 10:30 GC lead I've built. In stage racing, that's nothing a flat, mechanical or a really bad day can't erase!
Stan's NoTubes Women's Elite Team