Race: Amgen Women's Race (Women's WorldTour)
Date: May 18, 2018
Weather: Sunny, blue skies. 11-15 degrees
Podium: 1st Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare)
2nd Tayler Wiles (Trek-Drops)
3rd Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM)
Winner's quote: "I felt some pressure this morning before the start as everyone kept reminding me about that one second gap in last year's race, but once we got started, it was just another bike race. I had fun out there today."
Fun? For most of the peloton this climbers' stage was torture, but for Hall this is what she does best. Her record speaks for itself: out of the four times she's raced the Amgen Women's Race, she's won the South Lake Tahoe stage every time but one.
"I knew I was in good form having already won three domestic GCs this spring. But I hadn't seen the European riders yet this year, so I had no idea how my fitness compared to theirs. So I just went out there, thought I'd try, and I'm pretty content with how it ended up."
Where the race was won: Kingsbury Grade. After its exciting introduction in 2017, the Amgen Women's Race decided to take the race to the high mountains outside of South Lake Tahoe again.
Ditching the scenic lake loop stage of previous years, riders were given no time to acclimatise to the elevation, and were sent up well above 2,000 metres several times throughout the second day of racing.
Stage 2 was predicted to be the decisive one of the race, and one especially for the climbers. Even if you'd managed to hang in there and survive the day's first two 'queen of the mountains' climbs, only a select few would come into their own on Kingsbury Grade. This 12.7km monster of a climb started 85km into the race and just 23km from the finish atop another six per cent gradient kicker.
Cresting at 2,235m, Kingsbury Grade was a test for fatigued legs and lungs alike. Led by Astana, a group of the peloton's top climbers held a steady pace up the first half of the climb, dropping riders one by one. Rather than fierce attacking, the climb was one of attrition. But at 5km from the top, Hall had had enough. She attacked, and the rubber bands snapped. Where there had been 20, there were now just seven, then five, and then only one lonely competitor left standing: former teammate Wiles.
Once through the QOM arch, only 10km stood between Hall and the hilltop finish at Heavenly Resort in South Lake Tahoe. Half of those were a steep and fast descent before a flat run into town would deliver her to the bottom of the finish climb. Tall and a capable time triallist, Hall couldn't have asked for a better breakaway companion. She let Wiles play out her strengths in the flats before unleashing her climbing prowess once again.
Final kilometre: After Wiles and Hall had escaped together, several riders chased them individually. Among them were Sara Poidevin (Rally Cycling), Carolina Rodriguez (Astana), Kasia Niewiadoma (Canyon-SRAM), Erica Magnaldi (BePink) and Brodie Chapman (Team Tibco-SVB). But it was too late. Hall and Wiles had a decent gap of 30 seconds, and growing. Wiles did most of the work while Hall tucked in behind her former teammate.
With 1.7km to go, the road turned up one last time. At the 1km-to-go mark, Hall dropped Wiles and quickly earned a 15-second gap. Thirty seconds behind Wiles, the chasers started grouping together but never endangered Wiles' second-place finish. Chapman gave it one last effort, but it was Polish star Niewiadoma who claimed third instead.
The long breakaway: In a déjà-vu moment from stage one, the second day of racing was dominated by a long solo breakaway from a Hagens Berman rider. Countering an acceleration from teammate Liza Rachetto, 24-year-old Lily Williams attacked with Coryn Rivera (Sunweb) on her wheel. Only 10km had been ridden at this point, and the peloton was content to let the breakaway stick. The duo set off on an adventure, taking the first QOM points along the way.
On the long and fast descent that followed, Williams dropped Rivera with ease and soon had a two-minute lead on the main peloton. Settled in for the day, Williams motored on. She would spent around 70km with her nose in the wind before finally getting caught with 27km left to go. At this point she'd claimed the intermediate sprint points and the 'most courageous rider' jersey as well.
Most aggressive team: Hagens Berman-Supermint came out swinging again. Opening up the racing action as they had done the previous day, Rachetto went on the attack. She was given some leeway but her attack was short-lived. It was, however, the perfect launch-pad for her teammate, Williams, to attack and initiate the long breakaway of the day. In doing so, Hagens Berman-Supermint claimed the 'most courageous rider' jersey for a second day in a row.
Unsung hero: Erica Magnaldi (BePink). While Williams was off on her solo adventure, Magnaldi was a constant presence on the front. Whenever the roads went up, the Italian was among the first to crest the top. And on the biggest climb of the day, Kingsbury Grade, she was a strong contender, hanging on to Hall and Wiles until the final couple of kilometres. In the finale, she rode up to the hilltop finish with fellow chasers Niewiadoma, Rodriguez and Poidevin. The 25-year-old medical student ended up in fourth place on the stage and in the GC.
Unluckiest rider: Tayler Wiles. She wouldn't call herself unlucky by any means, but after her tremendous performance on the climbs on stage 2t, a win would have been deserved. Instead, Wiles found herself going into a steep hilltop finish with the peloton's best climber in tow.
In the final kilometres of the race, Hall had smartly used her former teammate's time trial prowess on the flats before dropping her mercilessly at the 1km-to-go mark. But that is, of course, bike racing.
"With 5km to go up the [Kingsbury] climb, attacks started to go and people were starting to get shelled, and I just looked at the back of Katie's wheel and held on for dear life. Over the top, we kind of worked together on the flat bit, but then came the steep bit. Katie is about half my size so it was hard, but I was pretty happy with today. If I'm going to lose to anybody, losing to Katie is OK," commented Wiles.
Expert says: "I saw from the beginning that Hagens Berman were out in front again, as they'd done yesterday, going until they got a rider in the break. They don't have a clear GC contender so for them it's about racing hard, getting a rider in front of the cameras and winning a jersey: the most courageous award. As race organisers, we like to see this. We like to see action and for teams to animate the race, especially when it's an American team. They are the core of what we have here at the race."
– Ryan Ung, race director