Arlenis Sierra (Astana Women's Team)has thrived in her first season at the WorldTour level, taking a stage win and second overall in the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana, and second in the Trofeo Alfredo Binda WorldTour race. This week, she is chasing the best young riders' classification at the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women's Race.
Sierra finished in third place behind Boels Dolmans teammates Megan Guarnier and Anna van der Breggen in the first stage of the race, and on Friday's big climbing stage, she stayed at the front of the lead group and finished in sixth place, right behind Guarnier.
Although she slipped out of the young rider's jersey by three seconds, it was an impressive performance for the 24-year-old Cuban rider's American debut.
"It was good, a little bit hard because of the altitude, but it was good," Sierra said through a translator about adjusting to racing in California.
Her performance at the first two days of the Amgen Women's Race showcased another facet of Sierra's all around racing capabilities. A two-time Pan American road race champion, Sierra made headlines earlier this year when she threw her arms up in celebration after placing second at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda in the final field sprint.
Sierra began racing on the track and road 12 years ago, and now splits her time between her Italian base in Montebelluna, and her family home in Havana, Cuba. Though she opted to move to Europe, Sierra's success on the South American UCI circuit last year attracted the attention of several teams including UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling.
"We noticed her first at [Tour de] San Luis, where she got second to Katie [Hall] on the mountain stage and then won the sprint the next day," said UnitedHealthcare director Rachel Heal. "She's a fantastic all around rider."
While riding for the American team did not work out, Sierra feels her foray into Europe has gone well. Her results at the Amgen Women's Race may not show it, but getting used to the North American peloton has taken some effort.
"It's my first time in the US," Sierra said. "I'm not used to riding in the weather and altitude here, so it is a bit challenging but good."
Sierra's European experience appears to have firmed her resolve to succeed in the professional ranks. The Astana Women's Team brought a small squad of four riders to the Amgen Women's Race and Sierra's chances at keeping her podium depended on Friday's performance. Before the start of Friday's stage, Sierra was uncowed by the likes of Boels-Dolmans and Sunweb, and remained focused on the podium.
"My personal objective is to stay within the top three," Sierra said. "As a group, we want to work together for that goal and hopefully come out on top in the overall."
Sierra fell just short of the podium after finishing in sixth on Friday's mountain stage, and now sits 40 seconds behind race leader Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare) in the general classification. Despite her drop in the overall standings, Sierra remains in contention for the Best Young Rider Jersey, where she sits in second place, 12 seconds behind Ruth Winder (UnitedHealthcare.) Expect to see Sierra at the front of the peloton as the Amgen Women's Race descends into the warmer, faster stages in and around Sacramento, CA.