With her solo stage victory on Friday, Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare) crowned herself queen of Lake Tahoe in the Amgen Women's Race on Friday. It was her third win there in the span of four years. And unlike last year, Hall now holds a comfortable lead heading into the final stage, a 70-km sprinters' stage on a city circuit in Sacramento.
Hall's preparation for the UCI Women's WorldTour race had gone well with overall victories in the Joe Martin Stage Race, Tour of the Gila, and Redlands Bicycle Classic. But California was her first test of the year against the European peloton.
"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. I just went out there and raced my bike, and came away with the win."
When Hall attacked on the final kilometre of the Kingsbury climb to Daggett Summit, only Tayler Wiles (Trek-Drops) was able to stay with her. On the final 1.7km to the finish, Hall shook her off and won solo, but Wiles was content with her result.
"The attacks started with 5km to go up the climb. 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."
Hall was happy to have company on the final 10 kilometres so that she didn't have to do all the work herself, and she says Wiles played an important part in pulling out a gap on the chasers.
"Tayler is a former teammate of mine. I was really happy to go over the top with her because I know she's really good on the descents and on the flats. It was good company to have, somebody else with a bigger threshold power than me. And I just attacked again on the final climb, right after Tayler took a last long pull, and managed to get a little gap."
Her domination of the US domestic circuit put the pressure to perform on Hall. And the memory of the 2017 race was another concern. Last year, the UnitedHealthcare rider wore the yellow jersey on the final stage with a one-second lead over Anna van der Breggen (Boels Dolmans) but lost it when the Dutchwoman scored two bonus seconds in the intermediate sprint. Losing her home race by the narrowest of margins was hard to take for the Californian, and she is happy to have taken a more comfortable lead of 29 seconds this year.
"It is a big relief. 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. Sacramento is a really hard stage to get away on for anybody. It's pancake flat, and I think there's a lot of sprinters here with good teams to control it. I'm hoping for a big bunch sprint, and just want to sit in the bunch and defend my lead."