UnitedHealthcare animated the finale of Santos Women’s Tour stage 1 on Monday. New Zealand road champion Rushlee Buchanan marked stage winner Amanda Spratt’s final attack and Ruth Winder countered Buchanan’s catch. Afterwards, Katie Hall bridged across to Winder’s breakaway before attacking again to snatch the final spot on the podium.
The trio represented three of the four UnitedHealthcare riders that made an elite front group selection on the opening stage’s hilly finale.
Hall, Winder and Buchanan are UnitedHealthcare veterans. Hall turned professional with the blue train in 2014, and has since, slowly but steadily, shown her capabilities. Her progression has earned her a leadership role with the American-registered squad. Buchanan, who won a record-breaking fourth straight New Zealand road title last weekend, is also in her fourth season with UnitedHealthcare. Rio Olympian Ruth Winder focused on the team pursuit last season but rode with the team between 2014 and 2015.
Their teammates in Australia are all new to the squad. Tayler Wiles moved across from Orica-AIS and Lauretta Hanson joined from Colavita/Bianchi, while Lauren Hall has ridden for Team TIBCO – SVB, Twenty16 and Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies over the last three years.
“It’s our first time racing together for a lot of us, and the first time most of us are racing here,” said Hall. “Getting to know each other and how we race, it’s important. There was a really good team vibe today. It was really, really fun. Lauren and Lauretta were all over everything for the first 90, 100km. They left the four us really well-rested until the QOM climb.”
Hall and her teammates put those fresh legs to good use in the finale. Buchanan covered Spratt inside the final 10-kilometres and when Spratt’s pace proved slightly too punishing for the Kiwi, Winder was ready.
“On the descent, somebody attacked and Ruth went with that person,” Hall explained. “Then somebody from Drops attacked, and I followed that. When we caught Ruth and the other rider, I didn’t know who she was, I attacked straight away.”
The team effort netted Hall third place. She insists she wasn’t the strongest but the luckiest.
“We had all four of us up there and attacking,” Hall said. “It could have been any of us, but it was my move that stuck for third.”
A mere two seconds behind Hall, Winder, Wiles and Buchanan all finished in the reduced peloton. Hall said she doesn’t expect her team to ride for the general classification.
“A successful week? More stage podiums,” said Hall. “We’d like to be on the top step.”