By Kirsten Robbins in Sacramento, California
US National Road and Criterium Champion, Brooke Miller (Tibco) will cross paths with the highly decorated Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Columbia-Highroad) for the first time this season at the Tour of California professional women's criterium held on Sunday February 15. The event will be held on the streets of Santa Rosa and has attracted some of the most decorated cyclists in the world.
"I'm really excited that Ina and her teammates are here racing," said Miller, the defending champion. "I always love having the opportunity to sprint against her when she is here. It is exciting for us because we have such a strong group of women on Tibco. I think we are going to be able to show how strong our lead out team really is."
The 60 minute criterium is held in conjunction with Stage 1 of the professional men's race in Santa Rosa. The women's race will start at 1:00 pm and bring the excitement to the streets just hours before the men's finish. The course uses a portion of the men's finish circuit and will finish on the same 3rd Street finish line the men will use later in the day.
"People don't know enough about women's cycling, and this event provides a great opportunity to help spread the word; it's really exciting to be able to win fans over," said Miller. "We always try to make sure we have a good venue for our races and that we get a lot of good coverage. Last year, this race was one of the biggest race of the season in terms of media coverage, which is huge for us. We have confidence that one day we'll get a full stage race. I want to thank AEG for the opportunity and for the exposure."
It will kick off the 2009 NRC season for most of the American teams, with the exception of Tibco and Columbia-Highroad who recently arrived from the inaugural women's Tour of Qatar. Other notable riders and teams expected to light up the criterium are former national criterium champion, Tina Pic (Colavita-Sutter Home), Canadian Olympian Gina Grain (Webcor), Shelly Olds (Proman) and Liz Hatch (Vanderkitten).
According to Teutenberg it is difficult be in top condition for a race held in February but that the Columbia-Highroad women will put their best foot forward to try to win. "It's going to be great and there will be some good crowds there to watch the women's race," said Teutenberg who expects her teammate Emilia Fahlin to be sprinting well after returning from Qatar. "We are definitely going to try to win it because it's an important race, but its too early to peak. I've been doing a lot of endurance stuff and trying to get some speed in too."
There was talk of the one day event flourishing into a three or four day stage race in 2009. However, plans for a larger event fell through last year. "The Women's Criterium allows women's professional cycling to able to benefit from the platform we have here," said Andrew Messick, President of AEG Sports. "We need to continue to showcase women's professional cycling; we need to give sponsors the opportunity to watch and appreciate the competition and athleticism in both the men's and women's race. We'd love to continue to grow this race."