Ruth Winder (UnitedHealthcare) has been racing for the better part of a decade with steady improvement, but her 2017 season has been nothing short of magical. On Thursday, Winder achieved her biggest result at a Women's WorldTour race with a fourth place-finish on the first stage of the Amgen Women's Race.
It was the latest in a line of impressive results that includes runner-up honours at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, a win at the Joe Martin Stage Race, and another at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
"I never expected to have the success I am having on the road," Winder said before the start of Thursday's stage. "I hoped that I would do well, but I never thought I would have won two of the biggest stage races in the U.S. so far."
Winder spent the bulk of last year training with USA Cycling's endurance track program, focused on the team and the Rio Olympic Games. Winder made the Olympic team but was not chosen to ride in the gold medal race against Great Britain. Winder has put the disappointment of the Olympics in the rearview mirror and holds onto the accomplishment of making the team as the defining experience.
Winder now approaches her racing with a lighter, less goal-driven style. She looks from race to race and gently, but firmly steers questions away from topics like another possible run at the Olympics, or pursuing a European racing career.
"After the last two years I've noticed I've not thought about the future as much," Winder said. "I've just wanted to enjoy racing my bike and have a good time."
Winder points to her recent success as a demonstration of the enjoyment and renewed thrill she's getting from the sport.
"I just came off of Redlands, taking the win on the last day, which was a really good race, and an epic race personally," Winder said. "I was in a break off the front, and I needed to put 1:43 into Amber Neben who was in the GC. I was able to do that on the last day which was cool and exciting."
Winder, along with teammates Katie Hall and Tayler Wiles, are all within striking distance of the GC lead at the Amgen Women's Race. Winder was optimistic about the team's chances heading into the next several stages.
"It's a little disappointing to be just off the podium, but not too bad for the first day," Winder said at the finish in South Lake Tahoe. "We've got a strong team and lots of cards to play."
Though only 23 years old, Winder has been on the national circuit for a long time, and cycling has long been at the center of her existence. She made her first appearance at Redlands in 2010, but with the Olympics completed Winder began to make changes that demonstrate an appreciation of life outside of cycling. Winder moved to Boulder, Colorado, began coaching athletes at ALP Cycles Coaching, and recently opened a service shop, Boulder Grupetto, with boyfriend Zach Edwards. The increased maturity has also impacted her racing. This season has seen multiple elements come together including her climbing and time trialing abilities. Winder believes it is just part of getting wiser and stronger.
"You just grow up, I've been doing the same thing I've always been doing," Winder said. "It's funny I was just talking to a friend that lives in Boulder, and she was like ‘I'm not going to be able to ride with you now that you are so good.' I'm like, 'We were riding together six weeks ago, I'm still the same person, we can still ride together when I get home.'"