Rebecca Wiasak (Fearless Femme) used her experience and strength as a two-time former individual pursuit world champion to win the opening stage of the Colorado Classic Women's Race in Vail on Thursday. The Australian marked the 1km to go banner as the perfect spot to make her winning move to take both the stage victory and the event's first leader's jersey.
"I didn't want to leave it down to a sprint," said Wiasak, who is also the current Australian criterium champion and has spent much of the season competing in select criteriums across the US with Fearless Femme.
"It was too risky. There were some really strong sprinters in that group, and obviously my background is as a pursuiter," said Wiasek, who was the world champion in the individual pursuit in both 2015 and 2016. "I saw the 1km to go banner, and one of the UHC girls was off the front, so I was, like, 'Okay, if I bridge to her and launch off her, UHC aren't chasing because they have a rider off the front.'
"I think some other teams must have been scrambling, but obviously I was trying not to look back too often. I looked back a couple of times, of course, as you don't want to raise your hands in the air until you're safely across the line. It hurt quite a bit, that last kilometre."
Wiasak ended up crossing the line ahead of Tibco-SVB teammates Lex Albrecht of Canada and American Kendall Ryan. Her victory automatically gave her the early overall lead as the race heads into stage 2 – a 16.3km time trial to Vail Pass on Friday.
Fearless Femme have a strong team competing in Colorado with cyclo-cross specialist Katie Compton and climbing talent Flavia Oliviera, who are both guest riders, along with Kristina Clonan and Ashlee Ankudinoff. Wiasak said the team arrived a few days ahead of the start to acclimate to the altitude and to preview some of the critical points of the parcours – mainly the two climbs up Forest Road during stage 1's 53km route.
"To have them [Compton and Oliviera] on the team, having the local knowledge, and the fact that we'd downloaded today's stage to the Wahoo head unit, and rode the course during the week, I think all added up to really make a difference, because the climb was achievable," said Wiasek. "It was quite a short climb, so it was all about positioning.
"Having said that, I was out of position every time up the climb, but was able to get in a group that always got back on. The race panned out perfectly for me. I always had Flavia in the front group. She always made the split, and she climbs so well."
Wiasak won the world titles in the individual pursuit in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in 2015 and again in London in 2016. She competed on the road with the High5 Dream Team for three seasons between 2015 and 2017, with a brief stint with Rochelle Gilmore's Wiggle-Honda team in 2015.
"I did one race with Wiggle a few years ago," she said. "Rochelle Gilmore signed me for a couple of crit races, but then it kept clashing with the World Cups on the track. I actually only did one race with them in Australia, which was amazing to have signed for a professional road team, but it always conflicted with my track commitments because I had been a part of the Australian national track programme until very recently."
The Colorado Classic Women's Race is not new for Wiasak, who competed with Fearless Femme at the inaugural two-day event last summer, where she was fifth on stage 1 to Colorado Sprints but didn't finish the second stage in Breckenridge.
"I rode the Garden of the Gods stage and finished fifth there, so I used that as confidence [for today]," Wiasak said. "I said, 'I can either grovel over the climbs or get back on. I know that in this group of girls, I do match up with them.'
"Obviously they're professional, though; this is what they do – it's their job, and they're all roadies. I'm a crit specialist and had been a track rider. But Jennifer Valente won stage 1 last year."
Wiasak did get back on, twice, over the Forest Road ascents, and with the help of her teammate Oliviera, she stuck with the front group as they chased solo breakaway rider Leah Thomas into the final kilometre. It was the perfect point at which to use her pursuit skills to steal the stage win and the leader's jersey.
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