As we pulled away from the hotel after the final stage of this year's Amgen Tour of California, I was already feeling the tug of post race blues. I’ve always suffered from post vacation, coast ride, adventure, and even post morning coffee blues, so the feeling is nothing new. Post race blues hit a similar spot in my heart however they also come with a semi-soothing side of relief and exhaustion. The Tour of California is one of my all-time favorite races, and it continues to get better each year. Having a Women’s World Tour race in my now home state is pretty unique and this year's edition was a doozy! Two rolling mountain stages, one flat, windy stage, through the Delta, all ending with a fast and furious circuit around downtown Sacramento made for some thrilling racing, right down to the very finish.
When you have mountain stage like stage two of the tour with a 9-mile climb at over 7,000 feet you expect the General Classification (GC) time gaps to be quite large. However this year after Stage two the GC was separated by just 3 tiny seconds with my teammate, and mountain goat, Katie Hall taking the incredible win over current Olympic Gold Medalist (and the rider that just won three World Tour races in a row, Amstel Gold, Leige Bastogne Leige, and Flèche Wallone) Anna Van der Breggen.
Anna’s team Boels Dolmans went into stage two with the leader's jersey after current US National Champion Megan Guarnier’s win on stage 1, and they set a pretty blistering pace up the long climb. Towards the top, it was just Anna, and Megan left from Boels along with my two teammates Katie Hall, Ruth Winder and I, recent Flanders winner Coryn Rivera, Binda 2nd place and current Cuban standout Arlenis Sierra, Kristabel Doebel-Hickok and Martina Ritter. I was confident that we could tackle whatever Boel’s had to throw at us as we had the numbers in the front to chase attacks and counter and that's exactly what we did. After some hard work by her teammate, Karol-Ann in the first part of the climb Anna attacked and was pulled back a few times. Then she nailed one; a real attack makes it seem like the rider is shot out of a cannon and I felt the kickback. I bridged to her, bringing teammate Katie Hall with me and then Katie countered and only Van der Breggen, and briefly Coryn, could follow. Anna and Katie rode clear of our chase group. Anna tried one last go at Katie on the flats before the final pitch, but in the end, Katie bested her up the hard 1 KM climb to the finish. What a win! This day goes down as one of my all time favorites regarding teamwork, tactics and just pure grit.
Stage 3 was one for the European teams to try and crack the US teams as the forecast called for some pretty gnarly crosswinds. Within the first 10 Kilometers, the race had broken into multiple echelons with Sunweb and Boels driving the pace on the front and guttering the field. If you’ve never experienced a true crosswind gutter fest, you are lucky. It is an all out battle and with everyone's fight or flight instincts kicked into gear it is every man for themselves. If you don’t stick the right wheel it can be game over before you know it, and if you can’t get in the front echelon and out of the wind you’ll watch the group inexplicable ride away from you as you push well above VO2 max power but continue to go backward. Thankfully our team stuck together, rode as a unit and were able to protect Katie and keep the yellow for another day.
Although I can’t say I love short circuit races and I much prefer long mountain days, the course in downtown Sacramento was still one of my favorite days of this tour, less so because of the actual race and more so because of all the incredible people who were there to support us. I got to see former teammates, tons, and tons of local fans who make the California cycling community so amazing, and of course the Equator team who came yielding a growler full of cold brew, what is not to love about that! Cycling is something I love and that I am passionate about and so much of that passion comes from all of the incredible people I have gotten to meet along the way. At this year's Tour of California I felt so much love.
On this final day, we had the daunting task of keeping Katie in the yellow, as she only held onto the led by one second but we were up for it! There were time bonuses on the line during the race as well as on the finish, but we were confident in each other and excited to lay it all out there in the race. We road strong as a unit on the front all day, controlling much of the race. With five laps to go it, was go time for the intermediate time bonus and we gave it our best in the sprint, but in the end, Anna and her Boels squad bested the Blue crew and Anna got the one extra second she needed taking second in the sprint and taking over the yellow jersey.
After four hard stages it all came down to one second, and that made for phenomenal racing. Although we wanted yellow, I think we were all pretty dang proud of the way we road all week, the sacrifices we made for each other, and the strength and depth we showed as a team. There wasn’t a single corner of that course in downtown Sacramento without someone cheering for a teammate or me, and that was something I’ll never forget.
Professional Cyclist | United Health Care