Coming in to the Redlands Classic, the team was fresh off a hot win in the San Dimas Stage Race with our new pocket rocket Karol-Ann Canuel taking the overall GC after an impressive solo win in the road race.
So we were pumped and confident to tackle Redlands with our two GC riders: Karol-Ann, and possibly the toughest bike rider I know, Tayler Wiles. In addition to our two GC riders, we had Ally Stacher, the ultimate teammate, former US Pro National Champ Robin Farina, Redlands hometown hero Joy McCulloch, and myself.
This year saw the addition of a fifth stage, the challenging stage 1, 14-lap Highland circuit race. With the addition of this stage, we went in to the race thinking GC would be shaken up before the time trial on day two.
In the end, the course wasn’t raced that hard, as the GC contenders, I’m sure, had the stage 2 time trial at Big Bear in their minds every time they ascended the painful Base Line Road hill. It was still a good day for the team with Karol-Ann getting pipped on the line by Tibco’s Lauren Stephens to take second.
After stage two, where Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare) had a great time trial to take the win and put her comfortably in to the yellow jersey, the team knew we had work to do in the Beaumont Road race the next day to put Tayler into a position to win the overall.
I think everyone on the team will agree with me when I say that having Ina-Yoko Teutenberg as a DS is something very special. In our team meetings she would say something along the lines of: “Racing is like a game of poker or chess — you have to be willing to go all in and risk everything in order to win. There is no point being safe and maybe running a podium — it’s all or nothing.” And that is the approach we took the whole week.
We wanted to win Redlands, not come second or third, and if Tayler ended up fifth overall in risking everything to win, that was just fine, because at least we could walk away saying we tried everything.
So on stage 3 we devised a plan and executed it brilliantly with Karol-Ann lighting it up on the climb, and blowing the race to pieces. Typically a group of 25-40 make it to the finish line as the front group in the Beaumont Road Race. This year, only seven riders went to the line, 25 seconds ahead of the yellow jersey. A job well done by everyone, with Tayler in third place, inching her way ever so slightly towards that yellow jersey. Next up, some crit action!
What was really great to see at Redlands this year was the live feed online, which was greatly received by the public (I know my family back home were excited!). It was there that we were dubbed “the B Team” by the commentators during the crit [ed. Specialized-Lululemon also has a team competing in Europe at the moment]. I have to thank those commentators, whoever they were, because they added fuel to the fire and as Andy Schleck once said “My stomach is full of anger, and I want to take revenge”.
The plan for the crit was to keep our GC riders safe, and let them have an easy ride, to save their legs for the final stage: the infamous Sunset Loop. Joy got in a break for a good amount of the race, which was perfect, as it took any pressure off us to chase or bridge across.
With four laps to go Optum-Kelly Benefits decided it was time to line things up and get their team leader and yellow-jersey-wearer Leah Kirchmann some more time before Sunset. They rode a perfect race, and Leah took the win over Alison Powers. We didn’t feature on the podium, but we were happy that everyone stayed out of trouble and that the Sunset Loop awaited us the next day.
For those of you not familiar with the Sunset Loop, I would describe it as a course similar to the Australian National Championships in Buninyong: you climb for about half of the lap, and descend for the other half. It is a tough course, and positioning is key going in to the first lap.
Neutral is quite possibly the hardest part of the whole race, as everyone fights for the bumper of the neutral car forcing the speed up and up until you’re going over 40km/h uphill! It is crazy, and hard, but you just have to get through the first lap.
As with seemingly every year, there were only about 20 or so left in the front bunch after the first lap of nine. We had five riders present so we were already in a good position. Robin went off the front on lap one, getting caught on lap two, at which point we decided to take control and lead it out from the descent in to the climb so our pocket rocket Karol-Ann could launch the first of her attacks of the day to shake things up.
After what she did in San Dimas, the other teams were too scared to let her get up the road and chased hard to catch her back, making the perfect opportunity for Ally to launch. With Ally up the road, the team was in a good position, forcing the other teams to either chase or bridge.
Amber Neben (FCS/Zngine) decided it was a good chance for her to stretch her legs and maybe go for a stage win, so she bridged across to Ally with Sharon Laws from UnitedHealthcare following. The trio worked well until being caught with three laps to go where Karol-Ann launched another flurry of attacks. These set Tayler Wiles up perfectly for one brilliant, winning attack which only Giro Rosa winner Mara Abbott could follow.
By this stage both Robin and I were out of the race (with most of the field), so when Tayler came flying by with only Mara on her wheel with two to go, we got a little out of control screaming and carrying on. In the end the duo increased their lead to 1:30 on the remaining seven riders, the yellow jersey included, and Tayler won the overall, with Mara taking the stage win.
It has to be one of the most thrilling races that I’ve seen. And one of those beautiful things where a plan unfolds perfectly, and everyone did what they had to do, having full faith in one another.
So, the “B Team” won Redlands, and San Dimas Stage Races. It would be scary to imagine what the “A team” could do. It turns out the “B” stands for “badass”.
Click here to see a great gallery of images from the men’s race, courtesy of Andy Bokanev.