HIGHLAND, CA (CT) – With a perfectly timed attack on the last of 14 trips up Baseline Road, Scotti Lechuga (Hagens Berman-Supermint) outfoxed the major teams of the Redlands Bicycle Classic to win the opening stage and take the overall race lead.
On a hot day in the City of Highland, Lechuga profited from the work done by the stacked Twenty16-Ridebiker team of Kristin Armstrong, Alison Jackson, Chloe Dygert, and Kaitlin Antonneau, which stifled all breakaways, turning the 65km (40 mile) race into an outright race of attrition.
Lechuga waited until the final climb up Baseline Road to launch a vicious attack that no woman could answer, taking the stage, the race lead, and a 10-second time bonus.
“It was a challenging circuit,” Lechuga said. “In some ways, it rides like a criterium, in that it’s short, and the backside is very technical. I told my team before the start that this is my third time doing this course, and if you think of it as three-minute interval workout, you go really hard for three minutes, then recover on the downhill.
“It’s all about positioning, and riding smart. Our team did that today, and it all paid off.”
Jackson, the winner of the Highland Circuit stage last year, finished second, three seconds down, earning a six-second time bonus.
Armstrong finished third, earning a four-second time bonus to add to the three-second intermediate bonus she took ahead of defending champion Mara Abbott (Amy D. Foundation.) Armstrong now sits second overall, six seconds down.
Abbott finished fourth on the stage, and sits fourth overall, 11 seconds behind Lechuga.
“The course reminded me of the old Montreal World Cup,” Armstrong said. “You didn’t have much for recovery, so you weren’t really spinning your legs much, then you had that hill again. They made it interesting, because you had hill climbs, you had time bonuses.
“Every team wants something different, and that’s what is so unique. Our team may have wanted to come away with the win, but there’s another team that hopes to get top 10, and another team wants the QOM jersey. So there was a lot going on.”
Nineteen-year-old Canadian rider Sara Poidevin (Rally Cycling) earned maximum QOM points on the stage to take the red mountains jersey.
Lechuga, a 33-year-old mother of twin five-year-old boys, finished fourth, third, and fifth at the three stages of the San Dimas Stage Race last week. She’s off to a hot start in 2016, following a 2015 season as a domestique with UnitedHealthcare.
“I really focused this year on coming out with a bang,” Lechuga said. “I worked pretty hard, I focused a lot. As a family we kind of invested in it, as a whole family, putting it all in together.”
Thursday’s stage 2, the Yucaipa Road Race, features four laps of a 14.1-mile circuit with a 5.4-mile finish after a climb to Oak Glen Village.
“We have a mountaintop finish tomorrow, five miles up. Mara put a minute on the next rider [Amber Neben],” Armstrong said. “There are time gaps to be had tomorrow. I love the time trial course here, it’s short, so it will probably be won by seconds. I went for the time bonuses today because every second counts.”