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Among the sea of riders at the 2017 Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Empowered by SRAM we spotted an unusual suspect – cyclocross and mountain bike star Katerina Nash.
Despite being clad in the sleek black get-up of Team Illuminate instead of her usual bright Clif Bar colours, her crankbrothers pedals, mountain bike shoes and CXFever socks were a dead giveaway.
What is this 39-year-old cyclocrosser doing in the midst of this WorldTour pack? How is she going to fare in a challenging four-day road race?
You’ll be able to find out right here as we’re following Nash throughout the tour and will provide you with a diary from each stage.
– Stage 1
– Stage 2
Stage 4 Summary:
The atmosphere in the peloton was tense when the 84-rider pack lined up in sunny downtown Sacramento for the final stage of the 2017 Amgen Breakway of Heart Disease Empowered by SRAM Women’s WorldTour event.
Only 90 minutes of racing lay ahead but with just one second separating the GC leader, Katie Hall, from runner-up, Anna van der Breggen, the battle for the GC would be fierce.
United Healthcare (UHC), with both the young rider’s jersey and GC leader in their midst, would have to do anything in their power to protect their riders while preventing Boels-Dolmans from helping Van der Breggen gain even a single second.
Boels-Dolmans meanwhile would likely try to set Van der Breggen up for the intermediate sprint in search of time bonus seconds, and again in the finale if the first attempt failed.
And so all eyes were on the blue and orange squads as riders rolled off the line.
UHC decided to take control from the get-go, collectively moving to the front where they would stay for the majority of the race. Boels-Dolmans stayed close behind making sure that no break would slip away.
Just 8 kilometres into the race, however, Boels-Dolmans had a bit of a scare when Van der Breggen went down in a crash. But she popped right back up and worked to reconnect with the peloton while teammate and last year’s winner Megan Guarnier patrolled the front.
All back together, UHC kept the pace high and the anticipation for the intermediate sprint started building.
The race defining moment
The intermediate sprint could be the race decider. Three, two and one bonus seconds were on offer. A first or second place finish in the sprint would be enough for Van der Breggen to win the GC. As a pure climber, Hall doesn’t have much of a sprint so UHC would be on the defense, perhaps trying to steal some seconds away from Boels-Dolmans by leading out their young rider jersey wearer, Ruth Winder.
Meanwhile, if breakout star Arlenis Sierra (Astana) would win the intermediate sprint, she’d move into third place in the GC – a huge result for the young Cuban national champ.
In a nail-biter of a sprint, Christine Majerus came flying up the chute with teammate Van der Breggen on the wheel. UHC meanwhile was moving up on the far left while Sierra and Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-High5) were coming up through the middle.
With a bike throw, Van der Breggen did it. Coming in behind Bronzini, she secured two valuable bonus seconds, enough to move her into the GC lead.
Hall looked deflated but the blue train went straight back to the front, continuing to patrol the front while preparing for the finish.
Another crash took down several riders with less than 3 kilometres to go, but luckily, all the favourites managed to stay out of trouble.
To win the GC, Van der Breggen would have to finish with the main pack. Hall, now one second down, would have to gain a second in the finale.
But as the race was gearing up to a lightning fast finale, the sprint teams moved to the front. Team Sunweb was setting up stage 3 winner Coryn Rivera, Wiggle-High5 was getting Bronzini in place, Cylance was going for Dutch powerhouse Kirsten Wild, and Boels-Dolmans made sure Van der Breggen was protected.
Bronzini was again the first across the line ahead of Rivera and Wild. And by rolling safely across the finish, Van der Breggen secured the yellow jersey, slipping into the UCI Women’s WorldTour leader’s jersey in the process.
“My spring was not that good, but you don’t see it with victories like this,” said Van der Breggen after the race. “At a race like this, I couldn’t do it without the team that I have. Everyone has goals, and I go for it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m happy of course, the last year has been going very well. I am enjoying it so far, you never know how long it will last. For me it’s incredible to have a season like this.”
Despite their all-in team efforts, UHC and Hall would have to make do with second place. And after Megan Guarrnier pulled herself out of the race, Sierra moved into third.
1. Giorgia Bronzini (Wiggle-High5)
2. Coryn Rivera (Sunweb)
3. Kirsten Wild (Cylance)
1. Anna van der Breggen (Boels-Dolmans)
2. Katie Hall (United Healthcare)
3. Arlenis Sierra (Astana)
Nash’s Stage 4: ‘Flat road racing is hard!
Despite losing a few seconds in today’s stage, Katerina Nash accomplished the goal she had set out for herself after the second stage: a Top 15 finish.
Her first Women’s World Tour event, her first road stage race in over 10 years and she did it all on eggbeaters and in mountain bike shoes! The 39-year-old multisport athlete never fails to impress.
But fear not, cyclocross and mountain bike fans, Nash has no intentions of making a switch into the road scene.
“It was pretty exciting, I am really thankful for the opportunity. I enjoy the fact that I can dabble in a variety of things, and challenge myself and do well. But I don’t think I’ll turn into a pro roadie,” Nash said, adding that she’s pretty excited to get back on the mountain bike after a well-earned rest day.
“I feel nicely tired at the end of the weekend but I feel like this has been good racing prep for me. As far as training goes, this is as good as it gets for me,” Nash commented. “This has been all about fitness, and I like to think that I got good on the dirt because of my technical skills and so I feel like I didn’t get to use my descending skills or cornering skills. But the leg speed will be beneficial and I think the fitness is there now and I’m excited to get ready for the [mountain bike] season.”
Her ‘actual’ racing season continues in Colorado next weekend with the Grand Junction Off-Road Epic.
Surviving the crit
For Nash, today was all about staying upright and out of trouble.
“These guys are fighting for big things and I didn’t want to mess up anyone’s day,” said Nash about her attitude going into the race. “I did happen to get caught behind both crashes, and the last one was on the second to last lap, which was unfortunate timing. I just TT-ed to the finish. It’s a race and you gotta finish.”
She did get a few minutes of camera time today, however, when she followed a short-lived attack by DNA-Visit Dallas.
“I got my four minutes of glory today!” said Nash excitedly. “A DNA girl attacked and I got on her wheel and came around and I got to rip through one of the corners, which was exciting because in the pack you don’t get to pick your lines. I enjoyed the one moment of being in front and flying but then the pack came back and I went to the back. That was enough showing off!”
Nash’s Takeaways from her rare road racing experience:
- “Events like this, it all carries over. It’s all pedalling a bike and I’m sure my experience here is something I can bring into future mountain bike or cyclocross events.”
- “I’m excited that I got to learn a little bit and ride along with these girls I read about online. It’ll be exciting to follow along now that I got to meet more of the riders and see what they do all summer long.”
- “I do have a new appreciation for what the roadies go through. And I really hope they all get disc brakes soon because these cantilever brakes suck! It’s just harsh.”
- “It explained the roadies that come across to cyclocross. There is a different culture between road and dirt, and I understand it a little better now.”
- “Your voice is important. People will yell at you because it’s the quickest way to get someone’s attention … Did I get yelled at? Oh yeah, yeah a couple of times early on.”
- “I learned that roadies wear sweatpants and tights all the time. Mountain bikers wear jeans until they race and as soon as they’re done racing, they’re back in tights.”
If any roadies are inspired by Nash to try out cyclocross or mountain biking in the fall, Nash highly encourages it.
“It’s nice to mix it up for sure. There is so much to learn from each discipline and each kind of bicycle, and it comes in handy,” she said. “I definitely will take some of my experience from here and apply it to, if not the mountain bike racing than definitely to cyclocross or fat tyre crits. And that goes both ways.”
“If a road racer has never gotten on a mountain bike, I think mentally being on a mountain bike is really refreshing.”