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by Anne-Marije Rook
May 13, 2017
Photography by Cor Vos
WOMEN'S CYCLING BROUGHT TO YOU BY ORBEA
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 3
– Stage 4
Freezing temperatures and snow flurries welcomed the women’s peloton as they awoke on the second day of the Women’s Tour of California in South Lake Tahoe.
Bundled up, the riders rode to the start at Heavenly Mountain Resort, fearing that an already tough day would be made even more challenging in the cold conditions. Luckily, by the time riders rolled from the start, the clouds had broken up and the sun warmed things up a bit.
On the docket? The tour’s most challenging stage with two mountain passes including the bound-to-be race defining 12.7 kilometre (8 mile) climb that gains over 820 metres (2,700 feet) in elevation. Upon cresting the summit, the route finishes with a fast 10k run into South Lake Tahoe followed by the same uphill finish as stage one. And with several proven climbers in their midst, the race leading team – Boels-Dolmans – would be a tough one to beat.
How the stage played out:
The first 20 kilometres of the day were hectic. The rough pavement, torn up by treacherous cracks and potholes, caused a lot of mechanicals, punctures and a crash that saw Gillian Ellsay (Colavita) abandoning the race.
Lacking a pure climber, Team Sunweb seemed eager to make something happen before the start of the climbs, and so Juliette Labous attacked early. The peloton let her go clear and she dangled ahead of the pack with a one-minute gap for almost half the race before getting caught, claiming the first QOM points and the “Bravest Ride of the Day” award along the way.
Boels-Dolmans was actively controlling the race all day, and after Labous was reeled back in, there were several more breakaway attempts to no avail. But as the pace ebbed and flowed, riders were shelled off the back and many spent the day fighting back on only to get popped off again when the roads turned up.
Another crash saw Hagens Berman-Supermint’s Lindsay Bayer abandon the race just a few kilometres before the start of Kingsbury Grade. Making its first appearance at the Amgen Tour of California, the “Grade” was as race defining as it was anticipated to be.
A solid 45-minute climb, Boels-Dolmans’ Karol-Ann Canuel set a brutal pace up the first half of the climb, absolutely shattering the peloton behind her. When she ran out of steam, teammate Anna van der Breggen took over. The damage had been done, and with still five kilometres to the summit, the front group had dwindled to only dozen riders including race leader Megan Guarnier. The long climb only got steeper, however, and several more riders lost contact with the front. Van der Breggen put in another dig and then Katie Hall (United Healthcare) countered. The duo rode off the front and crested the summit together, with Hall taking the full Queen of the Mountains points and bonus seconds.
Van der Breggen was the first to roll into South Lake Tahoe, having gained a few seconds on Hall on the descent. But Hall didn’t give up. And when Hall caught Van der Breggen on the hilly run-in to the finish, she just kept going. Van der Breggen couldn’t respond. Hall crossed the finish line an impressive 21 seconds ahead of Van der Breggen. The gap combined with the time bonuses she’d earned during stage placed her into the lead on the GC, taking over the yellow jersey from Guarnier who finished fifth.
Cylance’s Kristabel Doebel-Hickok finished third in the stage.
‘When the pace was nice and I could look up at the mountains, my mind definitely started drifting off to the trails.’
While Van der Breggen and Hall were battling it out in the very front, a fierce chase group with race leader Megan Guarnier in their midst were not far behind. And who was among the chasers? Sure enough, it was Katerina Nash, vying for a top 10 spot. She would eventually end up 13th, which is an incredible achievement after such a challenging stage.
“I’m psyched, yes. Super excited with how today went. The hill was really really hard but I made the lead group early on. And once the two riders got away I stayed in that front group. I was psyched I hung in there. I definitely did not want to ride over the top alone,” said Nash.
“I definitely wanted to finish with people. But I didn’t have much punch left for the finish.”
Perhaps the best thing about being in the front was watching the battle between Katie Hall and Anna van der Breggen, said Nash.
“I have a lot of respect for these girls. They just flew up that hill! And it was pretty cool to be in the front and see it, actually,” she said.
Watching, however, was all she could do at that point.
“I know myself pretty well and I had reached my limit so I gave it a go but I knew I wasn’t going to be third and that’s OK, so I was just going to ride it in at that point,” said Nash. “It’s a hard finish and after that monster climb we were hammering on the flat and so the finish was definitely harder today instead of yesterday.”
No stranger to suffering, Nash said the climb was not unlike her long threshold interval training. Hanging in was more of a mental exercise.
“Suffering is always the same. It’s the road, the terrain, the conditions that change. On the mountain bike I can sometimes back off on the climb because I know I can close up especially if it’s a technical descend. That’s not the same here. I have to have the mentality of ‘I have to hang in’,” said Nash.
And hang in she did! Plus, she achieved the goals she set for herself yesterday. Watching from the cars, we could see her move around the pack and even dropping back to the cars to drop off clothing and grab bottles.
“I am definitely getting better at positioning and trying to rest and relax,” said Nash. “There definitely were portions of the race when the pace was nice and I could look up at the mountains, and my mind definitely started drifting off to the trails.”
After finishing 17th yesterday and 13th today, could we see Nash break the top 10 tomorrow?
“Uhmmm yeah no. No, I don’t think so,” Nash said with a laugh.
After two hillier stages, the next two stages are flat and fast. Stages that will likely serve the sprinters in the peloton.
“I think there are lots of people who are focusing on these last two days so I think there will be a lot of attacks, especially with the GC being so tight,” said Nash. “I’m just going to try and do my best and stay out of trouble.”
When asked how her sprint is these days, Nash laughed.
“I’ve got nothing against these girls! At the end of a cross race, if it’s uphill … maybe. I’m just going to see what happens. It’s still such. A. Big. Group!” said Nash, somewhat intimidated by the idea of cruising into Sacramento with 80+ women. “This is going to be an exciting next two days.”
Flat, fast and primed for a group sprint to the finish, the riders will complete a neutral circuit through the Elk Grove Regional Park, before heading west and then south to the Sacramento River and the California Delta region. This will be a very fast and flat race route that should guarantee a day for the sprinters (including two Sprints along the way) and an exciting finish at the Capitol building in Sacramento, where some of the most exciting stage finishes in Amgen Tour of California history have unfolded.
Check back tomorrow for Nash’s stage three report!