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Sunny blue skies and snow covered hills welcomed the women’s peloton as they lined up at the Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe for the first stage of the 2017 Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Race empowered with SRAM.
More commonly known as the Women’s Tour of California, 17 of the world’s best cycling teams travelled to California to compete in the 10th round of the UCI Women’s WorldTour, which consists of 256.6 beautiful miles (412.9 kms) across four stages and three host cities.
The terrain is tough, the altitude significant and the field world-class.
Yet among the sea of riders 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.
Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Stage 1 summary
As the riders lined up and the managers, mechanics and media piled into their respective cars, there was only one question on everyone’s lips: Is there anyone that’s going to upset the defending Boels-Dolmans team?
Enjoying an ongoing winning streak, the team has already claimed 10 big victories, including an unprecedented ‘Ardennes Triple‘ with Olympic champion and new team member Anna van der Breggen winning the Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège all within a week.
Just three hours after leaving the start line, a slightly reduced peloton rolled back into South Lake Tahoe after completing the undulating 72.7 mile loop around the lake. There had been attacks, brave solos and short-lived breakaways but Stage One was once again going to be decided on the final 1.7-kilometre climb into the finish.
And sure enough, keeping their winning streak going, Boels-Dolmans’ Megan Guarnier and Anna van der Breggen crested the finishing climb first. Guarnier took the win in similar fashion to last year – solo, with plenty of time to celebrate – putting a dark spring of injury and loss behind her.
She’d crashed in the early season. She’d lost her beloved grandmother. She’d been forced to take nearly two months off with a concussion. But now, defending her win in state she calls home, she has put that and any doubts about her fitness behind.
“Megan had a tough spring. It was important for her to show that she can do that and that she’s healthy and has her fitness,” commented teammate Anna van der Breggen, who finished second in the stage. “That was the biggest win of today.”
Astana’s Arlenis Sierra –the second place finisher at Trofeo Alfredo Binda—rounded out the podium with an impressive third place finish.
Nash’s Stage 1
As Guarnier was storming toward the finish, Katerina Nash was steadily conquering the final 1.7-kilometre climb, passing one rider after another until she came across the line in 17th, just 37 seconds behind on the stage.
Not only had she finished among the world’s best, she’d netted a solid top 20 performance.
“I know the roads. I live nearby and I know what do to in case we run into bears. So yes, I felt prepared,” Nash joked.
While certainly no stranger to road riding – she spends hours in saddle for training and competes in the occasional local race – a four-day stage race, and a WorldTour one at that, is no joke.
“I haven’t done a stage race since the last time I did Redlands, which is probably 10 years ago!” Nash said. “But a couple days here and a couple of days in Sacramento is a perfect opportunity to jump in. I wouldn’t fly to Europe to do a road race, but it’s practically in my backyard.”
A spectator in the previous years, Nash had secretly wanted to do the race for a while now.
“In the past years, I would ride out and be one of the people out on the course cheering,” said the Truckee-resident. “I thought it would be fun to ride it but I didn’t really pursue a way in. I had the desire, sure, but I also felt like this race is a really big deal for a lot of young American riders especially to show themselves and so I didn’t want to take someone’s chance. So I had kind of given up on the idea.”
But then Chris Johnson, manager of Team Illuminate, got in touch with the director of Team Clif looking for riders, and Nash was presented with her chance.
“The fact that we got to ride these roads without traffic is really one of the reasons I wanted to do this race,” said Nash only half-joking.
“No, I do love road racing but with the mountain bike season starting earlier and earlier over the past 10 years, there never really has been an opportunity to do anything but the small local events.” she said.
“My mountain bike season is looking a lot different this season. I’m not doing World Cups and doing a lot of epics and stage instead. This gives me the opportunity to do something else and this fits in perfectly for training.”
Battling it out with the world’s best and enjoying every minute of it.
And so, here she is, battling it out with the world’s best and enjoying every minute of it.
“It was amazing. These roads get pretty busy in the summer with lots of tourists and traffic so taking over the whole road was really cool,” said Nash.
Umm….and the racing?
“That was pretty cool, too!”
“I’ll admit it was a bit overwhelming to jump into a peloton of this size for a race of this length,” said Nash. “I got comfortable but it’s very different. The mental energy it takes for me versus a Megan Guarnier who’s chit chatting and completely in her element.”
“I don’t ride with that many people – even on group rides. It was so much different. You have to focus because you make one small mistake and someone goes down and I don’t want to do that.”
Team Illuminate is a young team, mostly riding for experience, said Nash. As such, there’s no clear team leader or any big ambitions. But having team mates did come in handy, she said.
“I was terrified to drop back and get water! I was like, ‘oh no, these people are going to disappear and I won’t be able to catch up’ so the girls brought me water,” she said. “But I did get pretty comfy in there and was able to hold my own.”
“It’s fun to learn new things, even at my age!”
Aspirations for Stage 2
Always the competitor, Nash said she had hoped to do a bit better in the end.
“I learned that I need to be a bit more aggressive before the finish. It just got intimidating. We rolled into South Lake Tahoe and all the teams were surging forward, getting ready. I started too far back at the start of climb. It’s a hard climb and I managed to pick some people off but I had wanted to be a little closer to the front.”
Tomorrow will be a very different stage, predicted Nash. Defined by two long climbs, it’ll be a stage for the climbers and one that will likely shatter the field and set the GC for the following stages. But Nash is optimistic.
“I have ridden that 12-kilometre climb a few times before, and today on the little longer climbs I did feel like I’m more of a player on those than on the punchy or flat stuff so I’m looking forward to that,” she said. “But I also feel like there were a lot of climbers today that didn’t really get to shine.”
“The climbing is significant. Those who survive will survive.”
Stage 2: South Lake Tahoe
Friday, May 12
67.1 miles / 108 kilometers
A new road racecourse awaits the women for Stage 2. The racers will return to Heavenly Mountain Resort for the start, heading west and then south on CA-89. This will take them over the 7,740-foot summit of Luther Pass where they will contest the first of three QOMs for the stage followed by a quick descent into the spectacular Carson River Basin. The route will then take the riders on a loop through the Washoe Reservation before heading northeast into Nevada. A left turn will take them north on Kingsbury Grade. The “Grade” has never been attempted in any previous Amgen Tour of California stage. This is an 8-mile climb that gains 2,700’ in elevation. The second QOM will come at an elevation of 7,400’. The descent back to South Lake Tahoe will provide many beautiful views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The final QOM of the stage will await the riders at the finish at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
Check back tomorrow for Nash’s stage two report!
– Stage 1
– Stage 2
– Stage 4