Lisa Hunt, directeur sportif of Team Vera Bradley Foundation makes no bones about it, she wants to win this year. Her stated goals include both the Individual and Team Classifications for the NRC.
One way to get victories is via sprints so she she beefed up the speed on the team, bringing on board a pure sprinter along with riders to create a lead out train.
“We’ve got a lot of horsepower on the team this year and this is the first year that we’ve really had a pure sprinter who’s ready to take on the challenge of winning races and wants to win races and she’s had experience in winning races. That’s Erica Allar.” said Hunt.
“Beyond Erica, we have the strength and the horsepower to keep the speed up so that she’s confident that she’s got a strong leadout. I won’t tell you my secret of who’s going to be in what position,” laughed Hunt, “but we’re really got some things dialed in and I’m really excited about how we’re going to set up things. Clearly it may not work out exactly how I went it too, we can’t all have the Columbia Mark Cavendish train but we’ll work on it. The riders are strong enough and savvy enough in crits that they can make sure that Erica is in the right position.”
Building a train. While each rider’s position in the train has yet to be seen, one can assume that the train will include Carrie Cash, Lauren Hall, Alison Testroete and Alexi Rhodes at one time or another with sprinter Erica Allar waiting to pounce.
“A leadout starts a few laps before the finish or a few kilometers before the finish of a road race and you want to start with your riders that are strong enough but that aren’t the battle-axers in terms of elbowers, so you really want to start with the strong powerhouse of speed people and strength people. “ explained Hunt.
“Then as the leadout go and they pull out and the next person comes out, it’s really the last couple of riders that are sprinters on their own, so we’ve got Erica, Carrie Cash, Lauren Hall, Alison Testroete, all of those girls are really strong sprinters on their own. So that’s really the beauty, they key to a leadout is ideally keeping the speed high enough so no one else can come around and mess up our train. TIBCO did that very very well but I believe that we’ve got as strong or stronger team than they do.” said a confident Hunt.
First time for Erica Allar. “The really interesting this year is this is the first time that I’ve been in the position to have a leadout train, I’ve never actually been a sprinter on a team where I was the sprinter, the one that people were setting up leadout train for, so I’m really confident in the riders that Lisa has put together in this team this year. We have a lot of horsepower, a lot of ability.”
Allar’s results in the past have come by taking advantages of opportunities, as she described.
“One of my strongest suits as a rider is tactical and bike handling skills, being able to position myself where it’s necessary to do well. Last year I completely used everybody else’s riders, I put myself wherever I needed to be, whether it was a TIBCO train or if it was a Colavita train. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time.” said Allar.
As a guest rider for Lisa Hunt’s Value Act team last year, Allar scored the win at the Cannon Falls stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. “Cannon Falls had the most people there, the biggest field, the most depth in the amount of riders who were represented there. I’d like to win more races of that caliber, with that kind of field, with that kind of horsepower in it.
“With your elbows.” she laughed when asked how to defend the train. “I’m really aggressive, I’m definitely noticed in the field, I’m a taller girl, I make a statement I’m not invisible. We have other tall riders in the team who are obvious in the field and they make a statement as well. I think we’re ready to take on that challenge.”
While this is her first year as a pro rider, Carrie Cash raced with Team Revolution last year, mostly in the mid-west.
“We have lots of horsepower, I look at it as a locomotive.” said Cash. “It’s dynamite explosion train, there’s going to be tons of traffic this year. With all the re-organization you’re going to be looking at three solid trains this year and the traffic is going to be tremendous. The end of that leadout train is all going to be about traffic control, get high, heavy fast and hard and I love that kind of thing. Taking Erica to the line or whoever at that particular moment, getting them through that and dragging them head to head is the main objective. We have to make it elbow to elbow and make sure we hold that.”
She’s confident that she can do her job of keeping everyone safe, the speed high and getting the sprinter to the right position.
“I tend to be a little bit of a headstrong rider, I’m peripheral, I look up the road, back the road, I’m a mirror rider. It’s all instinct for me as opposed to a plan so execution last minute sometimes it happens it’s got to go. If she snaps on the reins and kicks me in the rear we’re going to go.” commented Cash who is seeking redemption at Tulsa Tough where she broke her collarbone last year.
“Right now we have to have faith in each other.” replied Cash when asked how a train is built with riders coming in from different teams. “We have to ride with an open mind and really expects high things and have high regards for each other. We’re all very talented and as long as we know that going in and everybody is willing to work hard, it comes together a lot faster. Being smooth and having a goal ahead of time.”
Newcomer Lauren Hall is starting her third year of riding and racing. She played Collegiate D1 soccer and then competed as a semi-pro soccer player for one year with Kat Carroll (Peanut Butter Co TWENTY12).
She reached out to Carroll after seeing an ad in a magazine and then contacted Mike Engleman of US Women’s cycling Development Program for advice. Her progress continued as she raced in a few NRC events on composite teams.
“My very first NRC race was with Amber Neben as a guest rider and the very first day after the time trial was so windy, I didn’t have the experience and I sat on the front and pulled.” said Hall about 2009 Redlands Bicycle Classic. “The first lap I blew up so the first lap I was away from the main group, the second lap I was with the chase group and the third lap I was like ‘somebody get me off this bike’. I came in, missed the time cut, fell to pieces mentally but I knew that I had the bug then.”
In line for a supervisory position, she quit her job in child nutrition in April last year and moved to Colorado to pursue the dream. A week later, she was at it again, this time racing at the Tour of the Gila, once again on a composite team, this time led by Kristin Armstrong.
“In two months I got to meet Amber Neben and Kristin Armstrong, it was just amazing the talent that they have and the knowledge that they gave me.” Hall continued. She also guest-rode for Hunt’s Value Act Capital team at the 2009 Cascade Cycling Classic later that summer.
While still a lot of learning to do on the bike, Hall plans on using her knowledge of team dynamics to help out the team on and off the bike. She also has no problems with the argy-bargy that can happen at a sprint. She also raced cyclocross for the first time last fall with the Subaru-Hudz team.
“So doing cyclocross, falling all the time, running into people, throwing elbows just like soccer, that’s what we do, anything on the bike it’s all bike-related, I’ll play down and dirty then off the bike, I’m the nicest person.” smiled Hall. “ I hope to help the team, I want to win, I want our girls to win, I want us to be very successful so whatever that takes.”
Two years ago, Alison Testroete was part of the now defunct Aaron’s Cycling team, racing in the US and decided to scale it back in 2009. She’s back.
“I guess I wanted to experience other things in life, I had planned to take a year off and I really ended up missing it.” said Testroete. “Dipping in and re-finding why I really love this sport and then also the team that I was on, we had a lot of fun. I knew that this year I wanted to get back to racing in the US on a team like this. I needed some kind of results.”
And she did get results, winning the Canadian National Road Championships in June. “I was just there racing for myself, just loving racing and I guess I just reached my potential at that race.”
Her goal this year is “the team’s goal”, to contribute any way she can, either in breaks, in the leadout train or going for sprinter’s or climber’s jerseys. “I see my role as ever evolving depending on the situation.”
One thing she does bring to the train is an engine. “I have the power, I have that kick, climbs anything under 5 or 6K. I’m not a pure climber, I’m not a pure sprinter.”
For Testroete, there are many team players that can be used in a leadout. “If it comes to a sprint, Erica is our sprinter and then maybe Lisa would have me as a sweep or something like that. I know how a sprint works, I’m not a huge bunch sprinter but I know how it works and I know what it is that we need to do. I have the power and probably the speed to drop her off, we have a lot of powerful riders to keep that going.”
She does plan on defending her title against a tough field in this year Canadian Championships. “It won’t be easy. We’ll see what the course is like, how it plays out.”
Another engine in the train is Oceania Games Time Trial Champion Alexi Rhodes.
“For me it’s knowing that I helped my sprinter do their job. Every year I get a bit smarter and learn how to use my power more efficiently and I think that’s part of the fun as well. Obviously you can be the strongest person out there but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the best leadout, you need to be tactically aware.” said Rhodes.
“I’m not a sprinter and I’m not a climber so I guess I’m all out of luck really.” Rhodes laughed. She is ready to play a support role. “I’ve done that before. It will be good to mix it up in the leadout and try to held Alison in the climbs as much as I can.”
One of her personal goals is to ride at the World Championships in the time trial. “I’ve already got my spot, I won Oceania Time Trial Championships in New Zealand in November.” said the Australian who rode with Webcor Builders last year.
As far as team goal, “we’re going to try and win as many races as possible and raise funds for the Vera Bradley Foundation. “ explained Rhodes. “So far, the Vera Bradley Foundation has raised over 10 million dollars for cancer research, they were formed in 1998. For us, it’s all about racing, raising money for the VBF and having a good time.”
Racing for a cause. The riders on the team have been charged with a dual mission. Team VBF will be racing their bikes to win races and raise funds for breast cancer research.
“It’s not like that we’re just racing to win, we do want the victory, we want those things but also we want the satisfaction that we’re here to support a cause that could affect us either individually, or our mothers, our grand mothers, our children in the future, our best friends. And that for me, we’re standing for something and doing it for something that’s bigger than all of us as bike riders is really important.” said Allar.
Battle is on. Women’s racing should provide trains battling each other at the front this year, with TIBCO/To The Top, Colavita/Baci and Peanut Butter Co TWENTY12 all mixing it up at the front.
“I think that there is going to be a good battle.” said Hunt.
Cash is ready for it. “The more chaotic the better. We really know what we’re up against, we know the girls and what they’re made of. The formations, there are going to be some strange dynamics between those trains and I think that’s one good thing that we have going for us because we started fresh in a lot of ways. A lot of teams have a lot of power going head to head with each other, coming down the line we know what our goal is and there might be some chaos that we can take advantage of.”
“It’s going to be a nice challenge.” said Allar. “As long as there is an equal respect for the opposing, you don’t want to go and deliberately jump third wheel in their train if it’s already put together but understanding that there are two different teams trying to accomplish the same goal and tasks and respecting that, everything will be fine.”
The team will be racing at the San Dimas Stage race this weekend but the first major test of the train will be at the NRC opener, the Redlands Bicycle Classic in two weeks.
“We’re going to try, we’re going to give Ina a little run for her money this year.” smiled Hunt who’s ready to take on Redlands defending champion and formidable sprinter Ina Teutenberg and her HTC-Columbia team.