New teams and new favorites make this year’s Women’s Prestige Cycling Series wide open when it begins Thursday in California with the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
Since 2004, the Series has highlighted women’s racing by giving them a spotlight they do not have to share with men. It is the only national series solely for women and is considered to be the heir apparent to the HP International Women’s Challenge, which ended its 19-year run in 2002.
Last year’s winner, Mara Abbott, returns to defend her individual title, but she will not be supported by her new Diadora Safi-Pasta team. Instead, she will be guest riding for SC Velo-Empower Coaching. Other favorites for the individual title include two-time world time trial champion Kristin Armstrong, who managed Abbott last year as part of the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 squad. Armstrong, the 2008 Olympic time trial gold medalist and four-time Nature Valley Grand Prix champion, has come out of retirement to ride for Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12. Other individual contenders are Catherine Cheatley (Colavita Forno D’Asolo), who finished third in the Series last year, and former world time trial champion Amber Neben (HTC-Highroad).
Neben’s teammate, Amanda Miller, is the favorite for the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series Best Young Rider competition. An alumna of the Nature Valley Grand Prix’s Collegiate All Star team, Miller was runner-up at the San Dimas Stage Race, the traditional tune-up for Redlands. The 25-year-old is also the only rider who retains her age edibility from the top five of last year’s Best Young Rider classification.
The Series Sprint classification is wide open. Last year’s champion, Carla Swart, was killed in a training accident in January, while runner-up Shelley Olds is racing in Europe. Third-place finisher Carmen Small (Team TIBCO/To The Top) may be challenged by Cheatley or Abbott, particularly if they are not contesting the individual title.
On paper, HTC-Highroad is the favorite to unseat 2010 team champion Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12. While HTC-Highroad is stacked with talent, Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12 has lost Olds (to Diadora-Pasta Zara-Manhattan) and Abbott. However, Armstrong’s return from retirement may well fill that gap. Other teams that could be in contention include Colavita Forno D’Asolo and Team TIBCO/To The Top.
2011 Women’s Prestige Cycling Series Teams:
- Colavita Forno D’Asolo
- Danbury Audi
- Missing Link Coaching Systems-Specialized
- NOW-MS Society
- Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12
- SC Velo-Empower Coaching
- Team Juvederm
- Team Rouse
- Team Kenda presented by GEARGRINDER
- Team TIBCO/To The Top
- Webcor Alto Velo