Tough Menomonie stage lived up to its billing. At the end of the 81-mile road race, the yellow jersey had changed shoulders, from Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12) to Amber Neben (HTC-HighRoad).
Decisive climbs all day. After lots of attacks, seven riders escaped on the first QOH, only 13 miles into the stage. Inga Cilvinatte (Diadora-Pasta Zara), Leah Kirchmann (Colavita/Forno d’Asolo), Megan Guarnier and Samantha Schneider (Team TIBCO/To The Top), Ally Stacher (HTC-Highroad), Anna Barensfeld (Missing Link Coaching Systems/Specialized), and Tyler Wiles (Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12) were off, gaining one minute, the two minutes on the field. The cooperation faltered and the gap was coming down.
But fireworks continued with the goal to isolate Armstrong, and when that happened, Neben jumped across to the break on the feedzone climb. The riders in the break continued to work together, and then the third QOH, and more re-shuffling. Erinne Willock (TIBCO/To The Top) bridged up to riders up the road. Meanwhile Wiles dropped back to help her teammate chase the very dangerous move.
The seven riders were still together when they started the first of four short finishing circuits back in Menomonie. The gap which has fallen to 33 seconds went back up 12 seconds by the next lap. The catch would not be made, but the big question was how much time would Neben, highest placed rider on GC in the break, get on Armstrong?
With a gap hovering at the minute mark on the final, it was time to think about the stage win. Willock attacked on the final corner but fast sprinter Kirchmann opened her sprint, came around and sprinted to the line for the win. Neben took second and Willock third.
Neben now leads with 21 seconds on Willock, 38 on Kirchmann and 52 seconds on Armstrong. It looks for Neben but anything can happen at Stillwater.
One stage to go, the very tough – maybe the toughest – crit in the USA. This signature stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix is infamous for Chilkoot Hill, the 20 percent grade wall that climbs to the finish line. But this epic climb is followed by a false flat and then First Street Hill on the backside, where many attacks take place because riders have had no chance to recover from Chilkoot. A four-corner, white-knuckled descent brings the riders back to the foot of Chilkoot for the next lap. With its unique corners and abrupt changes in grade, experience on this idiosyncratic course is a major advantage. Starting at 11:45am, the women do 13 laps.
Amber Neben (HTC-High Road). “Kristin is super-strong and we just had her in a vulnerable position, there’s not a lot that you can do when you’re in that position and we took advantage of our numbers.”
About the stage. “Immediately on that feedzone climb, we were able to get her isolated and then once I was able to get across to the break that was ahead, I thought we might have a chance because there was numbers in the break to ride with me. We had a minute and a half there, and when we were sitting at a minute and kind of holding, I was feeling pretty good about things just because I know how hard her team has worked this week. And so it was going to be mano a mano, there were seven riders with me, four, five of them were riding and I figured if we could get to the circuits, we’d have a chance and we did. It came down a little bit but we were able to get it back up. I think it was just the length of the day, and we were motivated up front to keep going.”
About wearing the yellow jersey. “It always feels good, it’s always an honor. You never take it for granted and it’s the team, the team rode really great this week. If we’re going to keep it, it’s going to be a team deal too. It’s fun, it’s an honor and yeah I’ll enjoy it.”
About Stillwater. “It’s hard. It’s a wall. It’s pretty much up and down, nothing in between and it’s just going to be game on, fireworks the whole day.”
About defending the yellow. “We’ve got the jersey right now, one more day, a hard day, nothing is guaranteed but we’ll work hard and do our best to keep it.”
Erinne Willock (Team TIBCO/To The Top). “It all started at the beginning. This course is hard, there’s roller after roller and it doesn’t stop all day long. There was an early break, Megan and Sam, my teammates were up there, maybe about eight girls. Amber bridged, then I bridged and then my two teammates drove it, as well as HTC and we were able to gain a minute by the end.”
About Stillwater. “Tomorrow is definitely a really hard course, it’s really not a crit, it’s not a circuit race, the Stillwater hill is brutally hard. It usually breaks up, usually have some climbers up front and I know HTC will be on the offensive as well as is, we’re all going to be trying to move up more, there’s one more spot on the podium tomorrow, we’ll what we can do.”
Top 10 Stage Results (Complete Results)
1. *Leah Kirchmann (Colavita/Forno d’Asolo p/b Cooking Light) 3.21’08″
2. Amber Neben (HTC-High Road)
3. Erinne Willock (Team TIBCO/To The Top)
4. Anna Barensfeld (Missing Link Coaching Systems / Specialized)
5. *Ally Stacher (HTC-High Road)
6. *Inga Cilvinaite (Diadora Pasta Zara)
7. *Samantha Schneider (Team TIBCO/To The Top) 16″
8. Christina Gokey-Smith (NOW And Novartis For MS) 1’13″
9. *Chloe Hosking (HTC-High Road) 1’13″
10. *Emily Collins (Vanderkitten-Focus) 1’13″
Top 10 GC After Stage 5
1. Amber Neben (HTC-High Road) 7.13’05″
2. Erinne Willock (Team TIBCO/To The Top) 21″
3. *Leah Kirchmann (Colavita/Forno d’Asolo p/b Cooking Light) 38″
4. Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12) 52″
5. Anna Barensfeld (Missing Link Coaching Systems / Specialized) 59″
6. *Ally Stacher (HTC-High Road) 1’00″
7. Evelyn Stevens (HTC-High Road) 1’15″
8. Anne Samplonius (NOW And Novartis For MS) 1’37″
9. Amber Pierce (Diadora Pasta Zara) 1’37″
10. *Rushlee Buchanan (Colavita/Forno d’Asolo p/b Cooking Light) 1’39″