The first stage was a 4km prologue which I thought was going to be relatively flat but once we had arrived at the start I soon realised that wasn't the case. It was a shame the course was hillier than originally thought, I was hoping to get a good time and start the week off with a good result but that’s bike racing and you have to go with the flow. The course however was ideal for Sharon and for a long time she was leading until the last few riders went off. She finished 3rd which put her into a great position going into day 2.
The second day was horrible, one of the worse days on the bike in a long time.There was a hard climb about an hour in that completely shattered the field and there were groups everywhere. The terrain for the next 30km was rolling and had some real hard hills that zapped the legs. Finally we reached the flat highway but that was no easier thanks to a head wind. It was only me and Lauren at this point so we were pretty tired and for sure fed up and just wanted the finish to hurry up. A group of around 20 caught us about 20km from the finish so we just rolled through with them. It all shattered again going up the finishing climb and I was left on my own slogging away. We lost a lot of time but thankfully made the time cut so were able to fight another day.
Day 3 was a pretty straight forward day. The last 25km was up hill so it was Laurens, Ruths and mine job to keep the race under control and fast all the way to the bottom of the climb, where we would swing off and leave it to the climbers to race it to the finish. The finishing town was very crazy with people and cars everywhere which I did not enjoy. We took it steady especially after a drunk man walked in front of us and threw his hat into the bunch. Once we crossed the line we headed back to the car were we got the news that the helicopter that had been following the race had crashed and there had been a fatality, this was awful news to hear and it made it even harder that it was a really close friend to the all the guys from radio Femenina that had been helping us over the stage race. News then came in later that night that another victim had died.
The morning of the race we were told that the first climb and descent was going to be neutralised to show respect and for the safety of the riders. The race stopped at the bottom of the climb for 5 minutes so we replaced old bottles and prepared for the official start. It started right at the bottom of a 10km climb which wasn't great but my legs were starting to come round after a couple of days of struggling and I made it over the top not to far off the back of the bunch. I was with a group of about 8 and we all worked really well together and made it back to the front bunch. I went straight to the front and did what I could for the girls, fetching bottles and keeping the tempo reasonably high on the front. I have been getting nose bleeds recently and unfortunately got one half way down a descent which wasn't ideal and I resembled the look of someone that had just had a fight…and lost. I went back to the car and cleaned myself up and quickly got back to the job in hand. I got gapped on the last climb and finished 6minutes down on the winner but was still happy with how it went and pleased my legs were starting to come good.
Today was the day that I had been dreading. The stage was only 46km long but went up a volcano. The climb was after 30km and then it went up for 16km to the finish. From the gun it was fast and Rusvelo were keen to keep it that way all the way to the bottom of the climb, which we were fine with because that was our plan as well, just meant we didn't have to sit on the front and drill it, they did instead. We covered the first 30km in 42minutes which was quick. Mara had been looking forward to this day for a very long time and she couldn’t wait to put the hurt on. Katie attacked at the bottom and when she got brought back Sharon counter attacked it and rode solo for about a kilometer before she was brought back. Mara waited a little and then went. By the top of the climb she had put almost 3 minutes into the rest of the competitors and was now comfortably in the leaders jersey. I got the good news about 5km from the summit and was thrilled for her.
The last day was the only flat day of the whole 9 days so I was pretty excited to get on the start line. Before we could even think about the finish we had to defend the jersey. Its always cool riding on the front as a team but riding on the front, as a team, with the yellow jersey is awesome!!! A lot of riders wanted to get away so we didn't have an easy ride and were kept on our toes. 2 riders got away and went up the road but we kept it under control and knew that the numbers were in our favour and with 2 riders being chased by 4 of us it was going to be hard for them to stay away. Unfortunately the stage was 4km shorter than we had anticipated and the first sign we saw was the 3k to go. Everyone then got very twitchy. After all their awesome work the UHC girls peeled off and I used the wheels and made sure I was in a good position and didn't drop back to far. After so many hilly stages all the sprinters were keen to get a good result as was I. I was in a good position and sprinted with about 150m. It was a slight up hill finish so didn't want to go to early. I crossed the line in 3rd about 100m shy of the 2 escapees which was very frustrating but I was happy to get on the podium, in fact even finishing in the front bunch was an achievement.
I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone at Radio Feminina that helped us out for the 2 weeks. From the airport pick up, taking us to dinner, driving us to and from races they were awesome and we really appreciated it.
Now 2 weeks in Asheville before heading over to the west coast in just under 2 weeks for Redlands 5 day stage race.