Valley of the Sun kicked off Friday with the middle-of-nowhere time trial, but one thing was distinct: the Pro Women’s field brought the big guns.
It was game on for UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank, Rally Cycling and Twenty20 p/b ShoAir – the nation’s top cycling teams – in their first stateside race of the year, and they didn’t disappoint.
With aero-tastic riders from six countries, these stacked teams went off down a ramp that catapulted them into the 2018 race season and a guaranteed nail-biting three days of racing.
Leah Thomas (UHC) came away with the time trial win and a time of 31:49.096, about 13 seconds ahead of Canadian Sara Bergen (Rally).
All but one of the top 10 riders from the time trial come from UHC, Rally, TIBCO and Twenty20. Other top riders from around the country fill in the rest of the field – Beth Ann Orton (Point S Racing) took third Friday, and lone wolf Tarah Cole (UCI Hagens Berman | Supermint Professional Cycling Team) broke into the top 20.
“It is great to get the season underway at Valley of the Sun stage race with UnitedHealthcare,” Thomas said. “Every time trial is a learning experience, and the 14-mile relentless time trial is an excellent test to help gauge my early season fitness and time trial position, and to identify things to tweak and improve upon before the next race.”
Thomas said that with Australian teammate Lauretta Hanson sitting in fourth place, UHC will have some cards to play in the road race.
“I am looking forward to racing a dynamic stage with my teammates and working together to protect the overall lead,” Thomas said.
Who can stop the Blue Train?
The Blue Train will have its work cut out for it, with a team of 10 TIBCO riders, including Australian National Champion Shannon Malseed, breathing down its neck.
This is Malseed’s first visit to Arizona and VOS, and she’s fresh off the Tour Down Under.
“I’ve never been to Arizona, so this is new for me,” Malseed said. “I’m honestly mesmerised [Australian for mesmerized] by the landscape and all the cacti!”
Malseed said VOS is the perfect early season race to “reset the motor and prep the legs” after racing in Australia.
“It’s great to be able to test our form against some strong teams and see what areas we may need to work on for the remaining season,” Malseed said. “I’m looking forward to the road race and am excited to race against some quality competition in the women’s field.”
Home field advantage?
For Twenty20’s Erica Clevenger, VOS is a homecoming after racing against Malseed in the Tour Down Under.
Clevenger began racing bikes in Arizona, and won two national collegiate titles in cycling and triathlon for the University of Arizona. She and her three teammates will look to make up time in Saturday’s road race, and VOS is a race she knows well.
“It is so exciting to come back and race in Arizona,” Clevenger said. “There are a lot of familiar faces around, and that makes it a really fun race for me. I am really looking forward throwing down for the road race tomorrow. It’s sure to be a thriller.”
Valley of the ☀️ stage race, stage one time trial results: 2nd @_SaraBergen, 5th @summermoak14, 10th @GillianEllsay, 13th @franzyprawnzy. #stacked #newbikeday #rallygrateful 📸 @zane_free_4130 pic.twitter.com/hoGWNUU43B
— Rally Cycling (@Rally_Cycling) February 16, 2018
Rally’s small but mighty contingent of four riders – all of which placed in the top 15 in Friday’s time trial – will come into play in Saturday’s road race as well.
Summer Moak (Rally), who has now made a home in Arizona, landed on the podium in fifth after Friday and sits 40 seconds back from GC.
“Honestly, I surprised myself today,” Moak said. “You never really know where you stand going into the first race of the season, it feels good to know the training is paying off.”
She credited her consistent on-the-bike training, gym workouts to work on weaknesses and move to the Rally team in terms of support and encouragement as major factors in her performance.
Moak said she’s looking to test her legs and get back into race mode again at VOS.
“It’s awesome having a stacked women’s field, it seems to get bigger each year,” Moak said. “We have a small team of only four riders here, and three of us are new. Our main goal is to communicate with each other during the race and leaving with the yellow jersey would just be an added bonus.”
Main photo credit: Jonathan Devich/Epic Images