Today's fourth and final stage at the Merco Credit Union Cycling Classic was the 120 KM Almond Blossom Road Race. Waking to pattering drops of rain, an early start, chilly temperatures and gray skies did nothing to lighten the mood of the starters. As the race unfolded, so did the weather, leaving the competitors wet, cold and covered in grime. However, the rain did nothing to dampen the feisty racing, as HTC and Tibco unleashed early attacks, one after another, trying to loosen Alison Starnes' grip on the Yellow Leader's Jersey.
It looked like the relentless attacks would never cease, until finally Tibco's Kendal Ryan succeeded in breaking the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12 leash on the field. Shortly after, HTC's Ally Stacher, and Starla Teddergreen (Vanderkitten-Focus) joined her. After 12 kilometers, Peggy Legrand (US Military) bridged and the foursome worked well together. Although none were a threat to Starnes' Yellow Jersey, the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12 team began their seamless rotation at the front. However, the cohesive foursome slowly put time into the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12 powerful rotation, with some thinking maybe this would be the group that finally edged their way through the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12's control of the peloton.
Just when it looked like the break might have some hope, Starnes' well oiled machine brought the pace up and within a few kilometers the group was back in the fold. At this point, Teutenberg and third place Pascale Maria Schnider put pressure on the now stretched thin field, sensing weakness in the Peanut Butter & Co. Team.
As HTC and Schnider upped the ante, the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12 answered in kind and soon the field was Groupo Compacto and headed to the finish line for what was to be an inevitable fireworks between the top sprinters in the field, Teutenberg, Schnider and Tamayo.
As Tamayo's team wound up for the sprint, the pace reached 30 mph, and HTC matched Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12's speed pedal stroke for pedal stroke. As the group crested the final hill and the lead-out riders pulled off it was Teutenberg, Schnider and Tamayo in a drag race to the finish. At the line it was Teutenberg throwing her hands in the air for the victory over Schnider and Tamayo in third. Today's win was Teutenberg's second of the race, and secured her the "Combined Jersey" competition. Her young HTC teammate, Amanda Miller's, stellar ride on day one put her in the White Young Rider's jersey which kept throughout the entire race.
However, the big winner of the 2011 edition of the Merco Credit Union Stage Race was Alison Starnes and her Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12 teammates. Kicking off the 2011 season with a fantastic show of unity and well executed teamwork, the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12 team is off to a great start. Schnider finished second to Starnes and narrowly edged out her Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12 teammate McGrath, who finished in third.
The Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12 team now has a brief break before racing kicks off again next weekend. The next North American Stop is the San Dimas Stage Race, followed shortly thereafter by the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
Thank you to everyone for following us on our journey to Gold. You can read more about the team on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
Photo: Wil Matthews