Agen, France - Alison Starnes of Team TIBCO took a hard-earned 3rd place at Les Pruneaux D'Agen in France Sunday. Starnes, who is racing for the U.S. National Development Team on this trip, soloed in for 3rd on the final lap of the 40-lap, 70km criterium, which was won by teammate Devon Haskell, ahead of another American, Megan Guarnier.
"With six girls in the race, we wanted to make it hard, fast and safe," Starnes said of the race, which was run under cold and rainy conditions.
The team was aggressive from the start, and by five laps in, Haskell and Guarnier had established a break with a third rider. That left Starnes and teammates Lindsey Meyers and Sinead Miller in a group of seven chasers, with nothing to do but chase down any attacks from their group, which they did handily.
"The other girls were relentless in attacking," she said. "We still had 33 laps to go and they were attacking every lap!"
However, they weren't quite as good at working together in the chase, which allowed the trio upfront to maintain their gap. They did succeed in lapping the field twice, though. And when the two Americans succeeded in dropping their break-mate later in the race, the U.S. team's director, Chris Georges, came on over the radio and told the other U.S. Development riders they were racing for 3rd place.
"With three laps to go, Chris gave us the green light to attack," Starnes said. "I was chomping at the bit to attack, so I took off as hard as I could up the hill but I was caught with just under two laps to go. I thought I could lead Sinead out, but the final corner was an extremely technical 180 degree corner, and it was getting very slippery out. I knew Sinead could win the bunch sprint, so with 1 lap to go, I attacked again, just to draw out some of the other riders to shred their legs a little. I jumped over the top of the hill and hammered along. My wheel slipped on turn three, and I cautiously took the 180. I saw the 500m to the finish, and just started pretending I was doing the pursuit again."
It worked, and she soloed across the line for 3rd, while Miller took 4th and Meyers took 5th just behind her.
Starnes turns first trip to the track into Pursuit win.
Just a couple days earlier, Georges had take Starnes to the outdoor track in Fiox, about 75 km north of their base in Limoux in the south of France. It was Starnes' first ever trip to ride on a track, but apparently, as she has been with road racing, she's a quick learner.
Georges set her up with a Look track bike, and had Starnes practicing the pursuit, which for the women is a 3 km event, covering 12 trips around the track.
The next day, this past Friday, Georges to Starnes and her teammates back to the track for some live racing.
"Somewhere between the practice and the race, I got some sort of stomach bug, and I wasn't feeling very well," Starnes said. "I couldn't keep any food down, but I was excited to check it out.
"Chris gave us our one-hour warm-up protocol, which is a brutal warm-up full of 115rpm openers. But when your event shouldn't take over four minutes, you better be good and warm before you start."
Which she was, but the weather wasn't cooperating, as it started raining on the concrete track not long before her event. But the race went on anyway.
"Finally it was my turn to go, and I started off - my starts are very slow and need a lot of work. My holder let me go, and then as I slooooowly accelerated, he said, 'mademoiselle, go go, allez?'
"I started sprinting and then settled into my aero position," she said.
And then she kept going hard - and won.
"I had a lot of fun, and learned a thing or two about track cycling," she added. "I almost forgot to keep pedaling when I finished my effort, and was nervous dismounting after the race as well. After all, I had only gotten off a track bike once before."
Starnes European trip continues for a couple more weeks and a couple more races. You can follow her exploits at www.alisonstarnes.com/blog.