Photo courtesy of Ken Conley - kwc.org
Saint Salvy de la Balme, France - Alison Starnes of Team TIBCO is proving to be an incredibly quick study, along with being a very strong rider.
Barely more than a year into her cycling career, not just at the elite level, but since her first race as a Category 4 rider, this past Friday Starnes delivered her third podium in five races in France.
Riding for the U.S. National Development Team, the 23-year-old missed out on her first professional win in Europe by less than the width of her Challenge tire to Béatrice Thomas.
Starnes has adapted to the French style of racing. "Chris (Georges, her team director) told us to attack from the gun, which wasn't anything new," Starnes said. "That's how they race here. Even if it is 80 miles long, they race from the gun. Right after the start, I worked on gaining position and got ready to attack."
The race consisted of 10 laps around an 8 km circuit that climbed in steps, with slight down-hills, and a sharp right that led to a steep climb up to the KOM. This was followed by a steep, technical 3k descent back into St. Salvy de lat Balme.
The first time up the climb, Starnes drove the pace, with teammates Lindsey Meyers and Devon Haskell countering her moves. By the top of the first climb, Starnes had helped develop a break of eight riders. The second time up the climb, she repeated her attacks and by the time she crossed the KOM the second time, it was just her and Thomas.
"I knew this girl was good," Starnes said. "Chris told me to look out for her. She won the whole French Cup series last year."
With eight laps still remaining, the duo worked well together to extend their gap, first to 10 seconds and finally out to 35 seconds, where it held for much of the race.
"With two laps to go, I started contemplating how was I going to win this bike race," Starnes said. Thomas was likely considering the same thing. Over the final two laps, both riders took turns attacking each other, but with the same result. So when they came into the finishing straight, it was apparent that they would dual in a two-up sprint for the win.
"She took the last corner, and went for I," Starnes explained. "I stayed on her wheel until 200m to go and jumped. I kept going and going. Was I sprinting? I have never had to sprint for the win."
She came to the line and executed a bike throw to try to gain a slim advantage. Photo finish, and second place by a centimeter.
"This race was very hard for me both physically and mentally," she said. "I was a little fatigued in the break and it was hard to keep pushing the pace. Then, once it was established I had to try to figure out how to win the bike race. I was disappointed after the race because it all came down to 1cm. As disappointing as that can be, it also makes you want to keep coming back and racing your bike. It also makes me want to learn how to sprint better."
She'll be practicing what she learned in Europe back in the United States later this month. You can read more about Starnes' European trip at www.alisonstarnes.com/blog.