The ValueAct Capital Professional Women's Cycling Team came to Mt Hood Cycling Classic with the aim of getting rider Leah Goldstein on the top step of the podium for the fourth-time. In a row.

Last year, while riding for the Symmetrics team, Goldstein along with one and only one teammate Marni Hambleton, took the yellow jersey on the fourth stage, the time trial and successfully defended against onslaught of attacks, especially from the Aaron's Women Pro Cycling Team. Ironically, Goldstein took the yellow jersey from the ValueAct team.

Leah Goldstein (ValueAct) powering through the Mt Hood prologue, photo c. Lyne Lamoureux

Goldstein and Hambleton joined ValueAct in 2008, and with a full squad of 6 riders, the team is ready to go to work a Hood. Joining Goldstein and Hambleton are Lara Kroepsch, Emily Zell, Martina Patella and Sharon Allpress.

I caught up with the team prior to the start of the prologue to get their thoughts on the upcoming race.

"Last year we were really in the yellow jersey for 3 of the 5 stages with Katie [Mactier]. Last year, we were a first year team, a young team and we learned a lot, we made mistakes, I think this race is going to be an opportunity for us to show that we've learned from those mistakes and that we've learned to control a race more effectively." said Patella about the lessons learned from last year.

In 2008, Mt Hood Cycling Classic is one of only three UCI women's point races in the United States making it a very important stopping point for the women hoping to earn a selection for the Olympics. The ladies in blue re-iterated a sentiment that was expressed by the women in the field about the UCI rating.

"I really like this race and I like that they put the spotlight on women and really appreciate that, I know it's not easy to do but I think it makes it a very special race in America." said Patella.

But the UCI rating brings a much stronger field.

"It's different it's UCI, it's got better, stronger field, so it's not the same race as the previous years, it's going to be more of a challenge so it's kind of ride into it. We had a good victory in Gila, that's a good motivator, hopefully we'll carry that on for this race. " said Goldstein.

The strategy of the team is fairly simple to explain. With the first two stages described as flat, or somewhat flat in the case of the Mt Tabor Criterium, Goldstein will conserve energy in the field, protected by her teammates, and wait for the time trial to strike.

"This year, having more flat terrain initially with that prologue and the crit, things will definitely change towards the end of the week." said Hambleton.

Patella, Kroepsch and Hambleton see their roles for this week as a two-prong approach.

"One to either ride aggressively when the course or team tactics call for that, and the other one is to conserve energy, be prepared to ride tempo, keep it together and protect the jersey." said Patella about her role.

"Looking forwards to the criterium days but then providing help and maybe bringing some experience to the bunch, to kind of get organized when we need to." said Kroepsch, a talented criterium rider, with two collegiate national championships on her resume.

Zell and Allpress, who loves stage races and long endurance events, will be assets once the road starts going up.

It's all about conserving energy. "Take a little heat off the team in the early stages and get her in the jersey once it really starts getting hilly . We've got to ride smart and keep our horsepower together. And that means when breaks go off, we're gonna be feathering the gaps and we really need to save our energy for when it's going to count for winning the jersey for Leah." said Patella.

A strong field means a long list of competitors and the team is hoping to play off of that fact, and are looking forwards to the opportunity to show themselves as a strong stage race team.

"It's a lot of good depth to the field which is great, it's a great field." said Hunt.

Depth in the field. The Aaron's team with Felicia Gomez who finished second overall last year, Cheerwine with Leigh Hobson who finished second at Gila, Canadian Anne Samplonius and climber Marisa Asplund-Owens. Colavita/Sutter Home who's been on fire lately. Tibco also has a strong team. And then the wildcards, High Road's Mara Abbott and Kim Anderson who are riding on a composite team, and the most decorated female cyclist, ever, the 49-year old Jeannie Longo, also riding for a second composite team with Flavia Oliviera of Vanderkitten.

"Everybody, Jeannie Longo is here, Mara Abbott, I've got a handful, I've got my work cut out for me here for sure. Form is good, we'll have fun, see what happens. As long as I ride 110%, I'm happy. I have a full team, can't get better than that." said Goldstein when asked about her competitors.

"It's a lot different for Leah this year, she's got a full team supporting her, there are a lot of other teams here, so it's not like Leah versus one team, it's going to be a lot of different teams battling it out so it's a great opportunity for us." said Team Directeur Lisa Hunt.

So far, the race is going according to plan for the ValueAct team. They've stayed calm in the field and after the first two stages, Goldstein is sitting at 14 seconds down from the leader, and the roads will start going up on stage 2, the Cooper Spur Circuit Race.

We'll know more about the GC contenders after stage 3, the Scenic Gorge Time Trial. The 18.5 mile course starts off with a flat 5 miles before the first obstacle, 2-mile (cat 3) climb up the Rowena Loops. The road gradually descends into the town of Mosier, and then back up a cat 4 climb to the Historic Mosier Tunnels, than finish off with 5 miles of rolling terrain to the finish line.

And the final test, stage 5, the Wy'East Road Race which had to be revised in the week before the start of Mt Hood as 20 miles of road are still covered in 3-4 feet of snow. The women will be faced with 8000 feet of climbing over 74 miles. The final two-mile stretch to the finish at the ski resort has an average gradient of 10%, including sections that approach 12 percent.

The team just finished a very successful Tour of the Gila, where they defended the leader's pink jersey from start to finish with Goldstein. And they are hoping to use that experience to leave Hood with another yellow jersey.

"We do have Leah Goldstein on our team, she just came off winning Gila so I think she's riding really well, and she's obviously performed well here in the past. Because it's a UCI race, the caliber of the field is a lot higher than it's been in the past but I still think that Leah can ride with the best of them out there." said Patella.