Jennifer Wheeler closed out the USA Crits Speedweek with the victory in a late solo effort. Photo by Jonathan Devich, Epic Images
Sandy Springs, GA - Jennifer Wheeler of Team TIBCO/To the Top earned her first NRC victory on the final day of Speedweek, wining the Sandy Springs Criterium out of a late two-rider break. Team TIBCO contested the seven-day criterium series over 10 days in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. A podium finish had eluded the team since the start of the series, and they entered the final day hungry for the win.
"Still, I'm thrilled we finally won," Wheeler said. "I'm happy to contribute to the team in this way, and I'm satisfied that I've finally started to demonstrate my value."
Wheeler's win in Sandy Springs, GA came on a six-corner course with an uphill finish. "Turns three, four and five were pretty fast," Wheeler explained. "They were good places to gain speed if the corner was taken right. I liked the course. Once you got around the corner, you were out of sight. This was advantageous to the chase, who would put in extra effort because they didn't quite know the time gap. Actually, it probably worked both ways. It was good for the break, too. There's nothing more demoralizing than seeing a group of 40 angry women on your tail."
The victory was a true team effort. "Today, each of us had the ability to win," said Wheeler. "We all had the ability to get off the front. We were all looking for just the right moment. We had given ourselves a full hand of cards to play instead of just the one card we had held earlier in the week - our one job for the race. Without any assigned roles, it opened the door for us to seize opportunities as they presented themselves."
The TIBCO trio of Wheeler, Samantha Schneider and Kendall Ryan raced aggressively, with Schneider and Wheeler launching attacks early on in the race. In the latter half, Schneider and Ryan sat up front while Wheeler sat in. "Kendall was going for primes, and I was practicing being patient - a new skill I'm learning," joked Wheeler. "With two laps go, Edita Janeliunaite attacked, and I bridged up to her. When we passed the start/finish with one to go, I attacked her, and I held her off for the win." Janeliunaite would take second and Nicky Wangsgard rounded out the podium.
Schneider earned the Best Young Rider jersey on day one in Athens, and she kept it throughout the entire series. Kendall Ryan consistently finished in the top-10 each day. "That was a big boost to Kendall's confidence, and with Sam's Young Rider title, I wouldn't say that we would have left empty-handed without the win," Wheeler added. "But we definitely wanted the win."
With a win under their belt, the Speedweek crew looks forward to three days of criterium racing in St. Louis, MO. Team TIBCO will field a six-rider squad each day with a focus on another victory at Saturday's NRC Tour de Grove crit.
"We've built up some good momentum here heading into Tour de Grove," noted Wheeler. "We were able to capture the win with three riders, and with six riders, we'll have so many more options. I'm excited to see what we can do with a full team."
Team Directeur Sportif Lisa Hunt agreed with Wheeler's assessment.
"We'll have a fantastic squad in St. Louis," said Hunt. "With Jen's win today, the girls should have a lot of confidence. I'm convinced they can win every day next weekend. The girls are finally racing how I expected them to race. They're being aggressive and smart. I'm really encouraged by this."
Fayetteville, AR - Megan Guarnier ended a see-saw battle in Arkansas by finishing 2nd overall at the Joe Martin Stage Race Sunday. During the four-day race, the Team earned a victory with Guarnier's Stage 2 win, along with a pair of podium finishes in the four-stage race.
Joe Martin closed Sunday with a 55-minute criterium in downtown Fayetteville. Guarnier had donned the leader's jersey after she earned a 10-second time bonus with her Stage 2 victory that put her ahead of Janel Holcomb (Colavita) by a mere half-second. Holcomb took the jersey back in Stage 3 the same way she had lost it, by taking the stage win. The 10-second time bonus put Holcomb back up by 9.95 seconds ahead of Guarnier. But while Guarnier had jumped from 3rd to 1st with her win, she retained 2nd overall after Stage 3. The Team spent the entirety of Stage 4 trying to put Guarnier back in the race lead.
The entire five-rider Joe Martin squad contributed to the team's goal in the final day of racing. "We wanted to wear down Colavita," explained Team Directeur Sportif Lisa Hunt. "So, we planned to be aggressive. We wanted Megan to get the stage win and secure to overall."
The first half of the race was fairly quiet. A lone rider escaped from the bunch, and the field seemed content to let her dangle. When she was caught, Serena Sheridan launched the first of several attacks from Team TIBCO.
"We sent Serena off first, and after she was caught, Carlee (Taylor) was the second to go," Hunt said. "She was away for about five laps. Right before Carlee was caught, Jo (Kiesanowski) made her move, and when Jo was caught, Meredith (Miller) gave it one last effort."
The attacks proved unsuccessful as the other teams seemed content to race conservatively. "No one cared about a solo rider going up the road," noted Hunt. "If someone from another team had bridged up to us, maybe things would have played out differently. In the end, Emily Kachorek (Primal/Map My Ride) attacked with one lap to go at the same time Megan made a move. Janel covered Megan, and Megan sat up. Emily stayed away by a small margin to take the win."
Guarnier finished the final stage in 5th and remained in 2nd Overall on the general classification.
"Of course it's disappointing that we didn't win the overall," Hunt admitted. "We were capable of winning, and I thought we would. The girls did, too. But after the bad luck that has plagued us in the early part of the season, I see these past four days at Joe Martin as the start of many good things to come."
Hunt sees the collective results of Joe Martin and Speedweek as a confidence boost heading into the races next weekend.
"We'll have a fantastic squad in St. Louis," said Hunt. "With Jen's win today, the girls should have a lot of confidence. I'm convinced they can win every day next weekend. The girls are finally racing how I expected them to race. They're being aggressive and smart. I'm really encouraged by all of this."