Chicago Women's Elite Cycling is racing Joe Martin, a nationally and internationally contested UCI race in Fayetteville, AK, as a composite elite team. Follow our Instagram and Twitter for photos, commentary and race updates. Want to support CWEC? You can donate here!
A member of the support crew, Annicka Campbell-Dollaghan, is posting updates from the field. Special thanks to team manager Cathy Frampton for texting live race updates to Annicka all week for sharing in social media. Cathy's great play-by-play updates form the narrative of this blog post. Also thanks to SnowyMountain Photography for their beautiful photos.
One thing I learned while supporting the Chicago Women's Elite Cycling team at Joe Martin: it's easy to become so focused on the racing & race preparations that everything else - the day of the week, your age, the city you're currently occupying - recedes into the background. As such, it was hard to really believe that Stage 4, a criterium in downtown Fayetteville, was going to be the last race of the week.
Sunday morning dawned bright and cool, though the temperature climbed steadily into the 70s and even 80s by afternoon. Kevin Pietka had woken up bright & early to claim a good spot for the CWEC team tent & van, right at the first corner after the start at Church & Mountain streets. As the team warmed up under the tent, they had a perfect view of the Cruiser Parade and Kid's Race running on the course just prior to their start.
The UCI women would be racing for 50 minutes, starting at 2pm. The course itself offered a delightful mix of uphill & downhill features, as well as eight different corners and a chicane.
The start / finish line was at the very top of a long, steady climb. At 1:40pm, the field had already begun to line up to claim territory after the top riders were staged. Chicago Women's Elite did a good job of positioning themselves at or near the front.
The first lap of the course was relatively smooth, Sierra took her experience at the "pointy end" of the races earlier in the week and replicated it in this race, spending the first lap on right on the front of the peloton, with Daphne, Amber and Nicole right behind her.
Things picked up quickly on the climb during the second lap. The pack strung out in particular at turn 4, just after the chicane and heading into a long downhill stretch. A racer's strategy at this point in the course was a gamble: use the long downhill to push harder and make essential passes to get further to the front, or catch a few quick seconds of recovery and risk being passed by others. Alison encouraged the CWEC riders to aggressively push on the downhills in order to move up and maximize speed.
15 minutes into the race, Rally, Tibco and Dallas DNA riders had teamed up to create a break, while United Healthcare controlled the pack. The peloton had started to splinter apart, with Amber in the lead group, Daphne and Nicole in the second group and Sierra in the third group. In response to the threat of the gap becoming insurmountably large, Daphne got to work at the front of the chase group to try and hunt the leaders down.
Amber was riding well in the lead group when three riders attacked and opened a 5 second gap. The lead group accelerated to catch them, and the new pace increased the gap between the lead group and chase group. With the chase group's pace slowing, the race officials pulled the group, which included Daphne and Nicole. This meant that Amber was the last CWEC rider in the race (the other team riders had also been pulled) with the clock ticking down quickly.
With about ten minutes to go, Amber was sitting third wheel. She moved up and suddenly there was a slight gap off the front. The crowd (and especially the CWEC crowd) roared as Amber was second over the hill with two laps to go. The announcer on the loudspeaker even gave her a shout-out - "Amber Pierce of Chicago Women's Elite Cycling on the front!"
At the bell lap, Amber was 5th, with Skylar Schneider in front of her looking solid. The finishing sprint uphill was chaos, but Amber was able pull out 32nd out of about 80 riders who started the day.
The race ended Sunday and the team scattered immediately. In Cathy's words, "There was no time for team reflection - it was go, go, go!" Alison and Nicole were off to the airport at 3:30 (race ended at 2:50 - that's some impressive packing). Anina and Sierra left for St. Louis. Cathy picked up an ISCorp rider, Josie, to take her to St. Louis. Then the Chicago bound caravan hit the road about 4:30pm, rolling into town at about 4am.
How did the overall results look for Chicago Women's Elite at Joe Martin?
Not only did guest rider Amber Pierce offer seasoned advice, tips and encouragement to CWEC throughout the week, she also finished an incredibly strong 17th overall in the General Classification for the stage race, just 1:12 back from overall winner Coryn Rivera of United Healthcare. Amber also collected points during stage 4, putting the team in the points classification. Way to go, Amber!
Of the 104 elite women who started the race on Thursday, only 65 made the final time cut, including three Chicago Women's Elite riders - Amber Pierce (17th), Nicole Mertz (46th) and Daphne Karagianis (65th).
Perhaps most importantly, Chicago Women's Elite finished in the team classification for their first UCI race. 17 teams started...11 survived, including CWEC! It's a huge indicator of the teamwork, determination and real grit that this amazing team of women with their fantastic support crew put forth throughout the week.
These results and experiences are in the books forever - the team's first experience at a UCI stage race, and certainly not the last. Congratulations to Anina, Sierra, Daphne, Nicole, Amber, Jannette and Christine on a great week of racing and learning!