Mara Abbott (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) won Sunday’s women’s elite road nationals in Bend, Oregon, solo’ing across the finish line ahead of an elite group that emerged at the top of the final climb of Archie Briggs Road.
Abbott’s teammate Shelley Evans (who won the criterium championship earlier this weekend) outkicked Carmen Small (Colavita-Baci) for second, three seconds back.
With about 1.5km to go, Abbott attacked an elite group of six that included Evans, Small and Evelyn Stevens (HTC-Columbia).
The early going
Three riders — Devon Haskell (Tibco-To The Top), Anna Barensfeld (LadiesFirst) and Arielle Filiberti (Specialized) — took advantage of the leisurely pace early and escaped the field halfway through the first lap. Megan Guarnier (Tibco) joined the group soon after they entered the second lap, but the move never looked as though it was rolling smoothly and the field pulled a full minute out of them on the second climb of Archie Briggs.
On the climb, Peanut Butter & Co. set a hard pace in the peloton. They made the catch on the descent to the start of the third lap and Robin Farina (Vera Bradley Foundation) countered, drawing out Rebecca Much (Tibco) and Rachel Warner (BMW-Bianchi). The trio had more horsepower than the first move and built a lead of 2:45 by the time they crested over the feed zone climb for the penultimate time.
“We figured our best shot was to have somebody in a break,” said Much. “There’s a couple girls, like Evie (Stevens), and of course Mara and Shelley, who are all really good at finishing in the bunch or going on the last climb, so we just figured that anyone we could get up there, that was our plan.”
Back in the chase, HTC-Columbia and Peanut Butter & Co. put the hammer down as the peloton came to the foot of the half-mile, eight percent ramp and when the break turned right onto Archie Briggs Road, it had lost 45 seconds of their advantage.
“The more that we can narrow the field, the more numbers are going to play to our advantage,” said Abbott.
Stevens, Mattis throw big stones
Stevens, who on Thursday won the time trial title, threw the first stone on the Archie Briggs climb, putting in a sharp acceleration as the road bent steeply upward through a right-hand switchback. That attack split the field with 12 riders moving clear at one minute behind the leaders. That split came back together on the rolling descent to the chicane signaling the start of the final lap, and a group of approximately 25 chasers came through 40 seconds off the leaders.
As Peanut Butter & Co. continued setting the pace in the field, Kathryn Curi-Mattis (Webcor Builders) and Kim Anderson (HTC) led an onslaught of attacks over the rolling terrain on the backside of the circuit. Those attacks brought the escapees’ gap down to 15 seconds at one point, but just as they could feel the hot, wet breath of the peloton on their necks, the trio’s advantage went back out to 40 seconds.
“To the end we just drove it,” said Much. “Robin and I were just driving it so hard, I mean, because it’s all or nothing at the end. It was fun because both of the girls were really committed.”
The leaders were able to hold off the pack for another three miles, but a brutal Mattis attack up the left gutter took the chase to within 15 seconds of the leaders. Warner fell off the pace first as the break descended toward its final trip up the feed zone climb. As the road pitched up, Stevens punched it on the left side of the road, with Evans planted firmly on her wheel as they surged past Farina and Much, who clung to the back of the move.
“I was hoping that by leading up to the feed zone, they would cover me and Kim (Anderson) could counter,” said Stevens. “Unfortunately I got exposed with Mara and Shelley and they got me.”
That acceleration brought out Abbott, Anderson, Small, Alison Powers (Vera Bradley Foundation) and Janel Holcomb (Alto Velo) among a group of 10 riders. From there, the fireworks show began in earnest.
Abbott fired off an attack on the low-angle ramp at the end of the feed zone (no feeding was occurring in the group). When she was brought back, Small and Amanda Miller (Tibco) put in big digs that were neutralized and Anderson and Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita) took a crack, but were chased down by Powers and Amber Neben (Webcor). Stevens and Evans continued the brutality as the attacks came constantly over a two-mile false flat leading to the turn onto Archie Briggs.
“It was kind of a blur,” said Small.
As the 11 leaders approached the turn, the first chase group of approximately 15 riders pulled to within a handful of bike lengths. Just as that gap came together, Stevens again jumped, bringing Evans and Alison Starnes (Tibco) with her into the downhill run-in to the final climb.
Small was Colavita’s best hope over the climb, but missed the move; Theresa Cliff-Ryan put in a big turn to pull the leaders back at the base of the climb and Small made the jump across with Abbott and Holcomb. The hits kept coming at the front, as Abbott and Stevens punched each other with all they had. All the while, Evans sat comfortably in the wheels, in case the group came to the line together.
“I know that the harder I attack and the more I attack, the more Shelley can sit on,” said Abbott. “And I know she’s always going to be there and I don’t have to worry that she’s going to get dropped and I don’t have to worry that she’s not going to win the sprint if it comes down to it, because she will.”
The five leaders rolled together for a kilometer before Abbott launched the race-winning move up the right gutter on the circuit’s final rise. Stevens and Small reacted, but could not close the gap, and Abbott put her head down and dug deep for the line, 1.5 kilometers away.
“It gave me so much freedom, so we got to the top and I knew that the best thing I could do to help our team win was to attack and attack and attack because that’s where my area of strength came,” said Abbott. “Also, if that didn’t’ work out, it coincidentally played directly into Shelley’s strength and so, I mean, it was perfect.”
The Tour de L’Aude runner-up came around the final corner 150 meters from the line, raised her arms in the air and took her second elite national road title. Small accelerated from the three-rider chase group coming into the corner, distancing Stevens, and Evans came around her for second.
Former national criterium champ Cliff-Ryan beat Sinead Miller (Peanut Butter & Co.) for the group sprint for fifth, but the Miller, a collegiate racer for Marion College, slotted in as the U23 national champion, thanks in large part to a leadout from teammate Lauren Tamayo.
Abbott was emotional at the finish. “I think that basically what it comes down to is for me, the longer a race goes and the harder the race goes, the better I get,” she said. “When you first start out, people always only are saying you can and they never say you can’t. And once you hit you reach a certain level, people say you can’t and it’s kind of scary to hear. Like, you don’t believe it all the time, but it’s kind of scary to hear.
“And so when you have people saying you can’t, or people counting you off or people thinking you’re done, to be able to come back and win it, knowing all of these things, and win it consciously and win it with a team like this, it means the world.”