Complete world domination.
Well, not really. It was only a bike race, but Specialized-lululemon did have an excellent week of racing at the Exergy Tour. We had a motivated group of fit and prepared riders, we rode tactically well, and we stayed safe. Add that all up, and we were able to finish with top three in GC with two stage wins, the QOM jersey, the sprint jersey, and some miscellaneous other items.
It is such a pleasure to be a part of a team of professionals who come ready to compete and race hard, and at the same time, like to have fun, laugh, and enjoy the moment. I think the off-the-bike chemistry, the willingness to sacrifice for each other in the races, and the individual discipline and preparation each of us puts into our training made us and will continue to make us a TEAM to be reckoned with.
This first-ever version of the Exergy Tour was excellent. The race courses were well thought out. The start and finish towns were very involved. The race organization did a fantastic job of taking care of the racers and promoting the race. And, the online coverage provided a unique opportunity for fans, family and friends to actually see women’s bike racing. (Thank you @TourTracker.) Hopefully, it was fun for the world to watch.
Instead of taking you through a blow-by-blow account of the details of each day’s races, I’ll share a couple of memories that stand out from my perspective.
I’ll start with the crowds. It felt like every individual living in each town we started or finished in came out to see the bike race. It was always such an electric atmosphere. For a country whose mainstream sports focus is NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL, it is sure fun to see more and more people being drawn into the sport of cycling. And for us, it was fun to have “fanatics” out screaming, running or supporting the race.
And when I say “fanatics,” I really mean “fanatic!” I know the last stage wasn’t Alp d’Huez or an epic Giro stage, but for a bike race in America, and a women’s bike race in America, Monday was impressive. There were people dressed up and undressed in costumes, there were cowbells everywhere, teams of local junior riders, and even impromptu marriage proposals.
I think the Boise “devil” in his G-String banana hammock is probably a little sunburned and hoarse today, but he definitely made us smile. The “hot dog buns” were creative. And thankfully, nobody running along side of us in their hilarious get-ups face-planted. I was a little worried about a couple guys sprinting in cycling cleats, but everybody’s teeth remained in tact (as far as I could see).
A couple other race memories for me include winning the individual time trial in freezing and wet conditions and wearing the yellow jersey for a few days before handing it off to my teammate, Evelyn Stevens. The ITT stage was a big focus going in and carried a lot of pressure due to the Olympic selection implications involved. However, those are the races I love the most, and this one was also in terrible conditions that made for a 20-minute epic event.
I have actually never raced a TT where I didn’t get warm and where I felt like there was a delay in the neurological firing pattern from my brain to my legs, but that’s what happens when you have a very thin layer of lycra on in wet conditions not far above freezing. I was able to stay focused, battle through the conditions and come out with a win. It was a special day for me for multiple reasons, and I will always remember the faith journey going in and the excitement of the victory after.
Finally, wearing the leader’s jersey in a bike race is always an honor. It is never a guarantee, and so when it happens, you always enjoy it. I was blessed to have it for two days before handing it off to Evie. Our team goal was (and always is) to win the race, and it didn’t (and doesn’t) matter who it was (or is.)
Tactically, we always try to race smart and aggressive. I am very much a professional in that sense, so for me, yesterday I played the tactical game and trusted my teammates to take care of business.
I would not be defending against them.
It all worked out well in the end. We maintained the top three in GC and finished off our jersey collection. What a great finish for a hard week’s worth of work!
Editor’s Note: Amber Neben is a former world champion, Olympian and seasoned international vet. She is in her 10th year of full-time racing, this year with the new Specialized-lululemon squad. She hopes to give readers a different perspective on cycling, life as a cyclist, and the women’s pro peloton. You can follow Amber on Twitter @amberneben, on Strava or at velociosports.com. Check out her non-profit organization at thedaretobeproject.org.