KUNA, Idaho (VN) — On another wet, cold day at the Exergy Tour, Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon) set a blistering time of 21:37 to take the win and the overall leader’s jersey in the 17km stage 2 time trial. Teammates Evelyn Stevens and Clara Hughes finished second and third, respectively, making it a podium sweep for the powerhouse German squad.
“I’m on the best team in the world,” said Neben. “We all love each other, and want to see each other do the best. We feed off that, and you see it in the results, too.”
The results certainly showed today. Neben came in about 15 seconds faster than U.S. champ Stevens, despite feeling that her power was down because of the cold. The Specialized trio were the only riders to come in under 22 minutes on the slightly undulating, out-and-back course.
The team set the bar high early on with Emilia Fahlin, the current Swedish time trial champ, coming in with a time of 23:23 about 40 minutes into the race. Fahlin was the provisional leader of the Exergy Tour until German rider Claudia Hausler (GreenEdge-AIS), who started 49th and ultimately finished 22nd, swept through the finish about 10 seconds faster.
After Hausler, a contingent of powerful Canadian riders took over the top spot on the leader’s board, threatening to repeat Thursday’s podium sweep when Tara Whitten (Tibco-To the Top), Gillian Carleton (Canadian National Team) and Hughes finished first through third at the prologue.
Anne Samplonius (NOW and Novartis for MS) was the first rider to break 23 minutes, with a time of 22:39, but was toppled from the provisional GC lead by compatriot Jasmin Glaesser (Canadian National Team). Glaesser’s time of 22:35 kept her in the lead until Neben charged through ten starters later.
“The Canadian team is doing absolutely fantastic this week. We’re all really strong riders, both in the road races and against the clock, so it’s great to see everyone have really strong rides today,” said Carleton, whose fifth place finish today will let her hang on to the best young rider’s jersey.
Another of those strong rides came from Carleton’s teammate Laura Brown, who finished 25th after crashing in one of the final turns and having to run the last 200 meters through the finish line.
After Neben and with only 10 starters left, heavy hitters such as Trixi Worrack (Specialized), Shara Gillow (GreenEdge-AIS), Alison Powers (NOW-Novartis for MS), Whitten and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Specialized) took over the top10, but no one could touch Neben, including current U.S. time trial champ Stevens or Olympic time trial bronze medalist Hughes.
According to Neben, her win today plays an important role in getting her a spot on the U.S. Olympic time trial team, but it’s not everything.
“It’s really important, but at the same time, I’m just going to keep racing and keep doing what I’m doing. It’s going to be in the hands of the selection committee,” she said.
“I think over the course of the last year, I’ve had some really good results — made some good statements. Today will be a part of it, but it won’t be the only thing they look at.”
Hughes, who finished with a time of 21:57, said she was happy, and surprised, with her third place result. She is still dealing with some injuries from a crash at the GP Gatineau earlier this month.
“I felt horrible. I’ve just got a lot of back pain right now, and with the cold it just made it worse,” she said. “But I just kept thinking probably everybody felt bad. I just kept looking at getting over the next little hill and trying to keep the power up. It hurt a lot. I seriously thought maybe I’ll be top 20, I felt that bad. So to be third today, I was actually quite happy with that.”
Racing continues Sunday with the Exergy Tour’s only alpine day. Four Specialized women sit at the top of the GC with Neben in yellow, followed by Stevens, Hughes and Teutenberg. Specialized will fight a battle in the mountains to try and keep the leader’s jersey with just over a minute separating the top 10 riders overall.