By Chris See
Evelyn Stevens won the overall at the inaugural edition of the 2012 Exergy Tour in Boise, Idaho. Stevens, who rides for Specialized-lululemon, won the race with a breakaway on the final day. The Specialized-lululemon women swept the final podium, thanks to solid teamwork and their strong rides in the individual time trial. Amben Neben finished second overall, while Canadian Clara Hughes finished third.
The Exergy Tour ran from 24 May to 28 May and featured five days of racing around the Boise area. A total prize purse worth $100,000 made it the richest women's event in North America, and in fact, one of the richest prize purses in the world for women riders. The inaugural race attracted over 100 elite women riders from around the world, and included five stages.
The race also offered one last opportunity for the riders to collect valuable UCI points. Because of the Olympic Games, UCI points are especially sought after this year by riders hoping to represent their countries in London. The points also determine how many riders each country is allowed to send to the road race. For American riders such as Evelyn Stevens, Amber Neben, and Kristin Armstrong, the Exergy Tour offered a chance to defend the top five ranking of the United States in the UCI rankings. Four riders will get to race for the U.S. in London, and the team will be announced in mid-June.
The Exergy Tour began with a short prologue perfectly suited to the talents of three-time world track champion Tara Whitten (Canada) of TIBCO – To The Top. She won the 3.2-kilometer test in downtown Boise in just over four minutes (4:09.64). It was an all-Canadian podium with Gillian Carleton of the Canadian National Team in second place, 34-hundredths of a second behind the leader, and Clara Hughes of Specialized-Lululemon in third at 4:09:98.
One of the big stories of the day came when Kristin Armstrong (USA) of Exergy-Twenty12, crashed at the turnaround during the prologue. The awkward fall resulted in a mid-shaft fracture of her left clavicle that required surgery to repair. The injury ended the race for Armstrong, though she is reportedly already back on the bike.
Utah rider Tayler Wiles (Exergy-Twenty12) finished the prologue 33rd at 17 seconds back while fellow Utahn Alisha Welsh (Primal MapMyRide) finished 83 at 34 seconds off the pace.
The start of Stage 1 in Nampa greeted the peloton and crowds with temperatures in the 40's and a steady rain. The course ran past Lake Lowell and into the Idaho wine country. Then, the riders faced two circuits along the Snake River, which included a Colavita Queen of the Mountain prize on Pump Road.
Elizabeth Newell of the NOW and Novartis for MS team animated the stage early on. Newell, who is a national champion on the track, launched a long solo attack on the way to Pump Road. The challenging 10-12 percent gradient on the climb ended her attack. On the first pass up Pump Road, climber Andrea Dvorak (Exergy Twenty 12) and Evelyn Stevens (Specialized – lululemon) caught Newell. Thanks to her early breakaway, Newell received the Exergy Most Aggressive Rider prize at the end of the day.
With Newell caught, a second break away powered by Exergy Twenty 12's Tayler Wiles, National Road Race Champion Robin Farina of NOW and Novartis for MS, Trixi Worrack (Specialized – lululemon) and five other riders went up the road. They held a gap over the main field until the second pass up Pump Road. Specialized-lululemon chased hard, with Hughes, Loren Rowney, and Stevens doing the work. Their efforts allowed Stevens to grab the points on the second QOM. Stevens received the mountains jersey at the end of the stage for her efforts.
In the undulating farmland that led back to the Nampa start finish area, the group bunched up in a stiff tail wind. The field was all back together and preparing for the sprint. Just short of the finish, a crash took down World Champion Georgia Bronzini (Diadora pastaZARA) among others.
Theresa Cliff-Ryan of Exergy Twenty 12 won the stage. The talented bunch sprinter beat Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Rochelle Gilmore. Tayler Wiles, who rode one of the early breakaways, finished with the lead group in 62nd place. Welsh placed in 70th, 20 seconds back.
Teutenberg assumed the overall lead, thanks to picking up intermediate sprint bonus points out on course. Cliff-Ryan became the first Cliff Bar Sprint leader and Gillian Carleton (Canadian National Team) continued as the St Luke's Sports Medicine Best Young Rider.
“Well, I found it really hard today,” Teutenberg, a 11-year professional and former Utah resident, said about Stage 1 at the Exergy Tour. She represented Germany in the 2000 Olympic Games and turned pro the next year. “It’s great to be an idol for little kids and give them a reason to ride bikes or another sport, to show them you can do it, even if you are a girl. I have a niece and nephew and they look up to everybody who races. It’s what future stars do, I mean they see that and start riding their bikes.”
Saturday more rain greeted the peloton for the 17 km Kuna time trial. Pre-race favorites Hughes, former world champion Neben and U.S. national time trial champion Stevens were in the last few to roll out of the start house.
Neben, who earlier this season won the time trial at the Pan-American Games, proved the fastest on the day. She led the women of Specialized – lululemon in a sweep of the podium. Neben won in 21:37. Stevens finished 15 seconds back, while Hughes took third at 20 seconds down. Neben also took over the race leader’s jersey from her teammate Teutenberg. . Wiles posted a top 20 at 22:57. Welsh came in 5:14 down on the race leader.
After the stage, Neben said, “I was afraid it might be a little slick, so I was a little conservative going out. It was good in the sense that those first corners were pretty early. I was careful at the turnaround, it was kinda tight there. The good thing was essentially it was just straight out the whole time, turnaround, come back, so there wasn't too much to worry about. I think that was where the race was going to be won, in the straightaway.”
With the top four spots on General Classification the Specialized squad was in control for Queen Stage, which began in Crouch, Idaho. The Queen Stage included three sections of climbing, and a 20 kilometer descent to the finish.
Though the race proved aggressive from the start, Specialized-lululemon kept a tight hold on the race and none of the early breakaways survived. Finally, Janel Holcomb (Optum Health presented by Kelly Benefits Strategies) animated an attack that led to a break away of six riders. They stayed clear until the descent from the first QOM. Following the first QOM Fabiana Luperini (Faren Honda) was the virtual Queen of the mountains.
But still, Specialized-lululemon held control and the field regrouped. As a result of her team’s hard riding, Stevens reclaimed the jersey on the second QOM ahead of Carmen Small (Optum Health presented by Kelly Benefits Strategies) and Claudia Häusler (Orica-GreenEdge). The climbs did not play a significant role in splitting the field, and the stage was set for a bunch gallop up Main Street to the finish.
A field of around 50 riders took the last 90º corner into the final 500 meters. Ina Yoko Teutenberg (Specialized lululemon) took the sprint by a bike length over Leah Kirchmann (Optum KBS), with Megan Garnier (TIBCO) bringing the field in another length behind. Jasmin Glaessner of (Canadian National Team) became the St Luke's Sports Medicine Best Young Rider.
The Queen stage did not prove decisive, and the time gaps remained close among the top riders in the overall classification. Amber Neben still led her teammates Evelyn Stevens and Clara Hughes. Before the race, Janel Holcomb (Optum KBS) predicted that the final stage would decide the race. She proved correct, as Evelyn Stevens seized the overall victory on the last day of racing.
Specialized-lululemon plainly had plans for an aggressive race. Hughes went out early on the attack. Exergy-Twenty12‘s Wiles joined her, and the two riders spent much of the day out in front alone. Wiles had hopes of picking up the Best Young Jersey. Hughes was playing the team game. Maybe her move would force the other teams to work, or maybe she would stay away and get the win for Specialized-lululemon.
Hughes and Wiles stayed clear until the final of three laps. Then, Wiles faltered, due to the hard work of keeping pace with Hughes. Team TIBCO/To the Top did much of the work of chasing and finally caught the hard-riding Hughes. As the field regrouped, Kristin McGrath of Exergy-Twenty12 put in an attack. The alert Stevens proved quick to counter and Häusler went with her. The two riders drove hard up the final climb and Stevens sealed her Colavita Queen of the Mountains Jersey. As they descended from the final climb of the day, Stevens and Häusler held a minute over the main field. With Stevens up the road, Specialized-lululemon chose not to chase, and the two riders held the gap to the line Häusler won the stage by a wheel-length over Stevens. Jasmin Glaesser (Canadian National Team) won the field sprint for third 55 seconds later.
Evelyn Stevens (Specialized – lululemon) won the overall and and the mountains jersey. With her consistent placing over the five day race and her victory earlier this season at the prestigious Flèche Wallonne world cup race, Stevens secured her place on the U.S. Olympic Team for London. Stevens did not even race bikes during the last Olympics in Beijing. Now, she will represent the United States in London. She commented, “To win this? It’s huge; quite an honor. The crowds lined everywhere we went (all week). We wanted to give everyone here (in Idaho) a show. This exceeded all my expectations.”
Amber Neben finished second overall, while Clara Hughes finished third for a sweep of the podium by Specialized – lululemon. Glaesser held on to the St Luke's Sports Medicine Best Young Rider jersey and Teutenberg secured the Power Bar Sprint Leader. Clara Hughes was awarded the final days Exergy Most Aggressive Rider Jersey. Two Utah riders finished the race, occasional Utah resident Hughes in third and Wiles who ended up in 19th overall 6 minutes back on the race leader. Only 34 of the 103 starters rolled in to Boise on the last day.
Hughes remarked after the final day, “If this is only the start of the Exergy Tour, I can’t wait for next year. It doesn’t get any better than that. Idaho and Exergy can show the world how to celebrate women and their sports. On behalf of the racers we can say thank you to everyone, thank you to Idaho.”
Plans for the 2013 Exergy Tour are already shaping up. Heather Hill, Marketing, Communications and Events Director for 2012 Exergy Tour remarked at the closing press conference,
“Exergy's vision is to make the Exergy Tour the fourth major in North America. That would be the only women's race in that lineup. That's the vision from here forward.
“In every conversation I have had with the team at Exergy Development Group, with James Carkulis, the CEO, his vision is absolutely the Exergy Tour will be back next year. And it will be back bigger and better than ever.”