Cliff-Ryan’s stage win a boost for reeling Exergy Twenty12

Cliff-Ryan delivers much-needed stage win after team captain Kristin Armstrong's race-ending prologue crash

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Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Exergy Twenty12) wins the first stage of the 2012 Exergy Tour. Photo provided by PhotoSport International

NAMPA, Idaho (VN) — On a day for the sprinters, Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Exergy Twenty12) won the first stage of the Exergy Tour Friday, while Ina-Yoko Teutenberg (Spcialized-lululemon) moved into the yellow jersey after finishing second. Rochelle Gilmore (Faren Honda) rounded out the podium in third.

The 120km race dawned wet and cold, with a temperature hovering around 48 degrees, and came down to a field sprint despite numerous attacks and breakaways. Cliff-Ryan, a three-time track World Cup bronze medalist, took full advantage.

“Of course I like it coming down to a sprint. I ended up third wheel through the chicane, did a little bit of a track move and let the two girls in front of me get a bit of a gap and then ran at them through the corner and then slingshoted off of them,” said Cliff-Ryan.

The first of the attacks came from Beth Newell (Now-Novartis for MS) about 50 km into the race and shortly after Teutenberg won the first intermediate sprint. Newell, who will wear the most aggressive rider jersey for Saturday’s second stage, managed to get 35 seconds on the peloton before the bunch caught her at the base of the first Queen of the Mountains climb. Another break formed when a group of nine riders broke away at the top of the climb, including Newell’s teammate Robin Farina.  Aggression was the keystone to the team’s strategy today, said Farina.

“We knew that this was a good finish for Alison [Powers], so we were trying to whittle it down to a smaller group than what came in today. That’s why we forced an attack over the top of the first QOM, tried to break it up,” said Farina. “Our plan was to be super aggressive today.”

The break of nine managed to get about 2:30 on the field before the powerhouse Specialized squad came to the front to shut it down. With only one rider up the road, the Specialized women didn’t want a big gap to form and they set a blistering pace that strung riders out as the race skirted along the Snake River.

“We just didn’t want a 10-minute gap, and then the race is going to be over. For me it would have been way nicer to have a slow uphill the second time, because it really hurt me when they attacked,” joked Teutenberg when asked about her team’s race strategy after the stage. “We just wanted to have more numbers up front.”

With Specialized pulling on the front, the peloton came to the second QOM. Best young rider Gillian Carleton (Canadian National Team) had some trouble at the base of the climb with a mechanical, but with the help of SRAM neutral support, the 22-year-old managed to power up the climb, make contact with the field, and hold onto her jersey for another day.

The race splintered after the second climb, with three groups of riders strung out in front of the peloton. These groups connected about 98km into the race, forming a lead group of 25 riders. But the unwieldy group never managed to get more than 30 seconds on the peloton, and with 20km to go, everyone was back together. A flurry of solo attacks went off the front initiated primarily by the Exergy Twenty12 and Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, squads but none of the women gained more than a few seconds.

With 3km to go, the Specialized train fired up the engine for the sprint in an attempt to deliver Teutenberg to the line first.  With pack speed hovering around 50 kph, the field flew towards the finish. And then the sound that haunts all road cyclists: carbon fiber scrapping on pavement. Several riders went down with 2km left, one of them current world road champion Giorgia Bronzini (Diadora-Pasta Zara). Bronzini walked away from the crash in tears and with her arm in a brace, but according to the head medical official of the Exergy Tour, she suffered no more than some road rash.

At the finish, it was not Specialized, but instead the Exergy Twenty12 team delivering Cliff-Ryan to the line for a win that was especially gratifying after team leader Kristin Armstrong, who fractured her collarbone in Thursday’s prologue, managed to make it out to the finish line just hours after her surgery.

“Last night it was a big let down for the whole team. We were gearing for Kristin and we wanted to get her in the yellow jersey by the end of the week. So to win a stage, it’s an amazing feeling and we’re happy we could maybe boost Kristin’s spirit,” said Cliff-Ryan. “To see her at the end of the race, I wasn’t expecting that. I just wanted to run up and give her a big hug, but I knew I had to be careful.”

The race continues Saturday with the Kuna time trial. Five Specialized women sit in the top 10 in the GC, including U.S. champ Evelyn Stevens sitting in fifth place with the Colavita Queen of the Mountains jersey on her back. Teutenberg, who holds both the yellow leader’s jersey and the green sprinter’s jersey, leads the GC by just a hair over prologue winner Tara Whitten (Tibco-To the Top) and Carleton.

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