Winder third overall, wins two stages at North Star Grand Prix
Wiles wins Shimano Queen of the Hill competition
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Despite confronting unfortunate crashes on the first day of North Star Grand Prix, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling women’s team came back swinging, claiming three stage wins, the queen of the hill competition and third place on GC after six hard stages of racing around the Minneapolis area.
Rushlee Buchanan was the first to make her mark on the North Star Grand Prix, charging to victory at the Riverfront time trial. From there, Ruth Winder sprinted to wins on stage 3 and 5 and claimed the third spot on the GC podium, while Tayler Wiles remained consistent on the climbs to seal the queen of the hill competition.
Buchanan won the five-mile, relatively flat time trial by .16 seconds ahead of defending champion, Brianne Walle (Tibco). Wiles finished third, less than one second behind. Winder finished 7th, at 10 seconds.
A great morning of racing didn’t carry over to the evening criterium for UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling. The 24-lap St. Paul Criterium was marred with crashes, taking out four of the team members.
“All was looking good coming into the final laps until a crash with 1 lap to go,” Heal said. “It took out Katie Hall, Rushlee and Ruth, and then Lauretta Hanson got wiped out at 50m to go.”
Hanson abandoned the race because of her injuries, but the remaining riders took the start the next day.
The winds changed on the third day of North Star, when Winder sprinted to a hard fought win after a challenging 103 km road race around Cannon Falls.
“After a frustrating second stage yesterday we were looking to come out fighting again,” Heal said. “Lauretta was unable to start due to injuries and Katie was suffering with hip pain but decided to start. We wanted to be aggressive and try to force a break, but nothing was able to break the stranglehold of the peloton. Ruth worked hard in the break, so it wasn’t fresh legs but rather sheer grit and determination that got her across the line first. It was a well-deserved win and we’ve got our momentum back.”
The plan was to force a break, but with no other teams wanting to commit, a bunch sprint became inevitable.
“It was a hard day,” Winder said. “A few of us got away for a bit but nothing was sticking. Going into finishing circuit, my teammates were throwing down some final attacks while I saved it for the final sprint. It was a little bit sketchy with a half a lap to go, when I had to unclip to keep upright. I fought to get on the end of Rally train and I timed my sprint perfectly to win by a few inches.”
Uptown Minneapolis criterium was 28 laps of a 1.4 km circuit with sprints available every four laps for points, time or cash.
It was an aggressive race, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling attacked consistently, but nothing stuck. The race ended in a bunch sprint won by Marlies Mejias of Weber Shimano.
“All girls finished safe and upright, so an improvement on Wednesday night,” Heal said.
The second road race at North Mankato was 61 miles of undulating terrain, with one short, but steep climb the riders encountered seven times. At the finish, Winder came out on top for the second time at North Star Grand Prix.
“Towards the second half of the race we were pushing for a break with Rushlee getting away with three laps of the final circuit left,” Winder said. “They got a decent gap and it was good for us. With a lap to go, Rally really started to chase, the peloton made the catch the final time up the climb. Tayler threw down a great attack that took myself, Emma, and Marlies to the line. Tayler led it out fabulously and I sprinted to the win.”
With the top 3 on GC separated by just four seconds, the final day was a great battle at the Stillwater Criterium, labeled the “toughest crit in the U.S.”
With Ruth sitting at just four seconds on GC, the team’s plan was to throw everything into trying to take the overall win, Heal said.
The 2.24 km course quickly takes its toll on the field and within a few laps, the lead group was reduced to around 15 riders.
Buchanan, then Wiles put in strong attacks in an attempt to break away, which put pressure on Rally, to set up Ruth for a final lap attack.
When Winder attacked, she pulled out a gap big enough to grab the yellow jersey, but Kristy Lay (Rally) was able to bury herself to close the gap and coming up the final climb, Mejias and race leader White were able to make contact at the top. Mejias took the stage win, Ruth finished 2nd and held onto her 3rd place overall standing.
The team will travel to Europe for the next race on the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling calendar, Tour de Feminin, from July 7 to 9.