Hall wins Joe Martin Stage Race overall, Thomas third
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling women dominated the 41th edition of the Joe Martin Stage Race, claiming two stage wins and the overall win after four days of tough racing through northwestern Arkansas. Katie Hall claimed GC victory after a stellar performance on stage 3 time trial and sealed the pink jersey after finishing second in the final downtown criterium.
UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling women show excellent form in Arkansas
The pink leader’s jersey never left the shoulders of Unitedhealthcare Pro Cycling women during Joe Martin. Diana Peñuela started the race off with a bang, sprinting to victory on the first stage and taking the jersey. The Colombian held the jersey until the third stage, when Hall took over the race lead.
Three UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling riders finished in the top five overall: Hall with the win, Leah Thomas claimed third and Peñuela finished just off the podium in fourth place.
Stage by stage
The Joe Martin Stage Race opened with a 68.1-mile hilly road race ending with an uphill finish.
“Today was raced over a new course, so it was a venture into the unknown,” team director Rachel Hedderman said. “It was a great course, with some tough climbs and technical descents, and a tough steep climb to the finish.”
The weather played a big factor during the stage. A strong headwind made the first part of the race fairly conservative, but once the peloton hit a climb at 27km it was race on and full gas from then to the finish. Soon after the Devil’s Den climb, a break of 12 riders went clear with Peñuela and Lizzy Banks involved. The break worked well together and in the strong cross winds built up a lead of a minute and a half.
The break went into the final climb with around 30 seconds advantage. The severity of the climb shattered the break and with 1km to go, there were three riders left in front. Peñuela timed her sprint to perfection coming across the line two seconds clear of second place.
“I’m super happy with how the team raced,” Hedderman said. “Diana combined her climbing and sprinting abilities in a finish that was perfect for her, and it’s fantastic to start the week off with a win.”
The next day was another road race, 64 miles point to point from Cedarville to Fayetteville. The team’s job was to keep Peñuela’s leader’s jersey safe, which they did. No attacks were successful without one UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling rider present. At the end of the stage, Thomas sealed up third place and Peñuela kept the jersey going into the time trial.
“The threatened thunderstorms didn’t materialize and the wind wasn’t as strong as predicted,” Hedderman said. “The team did a great job of keeping things under control. The peloton largely stayed together at the front and it was a decent sized bunch coming in to contest the uphill sprint finish. Tomorrow is the time trial and we’re expecting a GC shake up, but with three riders in the top 10, we’re in a great position.”
On stage 3, despite frigid temperatures at Devil’s Den State Park, Hall scorched the road with a lightning fast uphill time trial, taking the stage win and the pink leaders jersey from Peñuela. With only the criterium left in the Joe Martin Stage Race, the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling women were sitting pretty, claiming first, third and fourth place in the general classification.
“I’m happy to take the win today,” Hall said. “I’ve been feeling good the last two days here, but hadn’t managed to get on the podium yet, so I decided today was my day. We’re in a strong position going into the crit.”
Hall climbed the three-mile uphill time trial in 10:48, 28 seconds faster than second place, Rally’s Sara Bergen. Heading into the final stage, Hall led the GC competition by 19 seconds. Leah Thomas was in third place, a further 36 seconds down. Peñuela sits just behind Thomas in fourth place, at 41 seconds.
“It was great to see Katie take the win today in a time trial that really suited her climbing strength. A strong performance by the whole team today, puts us in a great position going into tomorrow’s crit. It’s a tough crit, and hard to control, but the team is fired up and ready to defend the jersey.”
On the final day, there was no sitting up and relaxing through the downtown Fayetteville criterium. The 1.2 mile course, which the women tackled 16 times, was technical and included a challenging hill through the start/finish line. Because of the time bonuses available and the tight GC standings, the team had to work vigilantly to keep Hall safe. In the final meters, Hall shot to second place, sealing her overall victory.
The next race for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling women’s team is the UCI 2.2 Tour of the Gila, April 18-22.