Carrie Cartmill (Mountains jersey & 2nd on GC) and Tara Whitten (GC and Sprint Jersey)
We’ve all heard the phrases: “A team is better than the sum of its parts” and “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM” (think cheesy motivational posters from the 90’s). But the truth is, being part of a group is common, being part of a team is rare.
My first true TEAM experience was playing soccer in my early teens under the guidance of super-coach Paul Schultz. He taught the team many important life lessons – the most enduring for me being how he brought us together as a team, overcoming all the social mine fields of being a junior high girl, to trust one another and put our hearts into everything we did on the field. We were not a power house team full of talent, but we worked together and supported one another in a way that was beyond our years and we achieved far more than any of us were going to achieve individually in the sport.
Okay – awesome, you say – but isn’t this a cycling team blog? Ahhh wait – I am getting there! 😉 So fast forward most of ten years, different sport – an individual sport at that – different people – and yet I found myself in a similar environment. In 2007, I was part of the best TEAM I ever experienced in cycling as an athlete – the Giant team (the socks still live on!). It was a breakout year for me on the National cycling scene, and I know that every girl on that team played a part in my success. I could regale you with countless stories of selflessness and success – but I won’t. This is to say, I know that a true team exists in cycling, but I know they are very hard to come by. Giant ladies (read: ladies of Team Giant, not large women), you continue to be my inspiration as a Director Sportif of this team.
2007 Team Giant (L-R: Claire Cameron, Steph Roorda, Laura Brown, Lisa Howard, Jenelle Cassidy, Alena Irvine, Jeremy Storie, Jenny Trew, Leah Guloien, Chelsea Bilsbarrow)
So for those of you who are less familiar with cycling, I’m sure the first thing you think is “so that’s great with the teamwork and all, but I’ve watched the Olympics, there are only three steps on that there podium.” And you would be correct. This makes having teammates buy into working for one another even harder. It plays out all the time on the international stage. But check out the last 10 years of World Championships (RR) for the women – there is one nation able to routinely look beyond personal glory and work together – and they have won 4 titles with 3 different riders. Great teamwork by Italy.
So back to this weekend with The Cyclery – Opus team in Vermont at the Green Mountain Stage Race. After two dominating performances by Tara Whitten winning both the first day TT and the second day RR solo and holding the GC, Sprint and Mountain jerseys, we were looking at an incredibly challenging Queen Stage of 103km with 4 categorized climbs and 1 intermediary sprint. It was an intimidating stage for sure, but I also knew that all six of the riders were ready for the challenge. Chris and I lay it out for them: “Race it from the gun, throw everyone off their game, and no one will touch you.” And they did.
Tara winning stage 2 solo – a brave move!
After the first 5km of neutral, the peloton made a right hand turn and Ellen unleashed her first attack. We wanted to get things going to hopefully springboard Emily up the road before the first sprint, so that she could get full points to move her into second in the Sprint jersey competition. Ellen broke free and stayed away for most of 15km – making the other large team in the race – Zimmer Capital – hunker down and chase her back. But once she was back in the fold, the girls just kept firing – first Amélie, then Carrie. Carrie got away, but the team didn’t give her much room as she was with second place in the sprints – so quickly it was brought back. As the sprint neared, the girls got their sprint lead out ready, spearheaded by Ariane, Ellen and Tara. Unfortunately, either due to calculation errors on my part, or the organization, the girls were expecting the Sprint points earlier than they were – which led to a 5km lead-out for the Sprint points. Emily won handily, but I believe this cracked the collective heads of the peloton and the race slowed to a snail’s pace at this point. So Carrie decided to take a risk and attacked, 30km into the 103km race. And that was the last they saw of her.
Emily showing clean wheels for the intermediate sprint
Carrie motored over the 4 QOMs with Tara mopping up second place points out of the pack and patrolling the chase effort. Her gap was close to 5:00 at one point, as Tara selflessly sat in the group, knowing that it was thumbs up for the team – if they didn’t catch her, Carrie would win, if they did, Tara had had a free ride for the majority of the race to unleash her power on the final (incredibly long and hard) climb. But I think it’s important to mention at this point that Tara buying into the team was paramount to success (and rare). In the team’s success, Tara was also giving up the Mountain jersey – but because she is about TEAM – she felt that she was passing the torch, not losing it. Tara is an amazing athlete and complete class act!
For the staff in the feed zone – we had no idea that any of this was transpiring out on course. I saw the race at two points 1) the feed zone and 2) the finishing climb, 250m from the end. We witnessed Carrie coming through the feed zone at 51km after the first QOM with about 40s advantage and then again with about 300m to go. I was peering down the mountain and could hardly believe that it was Carrie by herself – but after countless hours of watching these ladies ride, I was pretty sure it was The Cartmill’s pedal stroke!
Watching Carrie grind up that final pitch, I was ecstatic. I had yet to hear what an unreal TEAM day the girls had had out on course – but I knew this was a big moment. For Carrie as she has had a few challenges in coming back from a broken pelvis 1.5 years ago, and also for the team as Carrie would not have been able to do what she did without the support of all five riders out on course with her. Her effort for the day won her the QOM jersey and placed her in 2nd on GC – a pretty amazing result.
Carrie cresting the App Gap for the win and showing her killer smile
As each of the girls emptied their tanks on the final climb, I let them know that Carrie had held on for the win. The team had taken 1,2 in the Queen stage and showed that they were unstoppable when working together.
The team debrief was awesome. How rarely does everyone get to celebrate a perfect race? All the goals for the day were accomplished – and they were lofty goals. I am so proud to be able to work with these ladies and watch them grow both individually and together as a team over the last two seasons.
The final stats for the weekend were: 4 wins; 6 podiums (I’m lumping junior racer Katherine Maine who won the field sprint for second on stage 2 in National Team colours in a convincing fashion!); Sprint jersey; Mountains jersey; and 1, 2 on GC. Pretty amazing. And that doesn’t even include Annie Foreman-Mackey’s double medal haul from the Pan American Championships (silver in the Team Pursuit and bronze in the Individual Pursuit) in Chile at the same time!
Amazing team (missing: Annie Foreman-Mackey and Katherine Maine)
Next up: The Montreal crit next Saturday – rest up until then!