By: Justine Clift
With memories of 2016’s successes still top of mind, our little team has big shoes to fill heading into this weekend’s National Road Championships in Ottawa. While I will follow the races of the next few days from Twitter, I play back through scenes of last year’s championships: Annie gutting out the last 10km of a long solo break, Tara’s dominant time trial performance, and Ariane’s breakthrough titles in both U-23 races.
What I hold closest from that inspired week is the bonds we cemented in committing to each other. We found the top step last year because we truly believed any one of us could have been there. We celebrated each title as if it were our own.
While I’ve recently made the difficult decision to step back from racing to resolve some lingering crash injuries, I haven’t been completely absent from the team. Last week I had the opportunity to support the team in Minneapolis where they raced the North Star Grand Prix: six stages amongst some of the strongest teams in the professional peloton.
This was the first pro stage race of the year, and our young team was excited but apprehensive. With some added firepower from guest riders Annie and Steph of Sho-Air Twenty20, the successes started early and just kept coming. Following Annie’s stellar time trial, aggressive racing put both Ariane and Steph in jerseys after the second stage with Cath cracking the top 10 in the first road race.
By the time the Queen stage came around, The Cyclery-4iiii was getting as much notice as any of the UCI pro teams they were competing against. Everyone was feeling the effects of the previous days’ efforts the morning of the Mankato stage, and the virus circulating through our team wasn’t helping.
Making my way to the feedzone, any doubts about the day were put to rest when I scrolled through Twitter. Suz had opened up the race, attacking off the gun. Her gap grew quickly when two more riders bridged to join her. We saw her pass through and she grabbed a bottle for the second lap before her group was caught. Emily countered and got into a break of her own that just about stuck. The girls missed a dangerous move when the race moved to smaller circuits, but decisively moved to the front to bring it back. Showing patience and trust in her team, the break was brought back before the final climb and Ariane took 7th – right behind the GC leaders.
There was much to be celebrated after such a full team effort. However, there was one stage left – Stillwater’s notorious Chilkoot Hill. The girls were focused, but it wasn’t our day. Defending the green Amateur’s jersey, the girls fought, gritting out every last pedal stroke, but couldn’t hold onto the lead group. They finished together, pulling for each other every time up that hill.
Despite the disappointment following the final stage, from the outside looking in it’s clear that while they may not be quite where they want to be, the girls showed a grit and resilience that warrants recognition. Through a tough year, they’ve risen to the challenge.
When all is said and done, no matter who crosses the line first on Saturday, this little team has grown up. I can’t wait to see what’s next.