American women get season underway in Tour of Qatar

Olds, Small, and Barensfeld debut new team colors in Doha this week

DOHA (VN) — The women’s road season is underway this week at the Ladies Tour of Qatar, where Americans Carmen Small, Shelley Olds, and Anna Barensfeld are debuting new team colors.

“I’m here with good form to try to get a good result for the team,” Olds, who is making her first start with Tibco-To the Top, told VeloNews. “Qatar is really important, it’s one of the highest category stage races, it’s organized well along with the men, and we get the same media attention. Plus, this year it’s four days long. When a lot of races are going away, they’ve added days in Qatar.”

Olds, a former World Cup and Giro Donne stage winner, arrived with the intention to win a stage or place well in the GC.

Her new teammate Barensfeld will help Olds while gaining experience.

“It’s my first time to be racing internationally. I was pleasantly surprised with my ability to move around in the pack and I felt like I belonged here,” Barensfeld said. “The crosswinds were something that was new to me; we don’t have so much wind in the U.S. The biggest thing is to be aware of when it’s going to happen and making sure we don’t get caught out.”

Kirsten Wild (Argos-Shimano) won Wednesday’s stage north of Doha in Al Khor. She sprinted from a nine-rider escape that formed under the pressure of Orica-AIS and high winds. Small finished in the first chase group. Tibco’s Americans were further back.

Tibco is one of 15 teams racing the fifth edition of the Qatari tour. Last year, the team won the U.S. national championship road race with Megan Guarnier (departed to Rabo Women) and placed Lauren Hall second overall in the Giro Toscana. The team beefed up for 2013, adding Olds, Claudia Häusler, and others.

“I’m happy to be in this team; there’s a lot of experience with Claudia Häusler, Shelly, Jo Kiesanowski, Chantal Blaak… there’s so much to learn from them,” said Barensfeld. “Even just yesterday, we talked about what I can do better, I can improve on this and that, and that’s going to happen throughout the season.”

Small is in Doha for the second time. She raced here in 2011 and crashed on day one, which called for 20 stitches in her right arm. Velo’s 2012 Domestic Stage Racer of the Year nearly called an end to her career late last year, but Specialized-lululemon called.

“I was going to retire after last year and then I had this offer. How can you turn this down?” she said. “It’s a great program … My goal is just to be a part of the team and help.”

The women’s peloton travels to Europe after Qatar for the spring classics. The stage race holds an important place in the calendar as many races are struggling or pulling the brakes completely. The late January tilt gives riders an opportunity fly their new team colors in the warm, windy desert, putting valuable racing kilometers in their legs before the one-day races kick of in the cold north.

“Qatar is great since it seems like our schedules are getting less and less,” Small said. “It’s great when another race like Qatar pops up. This year, the organizer added a fourth day. Anything we can get helps. And there’s live TV coverage.”

Olds, for one, will look to take advantage of the TV coverage when the race continues on Thursday with the 112km third stage from Al Thakhira to Madinat Al Shamal.