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PB & Co.’s McGrath and Armstrong take top two spots at Aspen women’s stage race opener

ASPEN HIGHLANDS, Colo. (VN) — Kristin McGrath of the Peanut Butter & Co.-TWENTY 12 team won the opening stage of the three-day Aspen Snowmass Women’s Pro Stage Race on Monday, completing the 7.8 mile course from the Aspen Highlands ski resort up Maroon Bells Road in 29 minutes and 15 seconds, climbing about 1,500 feet in altitude along the way.

2011 Aspen/Snowmass Women's Pro Stage Race, day 1
The Maroon Bells loom at the end of the time trial course. The eight-mile course was beautiful, if painful.

ASPEN HIGHLANDS, Colo. (VN)— It was a day for Kristin’s Monday in the shadows of the Maroon Bells.

Kristin McGrath and Kristin Armstrong of the Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12 team took first and second place in the opening stage of the three-day Aspen/Snowmass Women’s Pro Stage Race, the former completing the 7.8-mile course from the Aspen Highlands ski resort up Maroon Bells Road in 29 minutes and 15 seconds, climbing about 1,500 feet in altitude along the way.

The latter Kristin, McGrath’s mentor and coach, was just 4 seconds off the pace, with Janel Holcomb of Colavita/Fomo D’Asolo third taking third at 6 seconds.

“I knew I’d have a good ride, but I’m really stoked to be on the podium,” McGrath told VeloNews, adding that the altitude was a big factor in race against the clock on a course that started out relatively flat but increased in pitch all the way to the finish at roughly 9,800 feet above sea level. “I live in Durango, so I am definitely used to how it feels to compete up here.”

Armstrong, meanwhile, said the course, plus the altitude, made for a very hard race against the clock.

“The altitude definitely took its toll,” said Armstrong, an Olympic and world time trial champion, as well as a competitor in the Hawaii Ironman triathlon. “And the course is a beast.”

“With Kristin and I in second and first place, we’re in a really good position to defend the leader’s jersey tomorrow,” McGrath added.

Third-place Holcomb, on a great season with overall wins at the Cascade Cycling Classic, the Tour de Toona stage race and the Joe Martin stage race already this year, said she was thrilled to be in Colorado, if not for the racing for the scenery.

“It’s fabulous to be here. It was beautiful; a great course, certainly a climber’s course. But it was so, so hard,” Holcomb said. “I’m very pleased because I’ve been at sea level for the past two months. But I went into the time trial knowing pace is key, due to the altitude.”

Longo getting old?

One major contender to suffer from the altitude was French cycling legend Jeannie Longo of Vitall, 52, who placed 15th, well out of the running. The 59-time French national champion and 13-time world champion said her legs felt like they exploded with about three kilometers remaining.

“I was good, in the big ring, it was great. Then I just blew up,” Longo told VeloNews. “I got cramps in the legs like I’ve never had before and had to stop pedaling for a moment. I lost a lot of time. I was exhausted.”

Perhaps Longo’s recent racing schedule — including the past three days, Sunday being the 79-mile wormen’s road race at the Fort Collins Cycling Festival, which she won — is partly responsible for her fatigue.

“I like altitude, generally. But I’m getting old,” Longo said, adding this is fourth straight day of racing with two more hard days ahead. “Plus, I stopped doing stage races years ago.”

McGrath now leads the inaugural edition of the race, run in an omnium format, with 20 points going into Tuesday’s 35mi road race, to be held on a 3.5mi circuit around Snowmass Village.

Robin Farina of the Now Cycling team, the reigning U.S. national road race champion, said she and her teammates Anne Samplonius and Devon Gorry are ready to take on the Kristins on the open road.

“We’ll be attacking, trying to establish a breakaway,” Farina said. “We’ll definitely be on the offensive. The tougher it is the better it is for us. That’s what we like.”

The stage race ends Wednesday with a 60-minute criterium on the streets of downtown Aspen.

Another inaugural race in Colorado

The Aspen/Snowmass Women’s Pro Stage Race, presented by UnitedHealthcare, has attracted 39 of the world’s top female professional riders competing for a prize purse of $9,000 in front of crowds of up to 50,000 people. The race is being put on by Team Ajax Incorporated, a nonprofit organization formed to support women’s cycling and athletic pursuits. Proceeds from the race will be used to support young women’s athletic programs in the Aspen-Snowmass area.

“The Women’s Pro Stage Race is an essential component to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge,” said women’s cycling hero and 1984 Olympic Champion Connie Carpenter, who is announcing at the race. “Women’s cycling is equally as exciting and challenging as men’s cycling, and this race should help attract more spectators to Aspen to watch professional cycling. I raced in Aspen many times during the Coors Classic era many years ago, and it’s refreshing that Aspen has taken the lead in supporting women’s cycling. I can’t wait!”

Quick results:

  • 1. Kristin McGrath (Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12) 0:29:15.50
  • 2. Kristin Armstrong-Savola (Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY 12) 0:00:03.52
  • 3. Janel Holcomb (Colavita / Forno D’Asolo) 0:00:16.34
  • 4. Amanda Miller (HTC Columbia Women’s Team) 0:00:46.93
  • 5. Kelly Crowley (Metromint Cycling) 0:00:47.83

Complete results
Steve Wood is an AP Award-winner freelance journalist and media consultant living in Vail, Colorado. He is a former European correspondent for VeloNews. He can be reached at slwoodyink.com.