American Ruth Winder opened up her spring European campaign with a nail-biting victory Thursday in the Setmana Ciclista Valenciana. Along the way, she overcame an ill-timed flat tire on the hilly 126km stage 1 to Gandia, Spain.
“I had a puncture right before the first climb, and Anna [Plichta] stayed with me, and she was great,” said Winder. “I felt so calm to have a teammate stay with me, and she got me back to the front safely.”
She returned to the peloton just in time, because at the top of that first climb, the winning breakaway went clear.
“Then at the top of the climb there was a break that went, and then before it really, truly went down, and I rolled alongside Elisa [Longo Borghini] and said, ‘Oh Elisa, I want to go!’ And she said, ‘yeah go!’” she added.
A fearless descender, Winder, 25, attacked the technical downhill. She made her way up to the leaders just in time for the final climb.
“It was pretty technical, and I really like descending a lot, so I attacked into the descent,” Winder said. “I bridged to the leaders before the last climb. There were five of us going into the final climb, and I was a little nervous at first because I was not sure how I was climbing against the good climbers, so I took really short pulls. I didn’t try and do too much work too soon.”
One of the leaders crashed on the final descent, leaving four riders to fend off a chasing peloton.
Winder could tell it was going to be close as they approached the finish town. Having reconned the finish beforehand, she knew the best place to attack and made her move with the bunch merely seconds behind.
“Ruth [Winder] was very smart to go for a long sprint because the peloton was coming,” said team director Giorgia Bronzini. “It was a perfectly timed move. She was not sure how she would do against the climbers today, so she stayed near the back, and never showed the others in the breakaway how she was feeling.”
She attacked through a roundabout with 400 meters to go. Had the finish line been just a few hundred meters later, she would have been caught.
“It was that feeling that the finish line kept getting further and further away and I was certain the entire peloton was going to rush past me in the last second,” she said. But it didn’t and I held on for the win. It feels unbelievable to win the first race over in Europe – it’s exciting, and I am happy with the team; the spirit is so good.”
After her stage 1 win, Winder held the overall lead in the four-stage race.