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Capital Calculation

Canyon//SRAM Racing and Stage 4 of the Tour of California

Photos and words by Satchel Cronk

To win a sprint in an elite road race requires a precise and complete combination of strategy, explosiveness, strength, risk, confidence, and often a little luck. To win a sprint at the end of a criterium requires the same kind of performance—for the majority of the race. Because if a road race is a marathon, then a crit is more like a sprint—except it isn’t a whole lot shorter.

“A crit as the final stage of a WorldTour
multi-day race? Now that’s a heckuva way
to set the stage for some
intense, strategic, and highly dramatic
racing.”

A crit as the final stage of a WorldTour multi-day race? Now that’s a heckuva way to set the stage for some intense, strategic, and highly dramatic racing. Such was the case at the 2017 edition of the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease Women’s Tour of California, as Stage 4 featured a capitol city circuit race; a fast, technical arena set for a SacTown showdown.

With the top two riders in the GC separated by one second going into the race’s final day, some teams had overall strategic goals in mind. CANYON//SRAM Racing focused less about the overall and more on the singular moment of putting one of their riders first across the finish line below the capitol dome. For CANYON//SRAM, it was British road champion Hannah Barnes that asked for the green light to go for the stage win. “It’s the first time since I broke my ankle that I put my hand up in the team meeting for the opportunity to sprint.” Barnes’ calculated commitment—that’s criterium racing in a nutshell. The team would ride the whole day positioning for the moment when she would break for the line, managing the pace and holding the race together to ensure that no breakaway could sneak off the front and steal the day.

“It’s the first time since I broke my ankle
that I put my hand up in the team meeting
for the opportunity to sprint.”

However, between the start and the anticipated sprint to the line lay 70 kilometers of wheel-to-wheel, aggressive racing. While 90 minutes is by no means a brief effort, the race was just short enough that every moment counted. After a lap or two of cruising, the energy spiked quickly. It was a palpable spark that began early on and seemed to increase incrementally every time the peloton passed. There was tension on an individual scale as racers continually navigated 90-degree corners while overlapping wheels all around them; trying to stay safe and off the pavement without easing off the gas. The race as a whole was taut and on edge as groups split and merged, and teams tried to control the race and jockey for the jump on the intermediate and final sprints.

“It was a palpable energy that
began early on and seemed to
increase incrementally every time
the peloton passed.”

The crowd felt the tension and energy of the race from outside of the curb, and their enthusiasm fed back onto the race course as cowbells rang and hands pounded the boards separating spectators from the gladiators on the tarmac. The intensity, proximity, and speed of criteriums make them exciting even for non-cyclists, and as the race progressed, Stage 4 was setting up for an appropriately climactic finish.
As the race approached its final laps, CANYON//SRAM began putting Barnes into position for the sprint. Having successfully held the race together, the team sat at the front of the peloton as the bell rang and lap counter hit zero. Coming into the final straight and her first sprint of the year after an ankle injury, Barnes dropped the hammer. “I started my sprint just under 300m to go and at that point was around sixth position and in the end was fourth”, Barnes said. While she may not have quite found the podium on this particular day, it was still an impressive display of raw power and calculated strategy.

“Coming into the final straight and her
first sprint of the year after an ankle injury,
Barnes dropped the hammer.”

“It was good. A podium of course was the goal but for the first time really sprinting this year I’m happy with it. I know what I need to improve on and now I have the confidence to just get stuck in and go for it.” To win a criterium in a WorldTour event requires a remarkable mastery of individual power, aggressiveness, team strategy, and luck. . But to be on the boards beneath a concrete symbol of institutional power and feel the energy of one of cycling’s most exciting race formats—that’s a victory for any fan of racing.

CANYON//SRAM Racing