2005 Giro del Cielo Race Report
It is not surprising that women from Washington, D.C. to Waltham, Massachusetts converged on Sussex, County, New Jersey for the first annual Giro del Cielo, a women's only stage race on the weekend of July 16-17, 2005. The only multi-day event just for women east of the Rockies promised to be a special event. With scenic venues, fierce competition, and the total absence of any male competitors, the GDC did not disappoint. Thirty-three Cat 4 racers and seventeen Cat 3 racers raced in a criterium, a circuit race and an uphill time trial in a two-day battle for GC honors.
Saturday's stage was a criterium at Skylands Park, in Augusta. The half mile flat course saw some high speed racing in both categories. In Cat 4, two teen-age track stars, Nina Santiago (14) and Lauren Shirock (16) set the tone for the day's race by attacking at the opening whistle. While their aggressive move threatened to shatter the field on the first lap, Nina and Lauren were reeled in by a hard-working peloton after three laps. In a race that averaged almost 25 mile per hour--a virtually unheard of pace for a women's Cat 4 race-several attempted breakaways were doomed to quick failure. Julie Reid, riding for CRCA/Rocky Mounts took the field sprint, with fellow New Yorker Evelyn Hienbach of Champion Racing Systems second. New Jersey's Suzanne Huelster, Brielle Cyclery/Wendy's, was third.
In the Cat 3 race, many time national masters champion Elizabeth Tyrell launched an impressive solo attack half way through the 40 lap race. Although she quickly opened up a half-lap gap, a well-organized chase eventually brought Tyrell back. As the pack closed the final meters, Somerset teammate Mara Miller counter-attacked, taking Emma Nelson of CRCA/Bicycle Works with her. Tyrell, miraculously, managed to recover and jump on Nelson's wheel, forming a promising three-rider group. And while the Skylands Park venue has been the site of many successful breakaways, this was not to be one of them. Slowly but surely, the peloton closed the gap, with the CRCA/Radical Media team doing a large share of the work.
With the group back together, Mara Miller went to the front at the start of the bell lap and gamely pulled the pack for the entire last lap. In a move fitting of a match sprint, Miller kept picking up the pace while she powered around the course for the final time. As she entered the home stretch, the pack stretched out through the last two turns. Only Hannah Long of CRCA/Sanchez Metro could come around. Miller held on for second, with Emma Nelson third.
The following day began with a 4.6 mile one-way time trial up Sunrise Mountain Road in Stokes State Forest. With an average gradient of 4% and sections as steep as 9%, the course challenged the ability of riders to recover from the previous day's frenzied crit racing. Team Somerset's Mara Miller took top honors, completing the power climb in 16:37, for a 16.6 mph average speed. Teammate Elizabeth Tyrell was second in the Cat 3 group in 17:00, while Emma Nelson was a distant third in 17:41. Suzanne Huelster, of Riverton, New Jersey topped the Cat 4 women in 17:02, while Middlebury College student Meghan Guarnier was second in 17:13. Cynthia Johnson of regional powerhouse Team Artemis, took third in 17:46.
The Sussex County Fairgrounds in Augusta was the venue for Sunday's afternoon circuit stage. The Fairgrounds is the site of the popular Tuesday night Augusta Training series. The Giro del Cielo, however, brought excitement not usually seen in Augusta because of generous sponsorship which provided over $900 in cash primes for the two races, as well as several merchandise primes. The first few laps of each race were sluggish at best, as riders clearly showed the effects of the hot, humid weather and two days of hard racing. The tolling of the prime bell changed all that. GC leader Suzanne Hueslter took the first prime, then wisely declined to participate in the rest of the day's bell driven madness, preferring to conserve her energy for the finish. The dynamic teen age duo of Nina Santiago and national 15-16 criterium champion Lauren Shirock worked together to each take a cash prime, while Middlebury's bandaged Meghan Guarnier showed she was recovered from her crash the day before by taking a pair of primes. Laura Tyson, of co-host club Skylands Cycling, took the sixth prime.
In the end, no one was a match for the circumspect Sue Huelster, who attacked into the hard left turn just before the hill 500 meters for the finish, winning by more than twenty meters over Meghan Guarnier. Lauren Shirock was third. Huelster handily captured the GC. Meghan was second, and Julie Reid, winner of the previous day's criterium, was third.
The Cat 3 race started with a few easy laps, but New Yorker Cindy Ma livened things up with a powerful early attack. Quickly riding out of sight of the peloton and opening a 45 second gap, Cindy picked up the first two primes, including $300 in cash. Unable to sustain her furious pace, a rapidly tiring Ma was eventually reeled in by the pack in little more than a lap around the 1.4 mile course. Philadelphian Marcie Massero, riding for Velo Bella, dominated the next three prime laps, as the GC contenders bided their time. With nine laps to go, Elizabeth Tyrell challenged Massero for the prime, and although unsuccessful, launched a classic post-prime attack, taking New Yorker Emma Nelson with her.
Fore the next few laps, the peloton steadily chased and closed the gap to a little as fifty meters. But Nelson and Tyrell kept hammering and, with Tyrell's three Somerset teammates helping to disrupt the chase, stayed away for good. Nelson took the win by a wheel. Replaying the finish of Saturday's criterium stage, Hannah Long out sprinted Mara Miller for third. Marcie Massero was fifth.
Mara Miller captured the GC on the strength of her time trial victory. Emma Nelson was second and Hannah Long third, the top three GC finishers separated by a mere seven points. As the riders packed their gear for the drive home, and the skies finally started to deliver the rain they had been promising all weekend, co-promoters Heather Labance of Skylands Cycling and Brooke Wilson of Team Somerset-both highly accomplished racers in their own right-pledged that next year's Giro del Cielo would be even better.

July 18, 2005