Jenelle Crooks, pictured above in the jersey for best young rider at the 2015 La Route de France, proved the best young rider in the one day Basque race, Durango-Durango Emakumeen Saria on Wedesday.
It?s been nearly a month since the High5 Australian Women?s Development Team arrived in Europe for the second phase of their international development. Kimberley Wells won the GP des Fleurs Dottignies in March, and on Tuesday Australian U23 Road Champion Jenelle Crooks added an accolade to the team?s collective glory with the best young rider title at Durango Durango Emakumeen Saria. The Basque race is arguably the hilliest one-day race on the women?s calendar.
?We were riding for Spratty [Amanda Spratt] and Tiff [Cromwell] today,? explained Crooks, who won the youth classification at Th?ringen Rundfahrt and La Route de France during her trip to Europe last season. ?Depending on how the race played out, I was being saved for the final climbs, too. The idea was for me to help them out in the finale.?
The 113-kilometre race opened with five large loops followed by two smaller loops, and the selection was made on the first climb in the first small loop. Crooks, well-positioned and feeling strong, made the selection.
?It was a group of around 40,? noted Crooks. ?Tiff just missed out over the top, and the descent wasn?t very technical, she didn?t manage to get back to us. Spratty and I were there.?
The race-winning move went on the descent before the second climb, and the first chase group splintered up the steep ascent.
?I was in a little group just behind the first chase group,? Crooks said. ?We got across when the road flattened out a bit. It was downhill all the way from there. I rode in the same group as Spratty and helped her where I could all the way to the finish.?
Spratty sprinted in for fourth place in the chase group, good for sixth place in the race. Crooks slotted into 17th place.
?I didn?t think about best young rider even once during the race,? said Crooks. ?It was a bit of a surprise. We were riding home to the hotel when I got the message. It was quite funny. It never even occurred to me.?
?My goal today was to help Spratty and see where I?m at with my climbing,? Crooks added. ?I wasn?t targeting best young rider. I was there to help Spratty because she had the best chances, and I was focused on that. I?m happy with how I?m climbing and that I could do my job.?
Spratt and Cromwell are on hand with dual objectives. The team leaders are, understandably, results-hunting ahead of selection for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio while they provide valuable experience to the young High5 Development Team.
?Our experience gives the group here something more to work with during the race,? said Cromwell. ?Teaching them to race with team where there are proper leaders encourages them to learn the team role. The group here is so eager to learn and having more experienced leaders helps them learn as much as possible. They can take a lot off working for us ? even if the objective seems small, like bringing us to the foot of climb. Having small goals provides a clear perspective on how to race. Without that, it?s easy to get a bit lost in the peloton as each of the riders fights to see how far she can get.?
?In the team meeting last night, Spratty said Durango was the best we?ve seen this group in any race this spring,? Cromwell added. ?We?ve seen them in the peloton in the classics, and mostly we?ve seen them suffering, seen them trying to hang on. It was different here. They were on the attack and coming together like a team. All six of us where together at the bottom of the first climb on the first small lap. Seeing that was really encouraging and a huge step forward.?
Basque racing continues on Wednesday with a hilly five day stage race. Emakumeen Euskal Bira, a climber?s delight, opens with an evening prologue.
?This week is going to be good, I reckon,? said Crooks. ?The terrain really suits me. We haven?t spoken clearly about the team?s objectives for the week. We?ll see how things pan out with the prologue first, but I?d say I?ll be riding for Spratty and Tiff, trying to help out as much as possible and be with them in the most critical parts of the races.?
Cromwell is clear about what the young team must do to be successful.
?They?ll have chances, and they?ll need to take those chances ? to go up the road, learn the key players in the peloton, gain a better understanding of team tactics, support their team leaders,? explained Cromwell. ?For this group, a successful race is playing a part in the race. Given what we saw yesterday, I?m confident they can do that.?