As a graduate student at UC Berkeley studying molecular toxicology in 2013, Katie Hall began winning amateur bicycle races throughout Northern California. Pedaling eventually took precedence over science.
Now a second-year pro, Hall sprinted to a two-second win Friday, her second of the season, in the opening stage of the women’s Amgen Tour of California.
Hall, 28, who rides for the Oakland-based UnitedHealthcare team, bolted to the front of the chilly 74.5-mile trek around Lake Tahoe and was victorious in 3 hours, 10 minutes and 49 seconds.
“Last year they had a flat circuit race,” said Hall, who also won the 2014 Nevada City Classic. “That’s cool, too. But I really love racing in the mountains.”
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Alena Amialiusik (Velocio-SRAM) of Belarus finished second in 3:10:51. Lauren Komanski (Twenty-16) of Winston-Salem, N.C., was third in the same time.
After temperatures in the low 30s and periodic snow Thursday, the 10th annual event began Friday with late-morning temperatures in the lows 40s and overcast conditions.
Early in the stage, Sarah Storey (Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours) of Great Britain broke from the field of 81 with Kirsti Lay of the Canadian National Team. Lay quickly fell back into the main field and several others unsuccessfully tried to join Storey, the 26-time Paralympic world titlist in cycling and swimming.
Allison Beveridge, Lay’s teammate and compatriot, eventually joined Storey and the duo built nearly a two-minute lead and remained in front much of the stage.
The leaders were absorbed into the field with about 14 miles left, before eight riders moved to the front with six miles left. The main field brought the leaders back and about 10 cyclists then positioned themselves for the finishing sprint within the final mile.
“I attacked with about 300 meters left,” Hall said. “I got a little gap and Alena was there and it was just the two of us.”
The first stage included more than 5,500 feet of climbing and it took its toll, with 11 riders failing to finish.
Lauren Stephens (TIBCO-SVB) of Mesquite, Texas, the pre-race favorite for the overall title, finished ninth, trailing by 22 seconds.
With Hall as the race leader, the remaining 69 women will ride 49.7 miles Saturday in a two-loop circuit race around Lake Tahoe. The three-day stage race concludes Sunday with a 34-mile criterium in downtown Sacramento.
James Raia is a Sacramento-based freelance reporter. He has covered the Amgen Tour of California every year.
TOUR OF CALIFORNIA
Saturday’s stage: The women’s second stage, a 49.7-mile circuit race, starts at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe at 10:30 a.m.
Men: Sunday-May 17; first stage starts and ends at the State Capitol in downtown Sacramento; the final stage finishes in Pasadena.
Women: Friday-May 15; first two stages start and end in South Lake Tahoe; third stage is in Sacramento; time trial is at Big Bear Lake.
TV: NBCSN: Sunday-May 15, 2-4 p.m.; May 16, 1:30-3:30 p.m.; May 17, 10 a.m.-noon