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Top ranked stage race featured dramatic finishes in men’s and women’s races
The Nature Valley Grand Prix, the top race on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar held on June 10 – 14, will air on Universal Sports, the event’s worldwide broadcast partner. Originally slotted for a half hour, the program has been expanded to a full hour because there were far too many compelling story lines to cover in the shorter program. Airings will be:
Saturday, 6/27, 2:00 PM
Sunday, 6/28, 6:00 PM
Tuesday, 6/30, 11:00 AM
Sunday, 7/5, 4:00 PM
Monday, 7/6, 6:00 PM
(All Eastern Time)
This was three-time defending champion Kristin Armstrong’s last race in the United States before her retirement after the World Championships at the end of September in Mendrisio, Switzerland. With none of her Cervelo Test Team teammates to support her, Armstrong faced the daunting challenge of a stacked peloton that seemed to be on a unified mission to deny Armstrong her fourth consecutive win. She maintained the yellow jersey at the penultimate stage in Mankato, but by only 11 seconds. The race was decided with a dramatic finish in the Stillwater Criterium.
Following the race, Armstrong took the microphone and said an emotional “Farewell” to US racing. After her retirement, she’ll focus her efforts on the Kristin Armstrong Academy, a development program for women under the age of 23.
The men’s race was equally dramatic, with Bissell’s Tom Zirbel taking the lead over Rory Sutherland (OUCH) at the opening time trial. Zirbel, an unlikely challenger at 6’4” and 198 pounds, held the lead through the Mankato Road Race, despite the extreme hill on that race’s finishing circuit. The race was settled at the brutal Stillwater Criterium, where Sutherland’s teammate Floyd Landis played a key role, earning Landis the Freewheel Bike Most Aggressive Rider jersey and setting up a dramatic finish.
The program will also stream from www.UniversalSports.com
About the Minnesota Bicycle Festival & Nature Valley Grand Prix
The Minnesota Bicycle Festival is one of the nation’s top celebrations of the bicycle culture, with tens of thousands of cycling enthusiasts, pro athletes and avid recreational riders converging on Minnesota each June. Its professional racing event, the Nature Valley Grand Prix, began as a one-day criterium in Saint Paul in 1999. Ranked as the premier stage race on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar, the 2009 Nature Valley Grand Prix included stops in Saint Paul, Cannon Falls, Minneapolis, Mankato and Stillwater. The Minnesota Bicycle Festival is a volunteer run event, with all proceeds donated to Children’s Hospital’s and Clinics of Minnesota, the festival’s benefiting charity. For more information, visit www.minnbikefestival.com/.
About Nature Valley
Nature Valley, the brand that created the granola bar category in 1975, brings great taste to healthy, active consumers looking for wholesome snacks. Nature Valley comes in a variety of delicious bars, Crunchy Granola, Trail Mix Chewy Granola, Chewy Granola with Yogurt Coating and Sweet & Salty Nut Bars. Visit www.NatureValley.com
About Universal Sports
Universal Sports, a partnership between NBC Sports and InterMedia Partners, serves as the preeminent multiplatform destination for Olympic-related and lifestyle sports programming available on television and online. Universal Sports is a 24-hour television channel available in 45 million television households in markets including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Seattle, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Reno and Omaha. Major world championship and Olympic qualifying events found on Universal Sports range from track and field, skiing, swimming, gymnastics, marathons and cycling, to volleyball, rowing, triathlon, fencing, speed skating and martial arts. UniversalSports.com delivers an immersive experience via live and on-demand competition coverage, interaction with top athletes through blogs and in-depth access to Olympic sports news and information year round. For more information on the availability of the Universal Sports 24-hour television channel, please visit UniversalSports.com.
Team Type 1’s Jacquelyn Crowell finished her second Nature Valley Grand Prix in 56th place, 13:33 behind overall winner Kirstin Armstrong. Throughout the event, the University of Florida student (pictured below, middle, with teammates Alison Powers and Kori Seehafer) shared her experiences. This is her final entry.
These last two days have been tough, but there was an end in sight. Now it’s over. Looking back, we accomplished a lot as a team. Ali (Alison Powers) got third on the general classification, which was awesome and it makes me proud to be part of Team Type 1.
Our team raced well and we’re learning more about each other every race. We’re getting better. As long as we’re getting better, we’re successful. So this race was a success.
Saturday’s Mankato Road Race was tough because I haven’t ridden over two-and-a-half hours in nearly two months. I’ve just been racing and I wasn’t able to crash after my crash in Wilmington. So I’ve just been going from race to race and not really training. So the 91 miles was really tough for me. Of course, the finishing circuits were horrible because I haven’t seen a hill since Collegiate Nationals in Fort Collins, Colo., and before that at the Redlands Bicycle Classic. So it’s tough coming from the flatlands and trying to compete.
Sunday, I went into the race with a more relaxed outlook. It was the last day and the end was in sight. You only had to do three laps to finish the stage race. I got pulled after seven or eight laps. But I lived. I’m happy about that. Now I get some time off. I get to start training again and it will be a perfect ramp-up for nationals.
It’s been a great experience sharing my story with everyone. I’m glad that there’s an interest out there to see what Team Type 1 has to offer the sport. It is the spectators who keep it alive and fun. It was awesome going up the big hill Sunday and having people cheer and many of them don’t even know who you are. It makes it so much better for the riders. You’re in so much pain, but when they’re cheering for you, it gives you that extra boost.
I saw a lot of amateur women riding around before the race Sunday and hope we’re an inspiration to all women out there that we can do this too and achieve your goals. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl or how old you are – you can go out there and be competitive.
Until next year, take care.
Today’s stage unfolded in spectacular fashion. Straight out of the blocks, and all 140+ starters were sprinting up Chilkoot Hill, trying to make up positions, after being stuck on the starting grid for what seemed to be an eternity. I think that the first trip up the hill, was also the last time we were all together. While the group seems to usually maintain a fairly low rate of attrition for the first half of a criterium, today was an exception.
No where was the magnitude of the day’s extreme demand more obvious than in the race officials generous time-cut; requiring that riders only complete 25% of the 20 lap race. Yes, after only 5 laps of racing, riders were eligible for a pro-rated time. What a deal! Although I had no intention of using such a generous time cut, it turns out that I benefited from such generosity.
Before the race started, I knew that I would be facing up to one of the hardest criteriums in the country. The Stillwater crit is something of a legend in the domestic peloton, as everyone knows of and about, the Chilkoot Hill. At 250 meters with an average gradient of 18%, and ramps as steep as 20%, each lap would be a brutal test of mental and physical strength. With my warm-up completed, and the legs feeling ready for one last fight, I picked up a fresh ice-cold bottle of Hammer Heed before making my way onto the starting grid. Seems the entire field, except for a few of us, believed that a good start position would be worth more than a good warm-up. Huh. Interesting idea, and I am not sure which ended up prevailing, as the truth is that we always end up sitting around for a good number of minutes before the race gets started.
I was going to be in the last row no matter what. With everyone else ahead of me, I had to accept this. My teammate Jim Camut, also found himself in a similar situation. We decided that if we were going to be last, we might as well keep the legs moving. Rather than sitting on the line with one foot down, Jim and I rode our bikes in slow and lazy circles behind the nervous peloton. A few others joined, making for an almost comical looking side show. Inside of 10 seconds to go, and Jim and I were executing track-stands right behind the field; ready to explode into the race, with both of our feel already clipped into the pedals.
The first time racing up the hill was brutal. Imagine sitting in your car, simply idling at a stop sign, and in one instant, you stomp on the accelerator, and drop the clutch. Yeah, a real shock to the system. From a comfortable track-stand with my heart-rate hovering around 80-90 beats per minute, I exploded into the race. Over the top of the hill, and I couldn’t pump enough blood through my body.
Within the next few laps, I began to feel settled in the race. The rhythm of each lap was starting to flow, and I knew what points on the course were my strongest and weakest. As I began to work my way forward through the field, I was feeling better with each passing lap. Those first few laps, as I got into the race, I was ready for a battle right up to the end. Ready to fight hard, and to suffer. Coming over the top of the course on my second or third lap, (I don’t remember the exact one) I came across a group of riders who had gone down. Ordinarily, I would have ridden straight passed. In this situation, I found my teammate, and potential U23, winner Bobby Sweeting picking himself up with his bike.
Before I even came up to them, I had already gone into “autopilot.” I had shifted my bike all the way to the hardest gear, 53×11, to ease the changing of wheels should that become necessary. A quick exchange of words with Bobby, and I knew he was good. As he wheeled off to the pits for his free-lap while sorting out any unnoticed mechanical issues, I was being harassed by an official. All he seemed to see was that I had stopped despite not crashing. After listing to repeated yells along the lines of, “Number 113, you did not crash! You will not receive a free lap. You must continue…” I rolled off. Of course I knew I didn’t crash, and I wasn’t looking for a free lap. I was looking after my teammate who stood to win, or lose, more than I did.
A few more laps of riding, and the hard charging field was coming up behind me. After just 5 laps, I was pulled from the course. Although it was the least of my worries, it turns out that the unusually low time-cut worked in my favor today. Of course, I wasn’t really worried about how I finished, but it is nice to at least know what I made it, technically. If I had ridden all the way, who knows how things would have turned out.
In the end, my teammate Bobby Sweeting won the U23 competition, and Mike Northey followed yesterday’s strong ride with another big performance today. By limiting his losses, Mike finishes the week 3rd on the U23 race. This last week has been a fantastic week of racing and experiencing Minnesota. For many of us, this year was our first time racing in the Nature Valley Grand Prix. The racing has proven to be some of the best, and I will look forward to coming back for more racing in the years to come.
Thanks for reading and thanks for following along with me this week.
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
Kristin Armstrong Wins Fourth Nature Valley Grand Prix Title With A Teary Goodbye At Her Last American Race
By Cynthia Lou
Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo Test Team) may have fiercely defended her yellow jersey at the Stillwater Criterium, leaping off the start line with determination in her eyes, but she left the Nature Valley Grand Prix well decorated and with a teary goodbye at the last American race of her career. A triumphant end to a win-filled career, Armstrong won the overall general classification, the Jelly Belly Sports Beans Best Climber Jersey and the Freewheel Most Aggressive Rider Jersey. Shelley Olds (Proman Hit Squad) and Andrea Dvorak (Colavita/Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light) followed Armstrong’s attack in the second lap to take second and third for the stage, respectively.
A quickly shattered field saw mix ups in the final general classification, with Olds moving to second overall and Allison Powers of Team Type 1 moving up to take third overall.
“I had a lot of nerves today, thinking that it was my last race in America and knowing I had only 12, 11 seconds – there’s just no room for mishaps, mechanical or anything,” said Armstrong. “I rode up that first hill at 85% to string it out. I wasn’t worried about who would work with me or who wouldn’t. I looked at it as an hour race, and knew that I didn’t want to leave it up to the last climb.”
“Those girls were there, and they really worked to stay on. I didn’t want to leave them so the peloton would catch them,” said Armstrong, ever the mentor, who waited patiently until the last few laps. “I thought that if I waited until the last lap they would be able to hold off the peloton that was about 45 seconds back. I really respect Andrea Dvorak from Colavita and Shelley Olds from Proman, they are both up and coming talent in America. I was happy to have them up on the podium with me.”
It seems that Armstrong’s determination and climbing abilities are widely known by everyone.
“Kristin was keeping a good tempo up the hills – she was just practicing for Worlds or something!” Olds said with a laugh. “I would have loved to have helped, but it took us the whole downhill to recover.”
Olds went home with the Wheaties Sprint Jersey and a second overall on the general classification. “I knew that if I could stay on Kristin’s wheel – which was inevitable – that I could settle in to a good pace. This is the kind of race that you have to settle in to, and everyone else is going through the same thing, so if you can settle into it with a gap, then you just have to keep reminding yourself to keep going…I had my director in my ear reminding me to chill, keep my own tempo, stick with them on the climb.”
On the famous 700 meter long Chilkoot Hill that averages a 22% grade, the role of directors play a huge role in inspiring and motivating their riders in addition to relaying messages and tactics.
“I knew to line up near Kristin,” said third place finisher and breakaway companion Dvorak. “When [Armstrong] started to go up the road with Shelley and get a little gap, my director said into my ear, ‘Close that gap, close that gap! It’ll be worth your while.’ So I put in an effort, caught them, and off we went.”
Often times it’s necessary for riders to generate their own internal inspiration, which has been the case for a teammate-free Armstrong throughout the race.
“Originally I was going to go out from the gun, but I ended up going the 85% to calm my nerves. When I saw it was strung out I felt that I had some control back and took it as hard as I could on the second lap.”
Sometimes the mental game of a race like this is to simply go for it and do your best, as was the case for APC’s Best Young Rider Jersey winner Amanda Miller (Lip Smacker).
“Today was a race of attrition. I was just riding, and I didn’t even know where the leader was,” said Miller, who wasn’t aware she had won when she crossed the finish line. “I didn’t find out until I got back down here [to the announcers stage].”
Team Tibco put in stellar performances throughout the week, winning the Team Competition by taking a stage victory and racing consistently and aggressively every day. The Nature Valley Top Amateur Jersey went to Sydney Brown (Nature Valley Cycling Team).
The Nature Valley Grand Prix is also the third stop of the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series. Allison Powers (Team Type 1) was the new Overall Leader as well as the Sprint Jersey Leader, while the Women’s Prestige Series Best Young Rider Jersey went to Rebecca Much (Webcor Builders).
Sutherland repeats; Amore & Vita/Life Time Fitness shines in last stage of Nature Valley
By James Lockwood
In cycling, sometimes it’s more about your opponent’s weaknesses than your own strengths that can win you the race.
Going into the last stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, only seven seconds separated Bissell Pro Cycling’s Tom Zirbel from OUCH-Maxxis’ Rory Sutherland. But, in terms of racing tactics, that gap turned out to be greater.
Sutherland used his teammates to lead him out two laps to go at the bottom of the infamous Chilkoot Hill in the Stillwater Criterium to launch him ahead of Zirbel, who got caught out of position behind Sutherland’s teammates and had to dig deep to match Sutherland’s momentum.
The tactic was enough to propel Sutherland, the defending champion of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, 10 seconds ahead of Zirbel at the finish and win him the overall championship of the Nature Valley Grand Prix by three seconds.
“We had our plan this week, and we were always just one off,” Rory said. “Finally, we made our plan work.”
“Our tactic was to go as hard as we could the last three laps,” OUCH-Maxxis director Mike Tamayo said. “We knew what Zirbel’s weaknesses were. We wanted to make it really hard going up the hill and then set a blistering pace going downhill.
“We knew that going into that hill few people could stay with Rory. So, we set a lead out for Rory to go as hard as he could.”
Zirbel said he got caught in that lead out, having to check his breaks behind Sutherland’s teammates, and that little loss of momentum made the difference between first and second overall.
“It was a matter of exploiting my weakness,” said a visibly dejected Zirbel after the race. “They used their legs, and they used their tactics.
“Today, it wasn’t for a lack of legs that I lost. If I could have kept the momentum going up the hill, I could have stayed with Rory. They are smart racers.”
Zirbel’s teammate, Ben Jacques-Maynes, had other words to describe OUCH’s tactics. He accused OUCH-Maxxis of purposely checking their brakes coming out of the last corner going into the hill, forcing Zirbel to brake while Sutherland accelerated.
“Winning with their legs wasn’t going to win it for them,” said Jacques-Maynes, who last year lost to the jersey to Sutherland in the second to last stage. “[Zirbel] should hold his head up high. He was awesome.”
On the day, Sutherland finished third and Zirbel fifth. Both came behind Phillip Mamos of Amore & Vita presented by Life Time Fitness-Velo Vie, who sprinted up the finishing climb to win by two seconds ahead of Anthony Colby of Colavita-Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light and Sutherland. Zirbel finished in a group of three with Luis Romero Amaran and Tyler Wren, both teammates of Colby.
It was Colby’s attack with five laps to go near the top of the 6th Street climb – coming after Chilkoot Hill and a false flat – that put he and Mamos into a position to win.
“I wasn’t really sure if we would stay away, but I thought, ‘What’s it to [Bissell and OUCH] if I go,” said Colby, who entered the day 42 seconds down to Zirbel. “I tried to stay one step ahead.”
“The Colavita guy attacked, and I was on him,” Mamos, a German living in Italy, said. “Rory comes through, and it was perfect. I knew he was strong, and I thought, ‘Just stay on his wheel.’
“I waited as long as I could, and then I just attacked [Sutherland and Colby]. It was good to win.”
“The goal was to come here to win a stage. We’re very happy,” said Mamos’ teammate, Chad Gerlach, who finished second in the Mankato Road Race and earned the Jelly Belly Sports Beans King of the Hills Jersey.
All day, the riders from Colavita-Sutter Home and Amore & Vita/Life Time Fitness worked the break, but it was OUCH’s Tim Johnson and then Floyd Landis who lighted up the day. Johnson, who has been on four winning teams in the Nature Valley Grand Prix going back to the days of Saturn Cycling, started things from the gun in the second lap of the 20-lap race and then was replaced by Landis on lap four. Both men were within a minute of the lead going into the day.
With Landis ahead, Amore & Vita/Life Time Fitness sent Volodymyr Starchyk ahead with Colavita-Suttter Homes’ Kyle Walmsley and Jim Camut of Land Rover-Orbea benefiting the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The four maintained a tenuous gap of 15 second through half the race until Colavita started sending more riders to up the road.
All the time, Bissell led the peloton, maintaining the gap.
“It’s tough to get a lot of time on that course,” Landis said of his chances to win. His efforts, though, working the break for 10 laps, earned him the Freewheel Bike Most Aggressive Jersey. “It was a good course for Rory, and a good course for the team.”
Sutherland said it was difficult through the whole stage, mostly because he had to be patient. As Amore & Vita/Life Time Fitness and Colavita-Sutter Home sent guys ahead and worked the break, Sutherland bid his time behind Bissell’s train.
“It’s different to have to wait and hedge your bets,” Sutherland said the OUCH’s plan. “The longer you wait, the more daunting it is.”
“My eyes were closed going through the last two corners, literally. The goal today was to win the race, not the stage,” he said.
Sutherland described the overall victory this year as more nerve-wracking than last.year, when he went into the Stillwater Criterium defending the leader’s jersey rather than chasing it.
“Seven seconds, it’s a pretty long time,” he said. “I’d rather come in sixth than come in second, no disrespect to Tom.”
In fact, there was nothing but accolades for the way Bissell defended the jersey from the start of the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
“Bissell did an awesome job,” Sutherland said.
“They did a great job defending,” said his teammate, Johnson.
Other jersey winners on the day included Land Rover-Orbea’s Bob Sweeting, who won the APC Best Young Rider Jersey; Tom Soladay of Team Mountain Khakis presented by EP-No who won the Wheaties Sprinters Jersey; and Matthew Busche of IS Corp Cycling team who won the Nature Valley Best Amateur Jersey.
Another stage down, and things are getting better. The last four days of racing have been filled with aggression, tactics, and battles fought down to the final meters of each stage, and today was no different.
Following a gross mis-calculation of the time it would take to drive into Mankato, we pulled into the venue parking lot with no more than 25 minutes before the race was scheduled to start. What followed was mostly-organized chaos that bordered on madness. Somehow, we all managed to get our bikes ready, dressed, and pockets filled with food, all before racing over to the sign-in table via the porta-johns. As the type of person who much prefers to meticulously measure, place, and prepare everything, this test of rapid preparation was perhaps the most stressful part of my whole day.
The race started with a short neutral section as we worked our way out of town, and onto the rolling farm roads that surround Mankato. Those few minutes of easy pedaling were a blessing, as they afforded me the opportunity to get the legs moving, and some blood flow going, all before the racing got up to speed.
Rolling up onto the plateau that surrounds Mankato, and the racing was full throttle. For fifty minutes, the racing was aggressive as riders worked to establish the day’s main breakaway, which was almost certain to go. Along with my teammates, we all took turns covering breaks, initiating moves, and hoping that today would be “our day.” In the end, it was my team-mate Mike Northey’s day. Mike made the key selection with thirteen other riders who would hammer themselves over the course of the next two-and-a-half hours before finishing their efforts on the closing circuits around the streets of Mankato.
For the rest of us in the field, things slowed down. Way down. With no riders or teams taking up the chase, the break quickly built up and almost astronomical advantage of 8 minutes. Finally, the Ciclismo Racing Team took up the pace making, sensing that they had “missed out,” and that no other teams were in a position of needing to chase. Coming back into town, the peleton began to gain some impotence, as teams worked to get themselves sorted out for the four finishing circuits around downtown Mankato.
The first time we came through, and the 3 riders who remained from the original group of 14 held just over a three minute advantage on the peleton. As the top GC riders and contenders began taking turns attacking each other, the 3 leaders quickly saw their advantage disintegrate with each climb up the Main St Hill. With 3.5 kilometers remaining, they held just a slim margin of 34 seconds over a select chase group of riders who were being driven by the Bissell Pro Cycling Team, as they worked to protect Tom Zirbel’s race lead. At the line, and that advantage had been cut in half.
After a terrific and sensible day of racing off the front, Mike put in some stellar efforts on those closing laps to take 3rd place on the stage, while also taking over the lead in the APC Best Young Rider competition. For all my wanting, trying, and hoping that I would make it into today’s break, I am even happier for my teammate Mike and the success that he found on the roads today. Clearly his legs were better than most, and I will look forward to working with my team tomorrow as we work to protect his lead in the APC Best Young Rider competition during th challenging 20 lap race in downtown Stillwater, MN.
With the laundry started, and my eyes drooping, I think we will have to shut down Guitar Hero as I get ready to rest up for one final day of racing here in Minnesota.
Thanks for reading, and I look forward to seeing you all in Stillwater tomorrow afternoon.
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
The Minnesota Bicycle Festival returns to historic downtown Stillwater for the Grand Finale.
The Stillwater course features a trek up Chilkoot Hill every lap. This lung-busting hill climb along with the heart stopping downhill turns that will stretch the riders’ bike handling skills to their limits combine to give this criterium an international reputation as the hardest in North America.
The pack will shatter on the climbs in Stillwater, with the lead pack shrinking on every lap. The yellow jersey will be under serious pressure, with challengers pushing the pace to try to make the leader crack. The jersey often changes hands on this final day of the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
10:30 AM – Expo opens & Stunt Rider Shows
11:00 AM – Kurt Kinetic amateur race
12:00 PM – Women’s Pro/Elite Race: 50 minutes
1:00 PM – Shimano/Hoigaard’s Tour de Kids fun race
1:30 PM – Men’s Pro/Elite Race: 60 minutes
3:30 PM – Expo closes
Alexis Rhodes Takes The Stage Win At Mankato, Blasting Into Second Overall Just Twelve Seconds Behind Leader Armstrong
By Cynthia Lou
Redemption was sweet for Webcor Builders today. After the unfortunate series of crashes that took them off the podium and out of their competition jerseys at Thursday’s Cannon Falls Road Race, Alexis Rhodes road away from Dotsie Bausch (Jazz Apples) and Brooke Miller (TIBCO) to take the stage win, the Queen of the Mountains Jersey, and the Best Young Rider Jersey. Teammate Kathryn Curi Mattis took the day’s Freewheel Most Aggressive Rider’s Jersey.
“How tough are they to be able to keep fighting and never give up,” beamed Webcor Builder’s director Laura Charmaeda. “Not only did they not give up, but they came out here to stomp the race again. That’s just plain tough.”
Shelley Olds (Proman Hit Squad) extended her lead in the Wheaties Sprint Competition by winning the first two sprints. Sprint competitions three and four were absorbed by the breakaway groups.
While all early attacks were brought back, with TIBCO, Webcor Builders, and Colavita staying active near the front, the attacks picked up approximately 28 miles into the race, after the second Sprint Competition. Webcor Builder’s Kathryn Curi Mattis escaped on a solo breakaway, later joined by Team Type 1’s Veronica Leal, Tibco’s Julie Beveridge, and Lip Smacker’s Jessica Phillips. The break grew to over 2’ 15“, putting Leal in the virtual yellow jersey, before Armstrong fought to bring it back with the help of Colavita.
This was a blessing for Webcor, who took advantage of the opportunity to rest while the break was being reeled back.
“The group of four were caught just as we were turning left into some crosswinds,” explained Charmaeda. That’s when I said, ‘Girls, make it hurt now,’ because that’s when you can effectively launch an attack. That’s when Alexis got away.”
Dotsie Bausch, Assistant Director and in-race mentor of the professional development squad Jazz Apple Women’s Cycling Team saw the break forming and knew she had to take action. “Marina [Duvnajk] was awesome, she was off the front all day going for break after break, and Steph was back getting bottles. I saw two major teams go, then the third, and I knew we had to get somebody on this so I went for it. I just gritted it out because I wanted to get a podium for the girls.”
The four-woman break of Rhodes, Bausch, Brooke Miller (Tibco), and Kelly Benjamin (Colavita/Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light) quickly grew to two minutes before the field reacted. Olivia Dillon (Nature Valley Cycling Team) and Nicole Evans (ValueAct Capital) chased for approximately 20 miles until they caught the lead group. Together, the group of six grew their lead to nearly four minutes, with little response from the peloton.
“When the break got up to three minutes forty [seconds], I couldn’t believe that every team out there was happy with this break,“ said Armstrong, explaining that she kept expecting other teams to come forth to help.
Rhodes started the day 2’ 07″ behind race leader Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo Test Team), secured a 15 second time bonus for her stage victory. When Rhodes and her lead group of six entered the finishing circuits, they were 3’ 10” ahead of the peloton. The lead was whittled down over the course of the four nail-biting two-mile circuits around Mankato that included a one-mile long Queen of the Mountains climb with an average grade of 14%.
“I knew I was climbing really well, and I thought if I could drop Brooke on the last lap that would be good,” said a very calm Rhodes. “But I dropped her on the first lap so I guess, even better. I’m climbing really well at the moment, so I guess the [four laps of the tough QOM] climb were really a blessing in disguise.”
As Rhodes took off, it was a battle between Bausch and Miller for second.
“I knew that I had to conserve on the downhill,” said Bausch, drawing on her years of experience as a climber. “I just focused on catching Brooke the fourth lap. I knew that if I could just make it to the fourth lap relaxed and with full oxygen I could give it my all up that last climb and all the way down the backside.”
Though there was a lot of excitement around whether or not Armstrong lost the yellow jersey today, the general consensus of the field is that Armstrong will take home her fourth Nature Valley Grand Prix overall win tomorrow evening.
“Kristin is without question the best climber,” said Miller. “One of the things she has in her favor is that tomorrow’s race is everyone for herself. It’s difficult for any kind of team dynamic to play out.”
When asked about challenging Armstrong for the yellow jersey tomorrow, Rhodes replied with a laugh, ”I felt pretty awesome today, but Kristin’s just a class above the rest of us. I’ll try my best to hold her wheel, and we’ll see how it goes.“
Catch the final stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix at the Stillwater Criterium in historic downtown Stillwater, Minn. The festival starts at 10:30 a.m. CDT, with the women’s race beginning at Noon.
Amateurs Make Mankato Their Day in Nature Valley Grand Prix, Almost Upsetting Leaders
By James Lockwood
OUCH-Maxxis knew the fourth stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix well, having won the course the previous two years in its former incarnation as Health Net.
Bissell Pro Cyling knew this course well, too, having lost the leader’s jersey last year on the course’s mile-long climb during the four laps of the finishing circuit.
So, each knew what to expect from the 92-mile Mankato Road Race. But what transpired surprised most people, turning the showdown between powerhouse North American teams into the amateur hour – or 3 hours and 30 minutes, as the case may be.
Winning one of the biggest races of his career was Wheel & Sprocket’s Andrew Crater, who, at 31, continues to race on an amateur team despite having a professional background. He, along with Chad Gerlach of Amore & Vita presented by Life Time Fitness-Velo Vie and Mike Nothey of Land Rover-Orbea benefitting the Lance Armstrong Foundation outlasted a breakaway of 14 riders to take the top three places in the stage.
It was a move that was initiated 14 miles into the race, and few thought it would go to the end.
“I didn’t know [if we could last],” Nothey said. “I thought we would get caught in the finishing circuit.”
Instead of being caught, the trio finished 17 seconds ahead of a charging pack that included all of the overall contenders, including the current leader, Bissell Pro Cycling’s Tom Zirbel, and his teammate Peter Latham; OUCH-Maxxis’ Rory Sutherland; Sebastian Haedo of Colavita-Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light; and a host of other riders from Jelly Belly Pro Cycling and Team Type 1.
Zirbel said losing only 17 seconds was good.
“We lucked out,” Zirbel said. “I didn’t think [the break] was going to come back.”
The break that everyone ended up talking about included – at its peak – 14 riders who had built a gap of eight minutes nearly halfway through the race. Zirbell said there seemed little motivation for anyone to initiate a chase, with all five major teams represented, including Jelly Belly’s Jeremy Powers, OUCH-Maxxis’ Tim Johnson, Bissell’s Cody O’Reilly and Kirk O’Bee, Colavita-Sutter Home’s Davide Frattini, and Team Type 1’s Aldo Ino Ilesic.
Not until Fort Collins, Colo., amateur team Ciclismo Racing decided they needed to take charge about 40-miles from the finishing circuit did the gap start to fall. Zirbel tipped his hat to Ciclismo’s work as well as CRCA/Empire Cycling Team presented by Northwave.
“It could have been so much worse,” the Bissell rider said. “The amateur teams went to the front and really brought that break back. We would not have had a chance to catch the break if they hadn’t worked.”
“Today, we really showed we could go up there and tide up front,” said Ciclismo’s Nick Frey, who entered the day leading the points for both the APC Best Young Rider Jersey and the Nature Valley Best Amateur Rider Jersey but lost both on the climb in Mankato.
“We were going really slow about mile 25,” he said. “We assessed who was in the break, and every major team was represented. I thought Colavita might move up for Haedo, but they weren’t willing to sit on the front.
“So, we decided to put two to three guys up front. Then we said, ‘Let’s everyone go to the front.’ We sat up there for 45 miles.”
The assumption was that the guys in the break would not have the energy to finish strong on the two-mile circuit.
“We knew the break was going to be fried going into the finishing circuit,” he said.
As it turned out, they weren’t fried enough.
It wasn’t the group of 14 who were in the break that entered the circuit, though. Instead, it was a more selective group of eight, and of them, it was only O’Bee and Ilesic who remained of the big teams. The group also included Nicholas Clayfield of HagensBermanCycling, Ben Raby of TradeWind Energy/The Trek Stores, and Ty Stanfield of Kenda Pro Cycling presented by Spinergy.
It was Stanfield’s move at the fourh sprint line at mile 64 that created the split and drew out Gerlach, then O’Reilly, Nothey and Crater.
“I was just trying to get something going,” Kenda’s Stanfield said. “The break was going slow. I was hoping to get a little help, and Chad bridged up. Chad was like, ‘Attack the group. Attack the group.’”
It had not been the first move Stanfield had initiated. He and Clayfield had originally missed the move that formed the winning break. Together with local amateur Chris Doig of Flanders/Minnesota Bicycle Racing Club, the three worked over 12 miles to catch the leading 11.
While he ended up being caught by the chase in the finishing circuits, he finished 17 and earned the Freewheel Bike Most Aggressive Jersey, a target of the team’s coming into the stage.
That jersey could have easily gone to Gerlach. While working with Stanfield to push the pace after the sprint line, Gerlach attacked again at the 78-mile mark with Team Type 1’s Ilesic as they moved for the King of the Hill points. By mile 80 – 2.5 miles from the circuit – Gerlach had dropped Ilesic and moved 30 seconds ahead of the field.
“Today, I felt really good,” he said explaining his solo move. “Those guys just all started to look really slow when it got hilly. Once we were coming into town, it was really cool.”
However, he had never seen the hill in the circuit.
“The hill just hurt,” he said. “I really lost it the third time up the climb.”
It was the second time up that the chasing seven – with Gerlach just up the road – started to split. Nothey made his move, riding away from his fading breakway companions, and Crater dug deep to stay on his wheel.
“I couldn’t attack,” Crater said. “That guy was just going. It was all I could do to stay with him.”
“We were going really slow, or at least I thought,” Nothey said, explaining his move.
Nothey said he thought Gerlach had gone out too early – 10 miles from the finish – to be able to stay away. That spurred him on to catch the Amore & Vite/Life Time Fitness rider.
Once the three hooked up, Crater said it took both patience and pain to win the race.
“I knew I could beat [Nothey] in the sprint if I could stay with him,” Crater said.
“I didn’t want to slow way down and they have to jump,” Gerlach said of his tactics in the final lap. “I know that means I gave a lead-out to Crater.”
“I figured if I could jump in the second to the last turn, I could beat them,” the Wheel & Sprocket rider said.
Even then, the win almost slipped away from him, literally. Coming out of the last corner onto the finishing straight, Crater’s back wheel skipped out from underneath him, giving the rider a momentary scare.
“I figure, you are either going to crash, or you are going to win,” he said. “Today, I won.”
And, for another day, Bissell’s Zirbel took home the leader’s jersey.
“We decided to take a risk and say, ‘We believe in Kirk,’” he said. “All I had to do was follow Rory.
“It worked out in our favor. I didn’t have to work all day until the finishing circuit.”
“It was the plan that we didn’t want to ride tempo,” Bissell road director Eric Wohlberg said. “We wanted to just be in a position where we didn’t have to ride.”
While the team didn’t, Cody and Kirk did, and Wolhberg said that made the difference for the team.
“Cody and Kirk did a fantastic job today. They saved the day for us.”
Going into the final, sixth stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix – the Stillwater Criterium featuring the infamous 18-percent-grade Chillkoot Hill – Zirbel maintains his seven-second lead over Sutherland and a 10-second lead over Haedo, while a scrum of 22 riders representing eight teams all are within a minute of the lead.
Team Type 1’s Jacquelyn Crowell is the only female competitor sharing her behind-the-scenes observations and experiences from start to finish at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Through four stages, she leads the APC Best Young Rider competition (for racers younger than 26) and is 14th overall, 1:19 off the lead.
This entry is a little shorter than my previous ones because the late starts have made for some late nights and we have a long day ahead Saturday.
During Friday night’s Uptown Minneapolis Criterium, we were basically trying to keep it upright and hopefully maintain our position in the overall or move Alison Powers up (she is currently second). I was also allowed to race for myself a little bit, but that didn’t end up happening because I didn’t ride very well.
Our director, Jack Seehafer, let me ride for myself because I am still in the Best Young Rider’s jersey. But my lead is pretty slim – one second, in fact – over Amanda Miller (Lip Smacker® Professional Women’s Cycling Team). So I really wanted to get a time bonus. But I ended up not riding, just thinking too much.
After the race, we went out to dinner at an upscale place called Figlio, which was right along the course. I actually had to get up in the middle of the dinner to go to the women’s podium ceremony and receive my Best Young Rider jersey. I returned in time to have a nice dessert that came complete with a sparkler on it. I guess they wanted to honor me because I won something.
After that, we got back to the Team Type 1 van and found it had been tee-peed. It was quite a surprise. I guess this gives us the right to harass all the other teams since we don’t know who did it. But it’s on now!
Saturday’s Mankato Road Race is 91 miles and it’s going to be a long day for us after three days of racing. To have the longest stage of the race this far into the event is going to be tough – mentally and physically. Once I push through that, there’s just the last day (Sunday’s Stillwater Criterium) after that. The end is in sight.