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Nature Valley Grand Prix Turns into Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home Show with Third Win
By James Lockwood
Sebastian Haedo stood before a monstrous crowd after the fourth stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix waiting for his team director to translate the questions coming from the race announcer.
The Argentinean who rides for Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home presented by Cooking Light speaks no English. But, nothing was lost in translation with his performance Friday evening in the Uptown Minneapolis Criterium. His team lines up, he sprints, he wins.
Haedo took his second win of the six-stage race, and along with the second place he earned leading out his teammate Alejandro Borrajo in the team’s victory in the Cannon Falls Road Race, he now sits third overall with the bonus seconds that came with his placings.
“This victory is awesome,” he said. “It was a good day for me and it was a good day for Colavita. We all did our work today, and we were able to put together an important win for me.”
The third team victory for Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home put the team in good position going into the 95-mile queen stage Saturday, the Mankato (Minn.) Road Race. It was something other teams were noting.
“On paper, we didn’t want Borrajo to get any time,” said OUCH-Maxxis’s Andrew Pinfold, who finished third on the stage. “Not that Haedo is not good, but Barrajo is a little better climber.”
“I think we are getting the old Borrajo back,” said Team Mountain Khakis’ Tom Soladay, who used a Bissell-controlled peloton to protect his sprinter’s jersey for the second day. “When he is on form, he is dangerous.”
For Friday, though, it was Haedo getting the accolades for his second win. The victory was not certain, however, as the team could not get its sprint train lined up until one-and-a-half laps to go in the 40-lap race.
“It was a brothel out there,” said Jelly Belly Cycling Team’s Brad Huff, who finished second. “Every team wanted to be at the front, and not everyone should have been at the front.”
“From lap 15 to lap three [to go], it was just mayhem,” Pinfold said.
Much of the race was uneventful. From the start, few riders were able to break away, and Bissell Pro Cycling marshaled the front with its whole team, setting a steady but comfortable tempo to keep breaks in check and its overall leader, Tom Zirbel, safe.
“I had an armchair ride the first 30 laps,” Zirbel said.
“It was all about protecting Tom tonight,” said Bissell road director Eric Wohlberg. “In a crit, being on the front is the best place to be.”
Soladay said that worked out to his advantage trying to protect the Wheaties Sprinter’s Jersey, a goal of his for the Grand Prix.
“I knew that Bissell didn’t want any of the sprint points. That was great for me. When I went up, I had eight guys between me and the rest of the field who might challenge for the points,” he said. “With Bissell up front and the tight corners, you really had to light a match to get away.”
Until the last 10 laps, Soladay and Bissell served as the show.
Then Jelly Belly moved forward with its train, and the jockeying began.
“It was a little too early with the sprints out of the corners, but it worked out for me. It allowed me to rest in the train,” Huff said.
“It worked out for Brad,” Pinfold said. “He didn’t have to fight through the laps. He stayed fresh, and it showed at the end.”
For Pinfold, his teammate John Murphy, and Colavita, it was not so easy. As Jelly Belly came to the front, Bissell as a team went back, OUCH attempted to form its train for Murphy, and individual riders from various teams tried to get onto the right wheels hoping for the victory.
“Tim Johnson was just sheparding myself and Murphy through,” Pinfold said. “Everyone was fighting for wheels. I think everyone just wanted to get the win on this stage.”
As the laps counted down, Jelly Belly started to fade, and it opened the door for Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home and Haedo.
“What we came here for we got,” said Colavita Olive Oil-Sutter Home’s director Sebastian Alexandre. “The team did a very good job.”
Despite the convincing victories in the past three stages, Alexandre remained coy about the team’s chances to make it four in a row in the Mankato Road Race, featuring a circuit finish that includes a mile-long climb averaging 14 percent.
“Tomorrow is going to be a different stage,” he said.
Bissell’s Wohlberg concurred. Despite Haedo’s move up the general classification, OUCH’s defending champion Rory Sutherland – winner of last year’s stage in Mankato – still sits seven seconds back of Zirbel, and OUCH, Bissell, and Jelly Belly all have riders within a minute of the lead.
“Colavita is closing the gap to us,” he said. “The next two days will be a little more suited for our guys. We’re going to see who can get up that hill and see what happens. We’re going to try to turn the tables.”
New for 2009, The MN Bike Festival welcomes the inaugural Uptown Minneapolis Criterium as the Nature Valley Grand Prix moves from downtown Minneapolis to the Uptown neighborhood for the Friday evening event.
The course will have competing pro teams race past Calhoun Square on a 1-kilometer course that comprises six tight corners and a furious race to the finish line.
With a long straightaway across the finish line into a very short run between turns one and two, speeds will descend from a brisk 35-plus mph into the low digits before ramping up again out of turn five on Lake Street. Strong racers and teams will stay up front to control the tempo and avoid accidents.
The real spectacle comes near the end of the course as riders make turn six onto Hennepin Avenue and into a long, wide one-block straightaway to the finish line.
4:30 PM Expo opens & Stunt Rider Shows
6:00 PM Kids’ race
6:30 PM Women pro race
7:45 PM Men pro race
8:45 PM Racing ends
9:00 PM Expo closes
After the first day of racing here in St. Paul it seems like the legs are starting to come around to the efforts which I am asking of them. With Monday full of travel, and then just trying to get things moving yesterday, I think today was when everything started to finally come around.
This morning after almost one hour of riding, I arrived at the start of the 10-kilometer time trial just like I wanted to; confident, hot, sweaty, and armed with a solid plan for how I would approach each of the following 10-kilometers. I was aiming to finish the first test of the week in 13 minutes and some seconds, even a 13:59 would have been “successful.” In my last time trial, I set a goal which would have placed me in the top 25 finishers from the previous year, and I beat that goal. So today, I was confident for the time trial and my goal. Unfortunately, I was never able to find my rhythm on the course, and ended up finish a long ways down, losing nearly 1:45 to the fastest man, Tom Zirbel.
With my race getting off to a rocky start, I rode from the time trial back to our host house in Mendota Heights. The 20 minute ride was the perfect cool down, allowing me to pedal a light gear with a good cadence as I cleared the lactic acid from my legs.
The middle part of the day was lazy and relaxing. After getting back, I made a quick lunch, before taking a nap. After awaking from my nap, I jumped onto the massage table for a quick rub. Off of the massage table, and I was back to the couch where I remained for the rest of the day. I passed the time by checking in on the news, and then picking up a good book. Off the couch, it was a light pre-race snack, and then back to the couch for a few minutes before kitting up for the evening’s criterium.
Kitted up and ready to go, I rolled out with my roommates for the short 25 minute ride into downtown St. Paul for the criterium. It is no secret, and I make no fantasies about my criterium racing skills. In the world of domestic stage racing, crits are certainly my Achilles Heal. Driven by the morning’s frustration, along with a host of other emotions, I managed to ride one of my strongest crit’s of the season. Although I really accomplished nothing of note in the race, I did manage to stay in what seemed to be the top half of the field, finishing within the main pack.
As the legs start to come around, I am still a long ways down in the general classification, and I am hoping to continue the positive trend, moving farther towards the sharp end of the racing, maybe even off the front in the next few days. We will see what the future holds, but for now, I have a few more minutes on the couch before I crawl into the sheets for some much needed sleep.
Thanks for reading. We are off to Cannon Falls tomorrow afternoon for some autograph signing at the library, which will be followed by an all out throw-down over the course of a challenging 107 kilometer parcours.
Keep the Rubber Side Down,
It’s heresy to include criteriums (short circuit races) in a pro stage race. It’s just not done. Yet the Nature Valley Grand Prix has the top ranking on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar despite using criteriums for three of the six stages.
What gives? How can a race get the top ranking when it breaks the rules?
The Nature Valley Grand Prix is the NASCAR of bicycle racing. Most pro stage races follow the European model, which emphasizes road races that start in one city, finish in another and a spectator’s race experience can last for less than a minute. Here they come and there they go.
Well, this ain’t Europe and people in the US of A want a show.
Since criteriums are held on a short course (usually less than a mile), spectators can see the start of the race, they see the pack of racers whiz by every minute or so, they can walk the course to see different aspects of the race and they can be there for the finish. And because the course is short, it can be surrounded by a party with a bike race in the middle.
Even people who aren’t into bike racing have a blast.
And our road races are nontraditional as well. They’re the long distance endurance events that road races are supposed to be, but they finish with multiple laps of a short circuit to provide the spectator experience that’s the hallmark of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. So they’re really road races that finish with a criterium. The best of both worlds.
When you rewrite the rules, the real test of success is whether the insiders buy in. The professional teams attend in force because they need the crowds and media coverage to give value to their sponsors. And USA Cycling, the sport’s governing body, must buy it because they’ve given the Nature Valley Grand Prix the top ranking and invite the promoter to their symposia every year to share our radical ideas with others.
And, most importantly, the public loves the format and vote with their feet. The crowds are huge and enthusiastic and non-fans who come to one race come back for others, except that they come back as true believers.