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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.
Racing continues on Saturday with the Mankato Road Race. This will be a test of endurance and racing tactics. The races will start and finish in the City of Mankato. The final 30 to 45 minutes of each race will play out with multiple laps on a finishing circuit inside the City during the community festival.
Cross winds could shatter the pack on the 80-mile rural loop and the best climbers remaining in the lead group will then attack each time up Main Street Hill.
Women’s Pro/Elite Race: 86 miles
Men’s Pro/Elite Race: 86 miles
Finish: Four laps of the Mankato finishing circuit
12:00 PM – Expo opens
1:15 PM – Men start
1:50 PM – Women start
2:00 PM – MN Iron & Metal Amateur racing
4:35 PM – Men finish
4:45 PM – Shimano/Hoigaard Tour de Kids fun race
5:40 PM – Women finish
6:00 PM – Expo closes