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A Grand Finale

June 15, 2009

Carson Miller, racing in the NVGP for Land Rover-Orbea, has provided us with another entry after yesterday’s final stage in Stillwater. Enjoy!

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,

C-

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Stage 6: Women’s Race Report and GC

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.

Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo Test Team) raises a pumped fist as she crossed the finish line to win Stage 6 of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Armstrong also won the general classification in her final pro race in America. Photo by: Matt Moses Images

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).

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Men’s Race Results: Stage Six & GC

June 14, 2009

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.”

Philip Mamos celebrates his win at the Nature Valley Grand Prix’s final Stage 6 in Stillwater on June 14, 2009. Photo credit: Matt Moses Images.

“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.

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Stage Six: Stillwater Criterium

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.

Event schedule:

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

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