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Clark Makes It Two Wins at Nature Valley Grand Prix

June 19, 2010

by Lyne Lamoureux

Australian Hilton Clarke (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis) did it again at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. In a close three-man sprint, he took the win at the Minneapolis Uptown Criterium ahead of Ben Kersten (Fly V Australia) and Ken Hanson (Team Type 1).

Hilton Clarke (United Healthcare p/b MAXXIS) wore the Wheaties Fuel Sprint jersey in Friday night's Minneapolis Uptown Criterium, Stage 4 of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Clarke took first (again) after winning Wednesday's Stage 2 St. Paul Downtown Crit. Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies) holds on to the yellow jersey going into Stage 5 of the Grand Prix. Photo by Matt Moses

“Once again, my team did a great job.” said Clarke. “We’ve been saying in team meetings how can this keep happening, somebody’s going to have to try something different.”

Somebody did try something different. The Fly V Australia duo of Kersten and Aaron Kemps came around the leadout train and made their way to the front before that all important final corner. The order going into that final 150-meter straightway was Kemps, Kersten, Clarke and Hanson.

“I just had to keep my composure and I really had to stay calm. I went real hard in the corner and I just waited, I’m lucky it was that long, because one more meter and Kersten would have gotten me,” said Clarke. “I would have much preferred to be first, the other guys used so much energy to be first. I just waited, I just ride on my instincts normally and it was right.”

“Coming into the last corner, it’s so key for positioning because it’s maybe 150 meters to the line but it’s a 40 mph corner, you’re going as fast as you can anyway,” said Hanson. “I came out of the corner fourth wheel, a little too far back and by the time I got on top of my sprint it was already a little too late, I was catching up, making up a little bit of ground, it just wasn’t enough for the finish.”

Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies) remains in the yellow leader’s jersey with defending champion Rory Sutherland (United Healthcare p/b Maxxis) still in second place at nine seconds down. With every second counting, the two battled for the time bonuses associated with the intermediate sprints during the race.

The crowds lining the pancake flat one kilometer course with its six tight corners were treated to a show as the action heated up immediately with the riders itching for racing after yesterday’s stage was canceled due to bad weather. The speed was high, the field strung out as attack after attack fired to get a break going. And Zwizanski’s team was quite content to let the right combination up the road to gobble up the time bonus seconds.

A few laps in, 10 riders were off. In the move were Daniel Holloway (BISSELL), Rob Bush (Kenda p/b GearGrinder), David Kemp and Alessandro Bazzana (Fly V Australia), Adam Bergman (Texas Roadhouse), Paul Martin (Panther p/b Competitive Cyclist), Roman Van Uden (Rubicon-ORBEA), Bernard Van Ulden (Jelly Belly p/b Kenda), Adrian Hegyvary (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis) and Alexey Shmidt (Team Type 1).

“I got a call up and I was right on the front row and the first move went right from the gun. Half the race was that breakaway.” said Bush.

The riders rode hard at the front but could never get more than 15 seconds on the field with Kelly Benefit feathering the gap. Holloway took the first intermediate bonus at 30 laps to go, followed by Shmidt and Kemp.

The battle for time bonus seconds was on for the second intermediate sprint looming. With 25 laps to go, the United Healthcare squad had enough of the break and took over the front to reel it in with 21 laps to go.

“I was right there, I had Rory on my wheel and I had Hilton’s and he did some sprinter stuff and I couldn’t make it through the corner with speed and luckily Veilleux took that one. Smashed it for that one.” explained Zwizanski. “Veilleux knew that if I wasn’t on his wheel he had to go for it.”

David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit) jumped to protect his teammate’s GC lead and took the sprint followed by Schmidt. Sutherland slotted in for third and got a one-second time bonus.

There was no breather for the pack with attacks and counter-attacks going for the next 10 laps. And Bush was in almost every move.

“We were caught for a little while coming into the second sprint, some guys really went for it and I followed then and I didn’t get any points so I got really mad, so I just attacked,” he explained. He made his way into multiple break attempts for the next 10 laps and was later awarded the Freewheel Most Aggressive jersey for his efforts.

With 11 laps to go, the battle was back on for the last of three sprints. “Everything was back together again and our boys were on the front. We went for it again and I was able to stay in there in the fight. Unfortunately Hilton went for it too, I did the best I could but Veilleux held him off, which was awesome, I held on to get one,” said Zwizanski who took third behind Veilleux and Clarke, nullifying Sutherland’s earlier time bonus.

With eight laps to go, the United Healthcare train took over the pace making at the front with everyone else trying to get on Clarke’s wheel.

“It’s a fight with every other team to get that spot,” explained Hanson. “You never know when they’re going to make it fast enough where it’s too hard to move up and that happened with about two laps to go so I just stayed and waited and waited, two guys back behind. You have to wait for the right moment to make a move, you don’t want to spend too much energy for your sprint so, we tried to stay there in the right position.”

Clarke trusted his instincts and took another win, his second at the race, his third in one week. “I guess I’m on a roll right now so while it’s happening I’ll keep on going,” he smiled.

There were no changes in the jersey competition. Benjamin King (Trek-Livestrong) remains in the lead for the Fruit By The Foot Best Young Rider. Clarke keeps the points jersey and Zwizanski still leads the KOH classification.

The racing continues with the Menomonie (Wisc.) Road Race on Saturday, when for the first time ever the race leaes Minnesota and heads to Wisconsin. Finishing with several three-mile circuits inside the city, the course takes in the challenging rural county roads outside the city that have been a favorite with cyclists of the upper Midwest for years. The men’s road race consists of 95 miles, marked by rolling hills and long climbs that are sure to impact the standings for the entire Nature Valley Grand Prix.

“Tomorrow should be good, supposedly lots of rollers.” said Zwizanski. “It might be windy, we’re looking forwards to a good hard race.”


Men’s Results: Stage Two

June 17, 2010

Stage 2 of Nature Valley Grand Prix Results in a Men’s International Podium
by Lyne Lamoureax

Speed and control with an international flavor were showcased in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd at the Saint Paul (Minn.) Downtown Criterium on Wednesday evening for Stage 2 of the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

Australian Hilton Clarke (United Healthcare p/b Maxxis) crossed the line first with multiple bike lengths ahead of his teammate Karl Menzies of Tasmania, Australia. Italian Luca Damiani (Kenda presented by Geargrinder) finished third.

“The boys waited all night and they rode perfect. Karl took me to the line and still got second, I’m so happy to be in United Healthcare,” said Clarke who joined the team only a week ago. Since then, he has scored two wins in his three races with the team. “I raced against the team and I know their leadout is so strong and the only person really beating their leadout has been me, so now I’m in the leadout it just makes it a lot easier for me and I can get them results.”

For American Scott Zwizanski and his Kelly Benefit Strategies team, it was all about control to keep the yellow leader’s jersey on his back. Straight from the gun, they came to the front to set the pace in the 40-lap race around the course in Downtown St Paul with its turns and brick roads. Their mission was simple, to keep the pace high so that no attacks would survive and to force a field sprint finale. Mission accomplished.

“My team was awesome today, we wanted a field sprint, we wanted to hold on to the jersey and we thought that was our best chance. They decided not to let any breaks go, they rode awesome, Bowman, Baj, Reid, Jesse, they just rode 30 great laps, they made so easy.” said Zwizanski.

Though that didn’t stop Adam Bergman (Texas Roadhouse) from trying his luck in the first ten minutes but to no avail. Bergman was later awarded the Freewheel Bike Most Aggressive Rider for his efforts.

With 30 laps to go, the first intermediate sprint caused some ruffles in the field when Australian Aaron Kemps (Fly V Australia), Clarke and Rob Bush (Kenda p/b Geargrinder) jumped to get those important time bonus seconds. But soon the field was all back together stretched out behind the green train of Kelly Benefit Strategies.

The same scenario with different players with 20 laps to go for the second intermediate sprint, this time taken by Russian Alexey Shmidt (Team Type 1) ahead of Argentinean Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis/Sutter p/b Colavita). Behind them, Zwizanski’s team was still controlling the peloton setting an average speed of 28 mph over the course.

With every second counting in the general classification competition, Cuban Luis Amaran (Jamis/Sutter Home p/b Colavita) took a flyer with 11 laps to go to make sure to cross the line first in the third and final intermediate sprint.

When the lap cards hit the single digits, the sprinter’s teams organized setting up their leadout train for the upcoming bunch sprint.

With seven laps to go, the UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis team took over the pace setting at the front of the field. Behind them, the field was single-filed as they navigated the twists and turns. Soon, with the sun setting on downtown Saint Paul, it was time for the finale. Clarke and Menzies emerged the first two riders out of the final corner with a crash slowing down the riders behind them. Clarke jumped out from behind his leadout man and put his head down to take the win.

With the help of his team, Damiani navigated the leadout trains throughout the race to take position for the final sprint.

On the podium following Stage 2 of the Nature Valley Grand Prix: Karl Menzies, Hilton Clark (both of United Healthcare p/b MAXXIS) and Luca Damiani, Kenda Pro Cycling p/b GearGrinder. Photo by: Matt Moses Images

“The field was fast, those guys keep the field in all one line. it was actually easy to stay on the wheel when it goes so fast.” he explained. “I marked always the team, my teammates did a very job on the last lap.”

After Stage 2, there were no changes to the overall general classification. Zwizanski still leads with nine seconds ahead of Australian Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis) and 15 seconds on his teammate Zach Bell of Canada.

The racing continues with the Cannon Falls Road Race on Thursday evening. The 66-mile course winds through scenic Goodhue County before finishing on a circuit in downtown Cannon Falls. This race proved to be decisive in 2006, with small groups gaining minutes on the chasing packs in both the men’s and women’s races. Riders who failed to make it into these breakaways had no shot at the yellow jersey for the rest of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Will history repeat itself?