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Nature Valley Grand Prix - NE
USA, June 14-18, 2006
Stage 3 - June 16: Minneapolis Downtown Classic, 60/40 min
Rain stops play but Tilford and Van Gilder triumph anyway
A hailstorm delayed the women's start and torrential rain truncated the men's race in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, but despite the conditions TEAm Lipton's Laura Van Gilder and an alarmingly cheerful Steve Tilford won the women's and men's races respectively.
Women: Van Gilder takes razor-thin, rain-drenched crit at Nature Valley
By Steve Kay
For the third consecutive year, rain played a major factor in the Minneapolis Downtown Classic, the third stage of the Great River Energy's Nature Valley Grand Prix.
Heavy rain and hail hit the course about an hour before the scheduled start, delaying the start of the race by 15 minutes and shortening it from 45 to 30 minutes.
The shortened race, though, didn't short-change the spectators or racers from the drama, as TEAm Lipton's Laura Van Gilder took the hotly contested finish from Victory Brewing's Katharine Carroll.
Van Gilder's victory continued TEAm Lipton's dominance, with overall leader Kristin Armstrong keeping the leader's jersey and both Armstrong and Kori Seehofer in contention throughout the race. Armstrong also picked up a time bonus by taking the first sprint of the 1-mile, 6-corner criterium.
Van Gilder's victory was not assured. While the team lined up the train to launch her in the final lap, initially it appeared that Carroll had nipped her at the line. Only after a protest and more than 30 minutes did Carroll learn the victory was awarded to van Gilder.
"I knew going into the final stretch that it was going to be tough to keep up with them," she said. "They were really in control throughout. So I tried to make my move just before that on the back with the crosswind."
The wet pavement and threat of more rain certainly played a role in the riders' ability to move up in the beginning. TEAm Lipton attempted to control much of the race, keeping their leader near the front and out of trouble.
"It was a little slick out there for the first couple laps, but after that things seemed to go rather smoothly," Carroll said.
Early in the race, Argon 18/Champion Systems rider Katie Mactier - a former champion of the Nature Valley Grand Prix - jumped out to an early lead and seemed to be a contender until a flat tire sidelined her during the third lap. A mechanical also took Thursday's second stage winner, Palo Alto Bicycle Works/TIBCO's Brooke Miller, out of contention with a couple of laps to go.
Among the lead group was defending Nature Valley Grand Prix champion and Webcor-Platinum Builder's rider Christine Thorburn, who maintained her second place on GC.
The Nature Valley Grand Prix continues Saturday with an 86-mile road race through Mankato, Minn., which features a 4-lap circuit finish that includes a 14-percent climb. The Nature Valley Grand Prix concludes Sunday in Stillwater.
Men: Tilford tackles elements to take win in fourth stage of Nature Valley Grand Prix
By James Lockwood
Officials, spectators and racers knew it was coming, but the question was when.
And 17 minutes into the hour-long race for the men's third stage of Great River Energy's Nature Valley Grand Prix, the race was called while sheets of rain drenched a happy Steve Tilford who laughed at the elements and won the Minneapolis Downtown Classic.
"It's like fat boys at night," he said, referencing the mountain bike races he also does. "You never know what's going on. You have to watch the lap cards."
That might have been easier said than done. With dark clouds draping downtown Minneapolis throughout the evening, a usually day-lit course was darkened into a twilight criterium, and as rain started to fall just 7 minutes into the race, visibility dropped even further.
Expecting the rain and a sketchy race along the 1-mile, 6-corner course, Health Net/Maxxis sent all their riders to the front, riding single file into all the corners and protecting their GC leader, Nathan O'Neill. When the rain started, O'Neill's teammates continued the high pace, stretching the peloton quickly and shelling riders off the back early.
Navigator Insurance's Bernard Van Ulden, who entered the day tied for third overall with Health Net's Karl Menzies, stayed tucked behind the Health Net train, trying to protect his position.
When the rain started, officials gave no indication they would shorten the race and, in fact, rang the bell for the first sprint prime 10 minutes in. With bonus seconds on the line, the racers did challenge for the prime, with Kodakgallery.com/Sierra Nevada's Martin Gilbert - the most aggressive rider in Thursday's second stage - taking the 5-second bonus for first, and Health Net's Greg Henderson and Gord Fraser following suit for the 3-second and 1-second bonus, respectively.
Then the rain began to fall harder. Twelve minutes in, Jelly Belly's Andrew Bajadali attacked with Fraser on his wheel, but it was quickly pulled back. Sensing the urgency as the weather began to worsen - with lightning directly above the course - Van Ulden then attacked and got a 5-second gap, which grew as he came around for a second solo lap.
By the next lap, though, Van Ulden was nowhere at the front as his back wheel succumbed to the rain slickened course.
"You could see his back tire just bouncing out of the corners," Tilford said.
As they came around for the next lap, officials decided the weather was too much and rang the bell for last lap, much to the delight of many of the riders, including O'Neill who raised his hand to show one to the peloton and shook his head in agreement.
That is when Tilford saw his opportunity. A veteran bike racer a background in mountain biking and cyclocross, he attacked into the first corner and held it straight through. His lead was enough that 150 meters from the line, he sat up and began celebrating, with Henderson and Fraser cruising in behind for the bonus seconds.
Tilford said it wasn't a calculated risk that he took, just a chance for the win. "You just don't want to let everybody come up on the back of you," he said, crediting both his skill and his tires for the win. "If I'm riding good, in the rain I can ride with anyone."
Danny Van Haute, director sportif for Jelly Belly, said the officials made the right call to end the race.
"It's a safety issue," he said. "Just let everybody start tomorrow."
O'Neill retained the leader's jersey, and Henderson solidified his second position on GC with the bonus seconds from the sprint and finish.
On Saturday, the riders head to Mankato, Minn., for an 86-mile road race that finishes with a 4-lap circuit that includes a climb of 14 percent. The Nature Valley Grand Prix finishes Sunday in Stillwater, Minn.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Caroline Yang/www.carolineyang.com
Images by Matthew Moses/www.moses-images.com
Images by Frank Rowe
Women 1 Laura Van Gilder (TEAm Lipton) 2 Katharine Carroll (Victory Brewing) Men 1 Steve Tilford (Trek/Shimano) 2 Greg Henderson (Health Net) 3 Gord Fraser (Health Net)