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Nature Valley Grand Prix - NE

Minnesota, USA, June 20-24, 2007

Menzies and Armstrong return to defend titles

By Kirsten Robbins in St. Paul, Minnesota

Karl Menzies (Healthnet)
Photo ©: Kurt Jambretz
(Click for larger image)

Known to be ranked amongst the top three US domestic stage races, the Nature Valley Grand Prix will begin its ninth annual event in downtown St. Paul on June 20, 2007. The event is a major race on the North American Racing Calendar and the second race of the Women's Prestige Series. Some critical changes have marked this year's six-stage tour to heighten the suspense during the race for the yellow jersey.

Current world time trial champion Kristin Armstrong and Australia's Karl Menzies took home the women's and men's yellow jerseys respectively last year. Both cyclists will return with their squads to re-ignite a battle between the strongest men and women teams in North America at this year's race.

Teams that will be vying for the overall leader's jersey and stage wins will included Toyota-United, BMC, Health-Net presented by Maxxis, Colavita/Sutter Home, Sierra-Nevada, Priority Health on the men's side while Cheerwine, Aaron's, Webcor Builders and TEAm Lipton will increase the women's competition.

Kristin Armstrong (TEAm Lipton)
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

The Grand Prix will wind up fast with a brand new, flat, 60-minute criterium in downtown St. Paul - the most significant change to the tour, having started with an individual time trial prologue last year. The early lead will most likely be claimed by one of the many sprinters before moving on to Stage 2, a 60-mile road race to Cannon Falls on June 21, where gale-force cross winds have been historically known for shattering the field before the finish.

The riders will then test their legs during June 22's double stage, commencing with Stage 3's 4.5-mile individual time trial.

"Moving the time trial to the third day will change the strategy for the yellow jersey," said race director David LaPorte, "and opening with a criterium will offer more chances for sprint bonuses and shake up the GC contenders."

The top individuals on General Classification will try and decrease their time in the overall bike race before moving on to the evening's Stage 4 - a downtown Minneapolis criterium.

Mankato kicks off the penultimate Stage 5 in a lengthy 86 mile road race where the climbing begins on June 23. The stage's finishing circuit will no doubt separate the strong from the tired over it's steep climb on the backside of the course and split the field into several groups before the finish.

Then on June 24th the riders will face the Stillwater Criterium - known as the toughest criterium circuit in US racing. The 2007 Nature Valley Grand Prix champions will be crowned at the grueling circuit's finish. The course is one of a kind, starting at the bottom of Chilkoot Hill, which has a gradient of over 20 percent. After the climb the riders will cruise along the top of the circuit before flying down a technical and steep descent to the finish line.