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Nature Valley Grand Prix - NE

Minnesota, USA, June 11-15, 2008

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Stage 1 - June 11: St. Paul Lowertown Criterium

Heavy rains cancel opening stage

By Kirsten Robbins in St Paul, Minnesota

Kirk O'Bee (Team Healthnet pb Maxxis)
Photo ©: Frank Rowe
(Click for larger image)

Severe storms brought more misery to residents of the American midwest, which has been suffering from flooding after an unusually wet spring, and the headaches extended to the opening stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. The extreme conditions led the officials to agree to neutralize both the men's and women's races despite some protest from riders who looked set to win the stage.

In the men's race, Kirk O'Bee (Health Net-Maxxis) who was in a solo breakaway when the race was neutralized found himself out-numbered when race officials called a vote from the pro men's peloton to see how many riders would like to continue racing under the poor conditions.

"It's disappointing because I made a big effort to be out there and everyone had to deal with the rain," said O'Bee who gained the first intermediate time bonus after initiating a breakaway and wanted to pursue the stage win and overall race lead.

"I don't think the course was that unsafe. What made it unsafe was that there were too many motos on course that were trying to get through the field. The officials also didn't do a good job in pulling lapped riders quick enough as we were coming up on them – so the motos were trying to wave them off. Personally I had no problem with the course."

How it unfolded

The men's peloton
Photo ©: Frank Rowe
(Click for larger image)

The storm, which spawned tornadoes in the southwestern part of the state did not deter the men from racing hard from the start. O'Bee and Olson made their move early in the men's forty five lap race, while Rory Sutherland (Health Net-Maxxis) and Andrew Bajadali (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast) joined the pair for several laps but were reabsorbed into the shredded field shortly before the first intermediate sprint.

Midway through the race, a combination of efforts between Toyota-United and Jelly Belly kept O'Bee and Olson at a slim fifteen second advantage. The US national criterium champion raised the bar one more level and separated himself from Olson heading into the next intermediate time bonus.

As the peloton began to slow down and main group reunited, Kelley Benefit Strategies-Medifast organized the five riders they had remaining in the field to lessen the gap to the escapees. However, after a motorcycle official crashed on the circuit, officials decided to call a halt to the racing for the safety of the racers. But Health Net-Maxxis director Mike Tamayo felt that it wasn't the course or the rain that was to blame.

"It's unfortunate that the motorcycle went down today and that there were too many vehicles on the course," said Tamayo, who anticipated kicking off the Nature Valley Grand Prix with a healthy lead thanks to O'Bee's strong performance.

"I think they course is fine and it shows off the strengths of riders," continued Tamayo regarding the L-shaped circuits fast descent and challenging uphill finishing.

"I also think the road conditions were fine and the race conditions were fine, too. The front of the group was racing properly," he explained, adding that it was the actions of the referees which made racing more dangerous by not pulling the lapped riders quickly. "The organization was affecting the GC when there was a group of riders lapping the field and there are a group of eighty riders not getting pulled soon enough."

Once the racing was neutralized, riders slowed to a stop and were escorted to the finish line where the majority of the peloton voted against continuing the race given the dangerous conditions. Breakaway rider Aaron Olson noted his slim odds of winning the race opener given that he was up against the national criterium champion.

"I think I would have had my hands full trying to beat Kirk O'Bee so I pretty much would have taken second to him," said Olson who expressed a neutral opinion regarding the race cancellation. "It was slippery but I think it was as dangerous as you made it. It was easy to make a mistake and if you did you definitely paid for it."

"It was nice to be in a break with Kirk but there is a lot of racing left and I'm not sure that it really made that much of a difference," continued Olson. "It probably affected the race for Kirk more because of his time bonuses. He would have been a tough guy to beat because he is so good in all the sprints.

Armstrong laps field but gains no advantage on GC

Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo-Lifeforce Professional Cycling Team)
Photo ©: Matthew Moses
(Click for larger image)

While the men's race never saw the finish line, the tough field of women soldiered through to the end only to have their result neutralized for the overall classification. The decision was not welcomed by former time trial world champion Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo-Lifeforce). The defending champion of the Nature Valley Grand Prix put her strength to good use in what started as an attempt stay out of harms way on the wet circuit, but ended with a solo stage win and the lead in all of the classifications - sprint, mountains and overall - until the judges nullified the result.

Armstrong lapped the majority of the field to safely cross the line in victory ahead of non-lapped riders Joanne Kiesanowski and her team-mate Brooke Miller (Tibco).

With more than half of the field pulled from the race, no time penalties were given. Furthermore, no riders gained an advantage on the general classification when race officials neutralized the final results after deeming the race unsafe.

"I would understand if the officials had to neutralize the race in the beginning or before the start due to unsafe conditions," said Armstrong, who was disappointed that in the end her effort to lap the field provided no advantage in the overall classification.

"When you start the race and finish it in its entirety and then they decide the condition were unsafe, I think it needs to be counted for GC. There are a lot of teams that put a lot of effort into this race including Tibco," continued Armstrong, who fought off three chasing Tibco riders.

"I feel like we should go into tomorrow with the GC in place. Yes, a lot of girls got dropped or went down. Unfortunately that's bike racing and that same sort of bad luck could happen to me out there tomorrow."

How it unfolded

In the early laps, only Brooke Miller (TIBCO)
Photo ©: Frank Rowe
(Click for larger image)

After a pile up on the first lap, Armstrong took control of her race by separating herself from the field in an early break away with Miller. The two riders gained several seconds on the field when Miller flatted, and had to stop for a wheel change. Amstrong continued on with Miller after the Tibco rider was given a free lap due to the mechanical, but ultimately roder her off her wheel and stayed away solo to the finish, despite a full-throttle chase from the Tibco team.

Armstrong questioned the judges decision to nullify the results after an hour of hard racing. "I think the conditions out here were really dangerous and the officials reversed the course directions to make it more up hill and safer," said Armstrong. "But when you have a field with 150 women on wet roads it's going to be dangerous. I had to take advantage of that by saving myself from the danger and staying out front."

"The problem is that is it's like being on the road with reckless drivers – It's not you that you're worried about, it's everyone around you," continued Armstrong who admitted to using her break away as a time trial training.

"I went from the beginning, as hard as I could until it was broken. I just went really hard and used this criterium as time trial training. I'm trying to train for the Beijing time trial."

Third placed Miller acknowledged the importance of staying at the front on the first lap in order to avoid injury. "It was pretty crazy on the first lap and we just had to start in good position," said Miller.

"There was a pretty big crash on the first lap and Kristin took off. I got up to Kristin and Joanne was right behind us. But I had a slow leak flat tire and slide out on most of the corners. I was pushed back in with Kristin, but I couldn't stay with her."

Once Miller was dropped, Armstrong pushed her speeds even higher to gain as much of advantage as possible over the chasing Tibco team, which dominated the race from the field. Kiesanowski chased full throttle to the line ahead of team-mates Miller and Lauren Franges, with Rachel Lloyd (ProMan) the only non-Tibco rider in the main chasing group.

The decision of the race officials infuriated the Tibco riders, who poured all of their efforts into the race only to get nothing out of it. "Of course we are furious because we had three sprinters out front," said Miller. "As sprinters its not our role to be out front like that burning matches, but we really want to go after the GC here. Also, for Kristin who just had an amazing ride, its not right to neutralize the results."


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Frank Rowe/ frankrowe.photoreflect.com

Images by Matthew Moses/www.moses-images.com

Images by Stephanie Williams/www.ybfphoto.net



1 Kristin Armstrong (Cervelo-Lifeforce Professional Cycling Team)    
2 Joanne Kiesanowski (Team TIBCO)                                    
3 Brooke Miller (Team TIBCO)                                         
4 Rachel Lloyd (PROMAN Racing)                                       
5 Lauren Franges (Team TIBCO)                                        
6 Shelley Olds (PROMAN Racing)                                       
7 Amber Rais (Team TIBCO)                                            
8 Robin Farina (Cheerwine Cycling)                                   
9 Tina Pic (Colavita / Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light)                
10 Coryn Rivera (Kahala-La Grange)                                   
11 Catherine Cheatley (Cheerwine Cycling)                            
12 Anne Samplonius (Cheerwine Cycling)                               
13 Emma Rickards (Cervelo-Lifeforce Professional Cycling Team)       
14 Christina Ruiter (ValueAct Capital Cycling Team)                  
15 Felicia Gomez (Aaron's Professional Women's Cycling Team)         
16 Teresa Moriarty (Flanders/MBRC)                                   
17 Rebecca Larson (Aaron's Professional Women's Cycling Team)        
18 Meredith Miller (Aaron's Professional Women's Cycling Team)       
19 Carmen McNellis (Aaron's Professional Women's Cycling Team)       
20 Jacquelyn Crowell (Team Kenda Tire)                               
21 Morgan Kapp (SouthBay Wheelmen)                                   
22 Kristin McGrath (Colavita / Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light)        
23 Linda Sone (Flanders/MBRC)                                        
24 Leigh Hobson (Cheerwine Cycling)                                  
25 Carla Swart (Ryan Collegiate)                                     
26 Helen Kelly (Team TIBCO)                                          
27 Victoria Bastide (Team TIBCO)                                     
28 Sharon Allpress (ValueAct Capital Cycling Team)                   
29 Andrea Dvorak (Colavita / Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light)          
30 Lara Kroepsch (ValueAct Capital Cycling Team)                     
31 Lesley Golenor (HPC powered by Altarum)                           
32 Shana Sturla (Flanders/MBRC)                                      
33 Shannon Koch (Metro Volkswagen Cycling Team)                      
34 Lori Jug (Team Kenda Tire)                                        
35 Olivia Dillon (Metromint Cycling)                                 
36 Marisa Asplund-Owens (Cheerwine Cycling)                          
37 Gina Grain (Webcor Builders)                                      
38 Jadine Riley (Team SHO-AIR)                                       
39 Devon Haskell (Ryan Collegiate)                                   
40 Marni Hambleton (ValueAct Capital Cycling Team)                   
41 Flavia Oliveira (Metromint Cycling)                               
42 Katharine Carroll (Aaron's Professional Women's Cycling Team)     
43 Martina Patella (ValueAct Capital Cycling Team)                   
44 Michelle Beltran (Metromint Cycling)                              
45 Megan Elliott (Team Revolution)                                   
46 Bri Kovac (Team Revolution)                                       


Stage neutralized then canceled

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