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Nature Valley Grand Prix - NE
Minnesota, USA, June 10-14, 2009
By Kirsten Robbins
The Nature Valley Grand Prix is set to begin on Wednesday, June 10 and the field limits have reach their max in both the professional men and women's events. The six-stage race marks round three of the Women's Prestige Cycling Series and a valuable event on the National Racing Calendar (NRC) series. Defending champions Kristin Armstrong and Rory Sutherland will return to try and claim another title.
Armstrong (Cervélo Test Team) returns without teammates and prepared to claim her fourth title nonetheless. She will have strong opposition from more than 130 women, including Alison Powers (Team Type 1), current leader of the Women's Prestige Cycling Series and the NRC. Brooke Miller (TIBCO) returns as the reigning US national road and criterium champion, who won two stages in 2006 and 2007.
Kristin McGrath (Value Act Capital) and Tina Pic (Colavita-Sutter Home), a three-time stage winner will be on the hunt for success. Strong teams include Jazz Apple, Lip Smackers, Hub Racing, Proman, Kenda Tire, Nature Valley Team and the Ryan Collegiate All-Star team.
The Women's Prestige Cycling Series began at the Redlands Bicycle Classic in March and went on to the Joe Martin Stage Race in May. Following the Nature Valley Grand Prix it will culminate at the Cascade Cycling Classic in July.
Powers is leading the series' individual standings with a 77-point lead ahead of Katheryn Mattis (Webcor Builders). Katharine Carroll (TIBCO) trails by 177 points behind the leader. Powers' teammate Kori Seehafer leads the sprinter's competition while Rebecca Much (Webcor-Builders) has a commanding lead as the series best young rider.
Webcor-Builders is leading the series' team classification ahead of TIBCO and Value Act Capital.
Some 150 men are ready for a week of tough racing. They will continue a hard-fought battle for individual points in their NRC ranking. All-rounder Rory Sutherland (OUCH p/b Maxxis) currently leads the series by a mere 15 points ahead of sprinter Sebastian Haedo (Colavita-Sutter Home) and time trial specialist Tom Zirbel (Bissell) sits in a close third place.
Sutherland won the Nature Valley Grand Prix last year. This year, he has the added support from Floyd Landis to help the squad win the overall again. Other riders who will be on the hunt for the overall title and stage wins include Zirbel and his teammate Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell), Darren Lill (Team Type 1), Luis Amaran (Colavita-Sutter Home), Nick Reistad (Jelly Belly), Chad Gerlach (Amore & Vita), Daniel Ramsey (Mountain Khaki's), Roman van Ulden (Land Rover-Orbea).
Strong teams include Kenda Pro, BikeReg.com, Ciclismo Racing, CRCA/Empire, Flander-Minneapolis, GrandStay Hotels, Hagens Berman, IS Corp, Jittery Joe's, Waste Management, Texas Road House, Trade Wind Energy, Wheel & Sprocket and the Nature Valley Amateur team.
The revamped Nature Valley Grand Prix
The five day stage race kicks of with a double day on Wednesday, June 10. The St. Paul Riverfront time trial, 7.2 kilometres, will be tough thanks to its finish atop the biggest climb of the stage race, the Ohio Street Hill.
"The race used to be held on a Wednesday, but we felt that it was better to start the race this year," said David LaPorte, event director. "That allows spectators to come out to watch all of the criteriums and the road race finishing circuits when they finish work in the afternoon."
Stage two will cater to the sprinters in the St. Paul Criterium held in at dusk on the Lowertown district city streets. This will be a race of attrition for the sprinters if they want to battle for event's best sprinter jersey and the for the stage victory. The course is challenging and technical often causing separations early into the men and women's 60-minute race.
Stage three, The Cannon Falls 96-kilometre road race, will take the peloton through the scenic Goodhue County over undulating terrain and no shelter from the cross-winds. The stage will culminate with four laps of the Cannon Falls finishing circuit.
The peloton will be treated to a brand new criterium course for stage four, held at dusk in the Uptown Minneapolis. Racers will compete for 60 minutes on a demanding one-kilometre lap that includes six corners. The course was moved from the previous year's downtown Minneapolis course due to construction.
"We are very happy to have the circuit set up in Uptown this year," said LaPorte. "It's a very bike friendly community that was keen on supporting our event."
The road racing and climbing continues at the Mankato 137-kilometre road race, the longest stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. The toughest section of the race will be had on the final four finishing circuits. The peloton might survive the stage's strong cross winds and reach the final circuits in tact, but it will not stay that way. The Main Street hill is steep enough to shatter the field on the first lap.
A criterium in Stillwater closes the stage race. The course features the infamous Chilkoot Hill, a steep climb that has historically shattered the field on the first lap. The yellow jersey is by no means sewn up before the final stage, leaving the overall title wide open for an unexpected champion to emerge.