With only a 7 seconds lead for Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell) into Saturday’s penultimate stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, attacks from the Health Net-Maxxis team were expected, and the team delivered to win the stage and put Rory Sutherland in yellow.
The 91.5-mile (147 km) Mancato Road Race is the longest stage of the race where once again, the men and women faced gusting crosswinds along the rural country roads and headwinds into the 4 finishing circuits.
The standard early break went off in the men‘s race and was caught several miles later. TIME’s Jered Gruber decided that once was not enough, and went on the attack again, but this time he went solo for the next 40 km. He received the Most Aggressive jersey for his self-described Best Bikin Day Ever:
“I knew that this was some sort of special moment, I didn’t know how special at that time, but it was pretty cool to be off the front of a huge NRC race all by my lonesome.”
A main group of 40 riders with the yellow jersey came in together for the 4 finishing circuits that included a 1-mile, 14 percent grade climb, and the battle was on. Attack after attack isolated Jacques-Maynes. With 2 laps to go, Sutherland rode away from his main rivals up the climb to take his second straight win in Mankato Road Race and with it the leader’s jersey. Anthony Colby (Colavita/Sutter Home) finished second, and Andy Bajadali (Kelly Benefit/Medifast) was third.
In the general classification, Sutherland has a 12 seconds lead over his teammate John Murphy, and 15 seconds over last year’s winner Ivan Stevic. Jacques-Maynes dropped down to the fourth spot, 24 seconds back.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to go on the first or second climb, I decided I just wanted to go, I was done being attacked.” said Armstrong.
Lauren Franges (Tibco) chased and finished second and Kat Carroll (Aarons) won the bunch sprint for third.
The major attack of the day was launched by Webcor’s Katheryn Curi Mattis who was off on her own for about 50 miles only joined by Kristin Sanders (Aarons) for the last 15 miles of their escape. That brought the Aaron’s team to the front, to try and soften up Armstrong before the final circuits.
“We didn’t want to just race for second. We tried to put pressure on her.” said Carroll.
In the final 30 kms, another break was off but was brought back by Armstrong and her lone teammate Emma Rickards before entering the final circuits. And then Armstrong was off.
Armstrong’s lead in the overall classification increased to 1 minute and 33 seconds over Carroll. Anne Samplonius (Cheerwine) is in third place at 1 minute and 40 seconds from the leader.