The Nature Valley Grand Prix is returning to Minnesota, bigger and better than ever; the 6 stages in 5 days race is back starting tomorrow June 16 until Sunday June 20. Some modification to the overall course this year but the race still ends with the hardest crit in North America, the Stillwater Criterium with its 18%-grade leg busting climb up Chilkoot Hill on every lap. Before that however, the men and women will face a time trial, two more crits and two road races on rolling terrain. And with lots of time bonus seconds available
Follow @podium_live for updates during the race.
This is the first NRC stage race since the Amgen Tour of California and it will be interesting to see if the tough race in May has any impact on the racing. Two-time defending champion Rory Sutherland is back and will be trying to make it three. While his UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis squad split its roster between this race and the Tour of Beauce, they are bringing a strong sprinting team to support his effort.
The men’s field presents many strong competitors for Sutherland including NRC leader Luis Amaran of Jamis/Sutter Home p/b Colavita. Amaran and his team successfully defended, for the first time ever, at the Joe Martin Stage Race and the team is extremely savy when it comes to crit racing. Competition also from Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies), Ben Jacques-Maynes (BISSELL), the Fly V Australia sprinters and the renewed Jelly Belly p/b Kenda squad who can be counted on to be very aggressive.
Teams at the race include Team Type 1, Kenda Pro Cycling p/b Geargrinder, BikeReg.com / Cannondale, Rubicon-ORBEA; Benefiting LIVESTRONG, Trek-Livestrong, Hagens Berman Cycling, Tradewind Energy/The Trek Stores, Team Globalbike p/b Catoma Adventure Shelters, Team Hotel San Jose/Mellow Johnny’s p/b Subaru-Gary Fisher, Metro Volkswagen Cycling Team, IS Corp Cycling Team, JetFuel Cycling Team, MBRC/Flanders, Nature Valley Pro Ride, Panther p/b Competitive Cyclist, Team Rio Grande and Texas Roadhouse p/b Motorex. (See men’s roster)
With strong riders spread across teams and with no single rider dominating this year, the women’s race should be a nail biter until the end. And NVGP is also the third stop in the 4-race Women’s Prestige Cycling Series.
Four-time defending champion Kristin Armstrong retired at the end of last season but she’s not far as she moved behind the wheel for the Peanut Butter Co TWENTY12 team who will be looking at Shelley Evans and the savy Kat Carroll for the overall. Other contenders include NRC leader Alison Powers (Team VBF) and her teammate Robin Farina, Jo Kiesanowski and Ruth Corset (TIBCO/To The Top), and the Colavita/Baci squad will be hoping to parlay their crit winning ways into an overall victory. And then of course there is the powerhouse HTC-Columbia with Evelyn Stevens, always a threat at any race. Webcor Builders will be looking at Amber Neben for the overall with Joelle Numainville on the hunt for crit wins.
Teams also include Roosters p/b Edge Composite Wheels, Team Kenda, BMW-Bianchi, Veloforma, Team Nanoblur-Gears, Specialized D4W/Bicycle Haus, Herbalife LaGrange, Bianchi-Grand Performance, GG Events Management, Fiber One Collegiate All-Stars, Nature Valley Pro Ride and Team Freewheel Bike. (See women’s roster)
The stages. (see cheat sheet) The race starts with a split day on Wednesday with the time trial in the morning followed by the St Paul Downtown Crit in the evening. The 9.8 km (6.1 mi) St. Paul Time Trial which takes up and down Lilydale Road and finishing with a kicker up Ohio Street hill should start culling the GC contenders from the rest. For the first time in the race, the orgnizers are enforcing rule 1M1(h) where riders are restricted to mass-start bicycles: no aero clip-n bars, no disk wheels, no aero helmets. The evening’s crit has been moved to the heart of downtown St. Paul with a course full of twists, turns, and even some brick roads. The women do 28 laps and the men 40.
Thursday is the 107 km (66.5 mi) Cannon Falls Road Race, the same distance for both the men and women. The course winds through scenic Goodhue County before finishing on a 3.1km (1.9 mile) circuit in downtown Cannon Falls. This race proved to be decisive in 2006, with small groups gaining minutes on the chasing packs in both the men’s and women’s races. Riders who failed to make it into these breakaways had no shot at the yellow jersey for the rest of the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
For the second year now, Friday brings the Uptown Minneapolis Criterium raced on a pancake-flat .88-km (0.5 mi) course that comprises six tight corners and a furious race to the finish line. The women do 30 laps and the men 40.
For the first time ever, the race leaves Minnesota on Saturday and heads to Menomonie, Wisconsin for the 5th Stage, the Menomonie Road Race. The men’s road race consists of 95 miles, marked by rolling hills and long climbs while the women cover 76 miles that follows the same beginning and ending roadways. Both the men and women finish off with 4.8km (3.0-mile) circuits inside the city.
And last but certainly not least is the Stillwater Criterium where Sutherland used the course and tactics to overcome a few seconds deficit and win the overall. The 2.2 km (1.4 mi) course takes the riders up Chilkoot Hill on every lap, where on every lap riders are shelled off the back and out of the race. The women do 13 laps and the men 20.