The rosters are set for the 13 elite amateur bicycle racers who won spots – “American Idol” style – on the Nature Valley Pro Ride teams, earning the opportunity to compete against professionals next week at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
Jane Weakley of Kettering, Ohio, and Brandon Feehery of Homewood, Ill., were the final two qualifiers from the Quad Cities Memorial Weekend Omnium in Iowa and Illinois, the last of six Nature Valley Pro Ride events around the country.
The two join previous selections Jade Wilcoxson (Talent, Ore.) and Scott Gray (Bend, Ore.), from the Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race near Seattle; Amy Miner (Vergennes, Vt.) and Alec Donahue (Easthampton, Mass.) from the Sterling Road Race near Boston; Lt. Commander Katy Giles (McLean, Va.) and Timothy Rugg (Richlands, N.C.) from the Jefferson Cup in Charlottesville, Va.; Louise Smyth (Shreveport, La.) and Scott Simmons (Cleburne, Texas) from the Fayetteville Stage Race near Austin, Texas; and Stefan Rothe (Austin, Texas) and Laurel Larsen (Arlington, Va.) from the Tour of the Depot in Utah.
Also in the lineup is Stephen Mull, the first coach’s selection for the men’s team. The Richmond, Virginia, resident was an elite runner for the University of Washington until his promising career was cut short by injuries. He only started competitive cycling last July, but has rapidly ascended to the required Category 1 status.
“This will be my first real stage race, so the challenge of the unknown looms large,” Mull said. “I’ve had success at the end of long road races, so hopefully that indicates an ability to deal with volume. Also, having the opportunity to be a part of a race of this size has been a goal for me, but the Nature Valley Pro Ride has made that goal a reality in the blink of an eye.”
Two veteran racers will coach the Nature Valley Pro Ride squads. Women’s coach Michael Engleman was selected eight times to represent the United States at the UCI road world championships and is the current head coach of the U.S. Women’s Cycling Development Program. Men’s team director Marion Clignet won several world titles in her career and two Olympic silver medals. Clignet said her seven riders are all motivated to race hard.
“At the end of the day it’s all about sharing the notion that they want to try their talents against the best in the U.S., as well as ride to the best of their abilities,” she said. “The prologue time trial will be a big factor as a lot of time can be won or lost in 10 kilometers, so time trial skills are a plus. During our training camp, we’ll work on some of that, as well as a few icebreakers since we’re all coming into this as strangers to one another.”
All Nature Valley Pro Riders get free entry into the race, generous travel stipends, team clothing, housing, ground transportation, a pre-race training camp and staff support for their composite teams. They will also receive pro-level recognition before, during and after the events, including pre-race call-ups and participation in promotional and media appearances.
Oregonian Wilcoxson said she followed the Nature Valley Grand Prix closely last year. While her ambition in the race is simply to leave feeling like a better cyclist, she said getting treated like a pro will inspire her to train like one.
“Getting the golden ticket to the Nature Valley Grand Prix is a dream come true,” she said. “I still can’t believe I have this incredible opportunity to learn from the best and be treated like the best at the same time. Opportunities like this are hard to come by in cycling, especially for women.”
Feehery, a student at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., said words cannot describe how excited he is for the opportunity to compete against some of the top professional cyclists on the domestic circuit.
“This is the next step in helping me reach my top goal of becoming a professional cyclist,” he said. “Being able to participate in the Nature Valley Grand Prix will allow me to gain the experience and exposure needed to take it to the next level. I have followed the Nature Valley Grand Prix for the past two years. As I have watched this race, I hoped that one day I could race in a big race such as this one.”