Very interesting. The Nature Valley Grand Prix will be limiting men’s teams to six riders in 2012. For the past few years, the UnitedHealthcare train has dominated the three crits by putting all their eight-men train at the front and setting a punishing pace that squashed most if not all attempts at breakaways. The tactics, though great for UHC results, leads to predictable results.
It is also important to note that Pro Continental team UnitedHealthcare received special permission to be able to race at the NRC stage race, which according to UCI rules is not permissible.
With many amateur and development riders in the field, the reduced team sizes should, in theory, lead to more dynamic racing. We’ll have to wait until June to see if it happens.
However, though UHC won four stages last year, Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies) claimed the overall following an explosive penultimate stage, the Menomonie Road Race.
The limit on team sizes will not apply to women’s teams.
Here’s the press release:
Nature Valley Grand Prix Executive Director David LaPorte said the decision was made after consulting with USA Cycling Managing Director of National Events Micah Rice, who says fielding smaller squads offers benefits for both the race and the teams.
“This change will shake things up and make the racing more exciting for the spectators,” Rice said. “With their focus on spectator experience, it’s not surprising that the Nature Valley Grand Prix was the first stage race to make this change. Smaller team sizes will also reduce the travel costs for the teams, a factor that played a big role in the development of the 2012 USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC) and National Criterium Calendar (NCC).”
The Nature Valley Grand Prix was one of the first NRC events to include multiple criteriums in its format and instituted a ban on time trial bikes in 2010. For the past 13 years, the race in Eastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin and has made it a priority to educate fans and engage spectators.
“The Nature Valley Grand Prix has been a leader in bringing new fans into the sport,” Jamis/Sutter Home Director Sebastian Alexandre said. “Reducing the team size will make the racing even more exciting for the fans. For the teams, it will be fun racing, that is for sure. With smaller squads, the teams and riders will have to carefully plan their race strategies and the overall lead could change after every stage. It will be a really big show.”
Three-time U.S. national professional road champion Fred Rodriguez of Team Exergy Pro Cycling – a past stage winner at the Giro d’Italia – said reducing the team size gives the younger riders on his team an opportunity to show themselves and possibly get in a winning move.
“From my experience of races that run smaller teams, it creates more opportunities for everyone in the peloton,” Rodriguez said. “It’s harder for the big teams to take control and more riders have a chance. It also takes the predictability out of the top riders being on the podium. I see the winner being someone who is aggressive and willing to take a chance.”
LaPorte said the reduced team size will only apply to men’s teams. The women’s race will continue to have a maximum team size of eight.
“Team size has not been a factor in the women’s race,” LaPorte said. “The last time the overall winner was on a full team of eight was 2006. If we reduced the women’s maximum team size, all we’d be doing is forcing them to leave their development riders at home. One of our goals is to build women’s racing and excluding their future stars would have the opposite effect.”
The 2012 edition of the Nature Valley Grand Prix will take place June 13-17.