Street construction is forcing a change in the opening time trial for the Nature Valley Grand Prix. The five-day stage race, one of the top races on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar, has often been decided by seconds, and team directors expect this new time trial course will have a huge effect on the leader’s jersey as well as team tactics.
The first day’s time trial stage has typically run along the Mississippi River in Minnesota’s capital, St. Paul, and the new course follows the river as well. The new start, however, moves from south of downtown to the west near the Ford Dam and follows Mississippi River Boulevard north then flips around at Eustis Street for the return trip. Finishers will not have to climb the 11 percent grade of Ohio Street as in years past, but the new course contains a series of technical rollers that total an equal amount of climbing and extend the 6.1 mile course to 7.7 miles.
“The longer time trial favors our team, because we have so many strong TT guys”, said Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefits Strategies team director Jonas Carney. “We’ve had three riders in the Nature Valley Grand Prix yellow jersey. Zwiz (Scott Zwizanski) and (Tom) Zirbel won the time trial on the previous course while (Jesse) Anthony is the defending champion. We have to have a strong TT and hopefully take the jersey. Then if the jersey changes hands, we have to make sure it still says Optum on the front.”
“Street construction is usually the bane of a race organizer’s existence,” said Nature Valley Grand Prix director David LaPorte, “but, when we were forced to move the downtown Minneapolis race to the Uptown district, we were rewarded with such a more successful race. It’s looking like the same thing will happen with the time trial. The course is challenging and, for the first time in our history, the top riders will be able to use follow cars.”
The Nature Valley Grand Prix has also banned the use of aero equipment, and that requirement still holds.
“Time trials are tests of sustained power, aero position and pain tolerance”, LaPorte said. “We want to take equipment differences out of the equation, particularly since small budget teams can’t afford to bring time trial bikes. Our time trial is a test of athlete versus athlete and the best time trialists will still have the top results. For example, four of the top five women in last year’s race were also top five the next weekend at the USA Cycling Time Trial Championships, where they used full aero equipment.”
Wednesday, June 13, will be a double-stage day, with the time trial in the morning followed by the Downtown St Paul Criterium that night. Racers travel south on Thursday for the Cannon Falls Road Race, returning to Minneapolis for the Uptown Criterium on Friday, head east for Queen stage of the Menomonie Road Race in Wisconsin, before finishing in Minnesota for the marquee event-the Stillwater Criterium, which features the 20 percent grade Chilkoot Hill climb to the finish line.