The Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies team took control on stage 1 at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, winning both the women’s and men’s time trial.
Going into stage 2 with a total of 22 seconds of time bonus on the line, the decision to limit men’s team to six riders becomes very interesting. In the past, the two criteriums, including tonight’s St Paul crit, were often controlled and dominated by one team, UnitedHealthcare, making it boring to many fans. With no UHC at the race and with the new team limit, racing should be less controlled and more interesting to watch. We’ll see if it comes to fruition.
Tom Zirbel (Optum-KBS) leads with a four second margin on John Murphy (Kenda/5-Hr Energy). Zirbel’s teammate Scott Zwizanski in in third at six seconds. Former USA Pro Crit Champion Murphy is a better sprinter than Zirbel and has two teammates in the top 10 to help put pressure on Zirbel. Current USA Pro Crit Champion Eric Young sits in 10th at 22 seconds down with two teammates also in the top 10 – including sprinter Frank Pipp – so we can expect Bissell to continue to race aggressively as they have this year. Team Exergy is still looking for that big win this year.
Carmen Small (Optum-KBS) was surprised by her victory, understandable since she beat TT specialist third place Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon) by nine seconds. Jackie Crowell (Exergy Twenty12) continues to impress, finishing in seconds only a few hundreds of a second faster than Neben.
With the Olympic selection being announced this Friday, it is the last chance to impress the USA Cycling selection committee for Small, Neben, and Megan Guarnier (TIBCO). But the battle for the overall win seems to be a two-team duel between Optum-KBS and Specialized-lululemon. It will be interesting to see what Exergy Twenty12 does without leader Kristin Armstrong at the race. With a few big names (and teams) missing, this it the time for younger riders or smaller teams to shine if they go for it.
Let’s see what happens tonight.
Racing continues on Wednesday evening with the downtown St Paul Criterium, on a course full of twists, turns – a flat, fast, five-corner course that features brick sections around Rice Park. Starting at 6:15 pm CDT, women race 28 laps, men follow at 7:45pm for 40 laps.