For Carmen Small, winning the St. Paul Riverfront Time Trial on Wednesday morning – the first stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix – almost made up for a particularly aggravating Tuesday afternoon.
While Small and her Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies teammates checked out the new course along the Mississippi River bluffs, someone broke into their team car and stole three bags containing personal items. Team director Rachel Heal, a Brit, lost a laptop, cash and her passport, leaving her no identification for her Monday flight to nationals in Augusta, Ga.
“They were obviously not cyclists, because they left our expensive bike wheels in there,” said Small, who lost only her wallet and a little cash. “We had seen the car 10 minutes before, and it was fine.”
Small joked that she may have been riding on anger. If so, it proved an effective strategy.
On a cool, overcast morning, Small covered the 7.7 mile course in 17:30.39, about nine seconds faster than second place finisher Jackie Crowell of Exergy TWENTY12. Crowell edged defending Nature Valley Grand Prix champion Amber Neben of Specialized-lululemon. Optum riders took four of the first seven places. Crowell received the white jersey as the TRIA Orthopaedic Center Best Young Rider.
The second stage, the St. Paul Downtown Criterium, goes off tonight.
Beating Neben, the 2008 Olympian and a former time trial world champion, surprised Small so much than when her husband, the German cyclist Ben Sonntag, called her cell phone after the race, she said, “I won! Can you believe that? Yea!” After a moment’s pause to listen, Small smiled and said Ben wanted to know what was wrong with her.
“I’m totally stunned,” she said. “I can’t believe that happened. Amber is an incredible cyclist.
“It’s good timing, because we’re all trying to make the Olympic team right now. A lot is going on with us. The pressure’s been on the last two weeks. It’s been a little bit stressful, but I’m happy to be here. It’s better to be here than at home where I can stress out about things.”
Neben actually improved one place on her time trial finish last year. She liked the new course, which featured several rolling climbs and a turnaround. (The Grand Prix prohibits specialized time trial bikes, forcing riders to rely on their wits and ability more than their equipment.) But with Olympic Team due to be named Friday and nationals next week, Neben admitted her focus is elsewhere.
“Olympic selection is one of those things where I wish they could just name the team so we can move on one way or the other,” she said. “I’m not super-stressed about it. I just have strong faith. I know God’s got a plan. I’m just kind of anxious to see which way He’s going to go with it.
“This is a nice race, but it’s too close to nationals and there’s too many other things going on. So I come in a little tired and focusing on other things, trying to have a good day today. I rode fine, but Carmen was way faster today. Jackie rode well too, which was really cool to see.”
Top 10 Stage Results
1. Carmen Small (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) .17’30″
2. *Jackie Crowell (Exergy TWENTY12) 9″
3. Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon) 9″
4. Janel Holcomb (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 13″
5. Kristin Magrath (Exergy TWENTY12) 19″
6. Jade Wilcoxson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 22″
7. *Denise Ramsden (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 22″
8. #Brianna Walle (Nature Valley Cycling Team) 25″
9. *Emilia Fahlin (Specialized-lululemon) 26″
10. #Amber Gaffney (SC Velo – Empower Coaching) 30″