As expected the time bonus seconds were key in the St Paul Criterium, stage 2 of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. With the road stages coming up, yellow jersey Carmen Small used her strong Optum p/b KBS team to grab a total of 16 seconds by crossing the line first in the two intermediate bonus sprint and with her third place finish. Small padded her lead to 25 seconds on defending champion Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon).
For half race the field stayed together with Optum-KBS manning the front until Loren Rowney (Specialized-lululemon) took a flyer with 12 laps to go. She built up her lead to 10 seconds while Optum-KBS controlled the front, happy to let the solo off the front as it reduced the attacks. Rowney was reeled in with less than four laps to go, and then it was time to organize for the inevitable bunch sprint. Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Exergy Twenty12) had been quite happy to stay in the field and watch Optum-KBS spent time at the front until it was time to launch her sprint. Cliff-Ryan couldn’t be matched and took the win ahead of Canadian Crit Champion Leah Kirchmann (Optum-KBS) and Small.
In the men’s race, yellow jersey Tom Zirbel and his Optum-KBS team were faced with a decision: to let a break go or not. With a slim 4-second lead, break attempts were shut down and the team manned the front trying to control the two intermediate time bonus sprints. The plan worked at the first time bonus sprint when Mike Friedman (Optum-KBS) took the five seconds ahead of Frank Pipp (Bissell) and Andy Jacques-Maynes (Kenda/5-Hr Energy). But former US Pro Crit Champion John Murphy (Kenda/5-hr Energy) was able to get the jump on the second time bonus sprint to grab those five seconds. With that, Murphy became the virtual leader on the road.
With more bonus time awarded at the finish of 12,8 and 6 seconds, there was really no way that a break would make it to the finish. The battle of the trains was on between Optum-KBS, Bissell and Jelly Belly. With three laps to go, Zirbel was at the front setting the pace but his team was swarmed and Bissell took over on the next lap. In the end, Carlos Alzate (Exergy) too the win ahead of Brad Huff (Jelly Belly) and Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis/Sutter Home).
Murphy leads the GC with a one-second gap on Zirbel. Pipp, who also sprinted for the bonus seconds in the two intermediate sprints now sits in third at five seconds down.
Thursday is the 118-km (73.4-mile) Cannon Falls Road Race, the same distance for both the men and women. The course winds through scenic Goodhue County before finishing on a 3.1km (1.9 mile) circuit in downtown Cannon Falls. The men start at 4:30 pm CDT and the women at 5:00pm CDT.
In 2011, this stage came down to another bunch sprint with all breaks reeled in. The only bonus seconds available are at the finish. In the women’s race, expect to see Specialized-lululemon test the control of Optum-KBS while stage hunters will be going for the victory.
The men’s race should all out aggression with Optum-KBS, Competitive Cyclist, Bissell, Exergy and Jelly Belly stacking the break. An interesting fight in the under23 race-within-the-race is also shaping up, with Devan Dunn (CashCall Mortgage) in the white jersey, with nine seconds on last year’s best young rider Joseph Schmalz (Elbowz), 16 seconds on Ty Magner (BMC-Hincapie) and 27 seconds on Connor McCutcheon (Nature Valley).