Minutes after the Nature Valley Grand Prix stage 3 was canceled due to severe weather, the interwebs were abuzz with photos and videos showing why the decision was a good one. Teams driving back to Minneapolis/St-Paul were forced to the side of the road with white out conditions caused by the rain and wind. (See video)
For the second time in three years, poor weather conditions forced Nature Valley Grand Prix officials to cancel the Cannon Falls Road Race, the third stage of the six-stage event for men and women.
But unlike 2010, when tornado warnings brought the men’s race to a halt 40 minutes after the start (the women’s race never went off), riders never even made it to the starting line on Thursday.
While torrential rains from a thunderstorm pelted the streets Thursday afternoon, race officials considered altering the format from a 73.4-mile road race to a 15-lap criterium within downtown Cannon Falls. The rain slowed about 15 minutes before the scheduled start of the men’s race.
But with a second strong thunderstorm cell approaching, the changeover to a criterium proved too technically difficult, according to race director David LaPorte. By 5:10 p.m., heavy rain and thunder resumed.
The Grand Prix will continue, weather permitting, on Friday with the Uptown Minneapolis Criterium. The forecast calls for considerable cloudiness, warm with a high of 86F and slight winds NE at 5 to 10 mph for tomorrow.
With the road stage canceled, the advantage goes back to the sprinters and crit specialists in the fight for the overall with bonus seconds coming into play again. Positioning is key and the teams will be fighting for control on the pancake-flat .88-km (0.5 mi) course with six tight corners. With a long straightaway across the finish line into a very short run between turns one and two, speeds will descend from a brisk 35-plus mph into the low digits before ramping up again out of turn five on Lake Street.
GC leader Carmen Small will be able to count on her strong crit-experienced Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies to defend her 25-second lead on defending champion Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon). Small’s teammate Janel Holcomb sits in third at 29 seconds down with best young rider Jackie Crowell (Exergy Twenty12) in fourth at 32 seconds down.
In the men’s race, John Murphy (Kenda/5-hr Energy) has a slim one-second lead on Tom Zirbel (Optum-KBS) and five seconds on Frank Pipp (Bissell). Murphy took over the overall by winning those time bonus seconds on stage 2 and will be forced to make the same decision as Zirbel did, let a break go to take those intermediate time bonus seconds and work to reel it in before the finish – assuming it’s the right combination in the break – or control the front and outsprint the others for those seconds. You can bet that Pipp and his team will also be going for those seconds, after all he did quietly improve his standings on stage 2 using that method.
Both the men’s and women’s race have two intermediate time bonus sprints for five, three and one seconds and more time bonus of 12, eight and six seconds are on the line at the finish.
The women race 28 laps starting at 6:15 pm and the men go for 40 laps beginning at 7:45 pm CDT. The stage should also be streamed live on naturevalleybicyclefestival.com