Team TIBCO took it to the streets at the Uptown Minneapolis Criterium where they launched attack after attack to try and disrupt Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies’ control of the field. Unfortunately, it was also a battle to avoid the numerous crashes that peppered the 28-lap race including one that forced a short neutralization.
In a crazy finish that saw Optum p/b KBS scrambling after sprinter Leah Kirchmann crashed eight laps into the race, Theresa Cliff-Ryan got a perfect leadout from her Exergy Twenty12 teammates to claim her second victory at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Samantha Schneider (TIBCO) edged out yellow jersey Carmen Small (Optum p/b KBS) for second.
Optum p/b KBS seemingly had the race in hand with four laps to go after reeling back Megan Guamier (TIBCO), who was awarded the most aggressive jersey for her non-stop attacking. But Small, without Kirchmann to lead her out for the final laps, decided to pull her other riders off the front and see if she could sneak onto the podium on her own. Kirchmann finished the race but was too far back to help.
“With a lead out, we can definitely win,” Small said. “But we missed Leah. We don’t have another true sprinter. I didn’t want the girls to do a bunch of unnecessary work just for me to get second or third anyway. I’m pretty confident I can get at least top three with other girls (from other teams).”
When Optum p/b KBS pulled back, Exergy Twenty12 jumped to the front.
“They did an excellent job tonight.” Cliff-Ryan said of her team. “We all got together and went to the front with three to go. Kristin McGrath took charge and did a huge two lap pull and then Kaitie (Antonneau) took over, then Jackie (Crowell) took over and Heather (Logan-Sprenger) was my last girl to get me through that last corner – got me around there, one, two, and then all I had to do was sprint.”
Small leads GC with 41 seconds on defending champion Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon) with two stages to go.
Neben, who learned she had been named to her second consecutive Olympic road team about two hours before the start, again chose not to mix it up on a close course with tight turns, just as she did in St. Paul. Neben dropped back after the opening laps and was never a factor, finishing 25th. She remained second in the overall standings 41 seconds behind Small.
“No disrespect to the race, but the Olympics only come around every four years, and if you get a chance you’ve got to put everything into that,” she said.
“Tonight was more about staying safe than anything. I just found a nice little pocket where I was comfortable, and I wasn’t having to fight too many wheels. That was just my priority tonight, staying safe. The other girls had all the freedom in the world they wanted to do during the race.”
Racing continues on Saturday with the 76-mile Menomonie Road Race, a chance for the non-sprinters and the non-crit specialist to come to the front – and a possibility to shake up the GC. It was on this stage last year that Neben put in her big attack to win the overall.
The first major climb comes just 12 miles into the stage which includes a total of four Queen of the Hills lines and there will be plenty of hills that are not part of that competition. The women finish off with four laps around the flat 4.8km (3.0-mile) circuits inside the city. Racing starts 1:30pm CDT.
Top 10 Stage 4 Results
1. Theresa Cliff Ryan (Exergy TWENTY12) 1.05’35″
2. *Samantha Schneider (Team TIBCO)
3. Carmen Small (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)
4. *Emilia Fahlin (Specialized-lululemon)
5. Jade Wilcoxson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)
6. Heather Logan Sprenger (Exergy TWENTY12)
7. Sarah Fader (FCS|ROUSE p/b Mr. Restore)
8. Janel Holcomb (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)
9. Lindsay Bayer (Nature Valley Cycling Team)
10. *Jenny Rios (SC Velo – Empower Coaching)
Top 10 GC After Stage 4
1. Carmen Small (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 2.21’44″
2. Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon) 41″
3. Janel Holcomb (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 43″
4. *Jackie Crowell (Exergy TWENTY12) 46″
5. *Emilia Fahlin (Specialized-lululemon) 48″
6. Jade Wilcoxson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 51″
7. *Denise Ramsden (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 59″
8. #Brianna Walle (Nature Valley Cycling Team) 1’04″
9. *Leah Kirchmann (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 1’10″
10. Theresa Cliff Ryan (Exergy TWENTY12) 1’12″