The Menomonie Road Race, the fifth stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, might as well have been a criterium.
After winding more than seventy miles across hilly rural roads in Dunn County, Wis., past dairy farms and corn and soybean fields, the peloton entered downtown Menomonie as tight as could be. The race wasn’t settled until the next-to-last straightaway, when Emilia Fahlin of Specialized-lululemon jumped to the lead and held on to win while pulling teammate Loren Rowney with her for second.
Emily Collins of Vanderkitten-Focus edged two-time stage winner Theresa Cliff-Ryan of Exergy TWENTY12 for third.
Carmen Small of Optum p/b Kelly Benefits Strategies finished fifth to maintain the yellow leader’s jersey going into Sunday’s sixth and final stage, the Stillwater Criterium. Small holds a 25-second edge on Fahlin and 44 seconds on the defending champion Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon).
Neben, named to the 2012 Olympic team on Friday, tried to break away with three laps to go only to be reeled back by Small’s teammates. All day, Optum p/b KBS did that to anyone who attempted to leave the peloton.
“That was kind of our plan today — we didn’t want a big group to go away,” Small said. “We wanted to control things. So we would always let one or two riders out and just ride tempo. The more they were out there, the easier it was to control the field. The girls did a great job.”
The 81.3 mile race was a stark contrast to last year, when an early break by Colavita’s Leah Kirchmann decided things on a hot, dry day. Saturday’s race started in a downpour, which gave way to muggy sunshine and then to gloomy overcast as the peloton returned to town. Only two riders managed sizeable leads in the country – Lauren Stephens of FCS/ROUSE p/b Mr. Restore, who opened a 75-second gap at the 28-mile mark, and Team TIBCO’s Megan Guamier, who earned the red Freewheel Bike most aggressive rider jersey for the third consecutive stage after leading the race from mile 39 through 61.
“There were plenty of attempts,” Cliff-Ryan said. “It was a pretty aggressive race. I was surprised nothing got away, but I was happy to try to get another sprint in.”
Cliff-Ryan’s team seemed set up to steal the stage from Optum p/b KBS, jumping to the front after Neben fell back. Riders finished with four laps in town, with each circuit three miles — much farther than Friday’s nine-tenths of a mile circuits in Uptown Minneapolis. Ryan said Exergy Twenty12 made its charge prematurely.
“It was perfect leadout again, but everything happened just a bit too early,” she said. “We mistimed things. Everything was in perfect order. We’ll fix it up tomorrow and see how it goes.”
Small positioned herself among the leaders with two laps left. “We knew Exergy wanted to set up for a stage win. They weren’t hiding anything,” she said. “We kind of knew they were going to do a leadout. I was trying to play off Theresa, because my girls worked really hard during this stage, trying to just control things. So I was sitting on Theresa thinking, this is good. Then lululemon surprised us all.”
Said Fahlin: “Exergy put up the charge with two laps to go. Me and Loren were a little further back, and I just decided we had to get to the front.
“I took her and drew her up on the wheel of Carmen, I think. We were able to sit there until the last little stretch, the last corner. I knew I had Loren on my wheel to try to get her first into the corner. I went first into the corner and held it off all the way. Having Loren coming in second was very cool.”
Racing concludes with the Stillwater Criterium, not flat in any way, shape or form. It features 13 laps of a very technical course including the infamous Chilkoot Hill with an average grade of 18%. Join in on the action online, as the men start at 11:45am MDT.
Top 10 Stage 5 Results
1. *Emilia Fahlin (Specialized-lululemon) 3.21’47″
2. *Loren Rowney (Specialized-lululemon)
3. *Emily Collins (Vanderkitten-Focus)
4. Theresa Cliff Ryan (Exergy TWENTY12)
5. Carmen Small (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies)
6. *Ingrid Drexel (Mexican National Team)
7. *Samantha Schneider (Team TIBCO)
8. *Ana Teresa Casas (Mexican National Team)
9. *Mayra del Rocio Rocha (Mexican National Team) 3″
10. Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon) 3″
Top 10 GC After Stage 5
1. Carmen Small (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 5.43’31″
2. *Emilia Fahlin (Specialized-lululemon) 36″
3. Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon) 44″
4. Janel Holcomb (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 48″
5. *Jackie Crowell (Exergy TWENTY12) 51″
6. Jade Wilcoxson (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 56″
7. *Denise Ramsden (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 1’04″
8. Theresa Cliff Ryan (Exergy TWENTY12) 1’12″
9. *Leah Kirchmann (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) 1’15″
10. *Julie Beveridge (Colavita/EspnW) 1’29″