By Kirsten Robbins in St. Paul, Minnesota
Stage changes to the 2007 Nature Valley Grand Prix are being put to the test beginning with stage one's downtown criterium held in St. Paul, Minnesota. The opening stage was changed from the previous year's individual time trial prologue, which now takes place as stage three on the morning of another criterium in Minneapolis.
Race director, David LaPorte explained that the change was intended to mix the business of a bike race while appealing to the pleasure of the crowds surrounding St. Paul and Minneapolis. "First, we want to increase spectator appeal," LaPorte said. "Time trials are very important to the athletics, but are not crowd pleasers. The Nature Valley Grand Prix's goal is to be exciting and fan-friendly to draw new people into the sport. Criteriums do that in a way that time trials don't.
"New people who come to an opening criterium will likely be hooked and will attend more events during the week. People who come to time trials think that that's typical of bike racing and don't come back."
The Nature Valley Grand Prix is in its ninth season and growing each year. LaPorte was delighted when St. Paul offered to host stage one's criterium along with stage three's individual time trial. "The City of St. Paul begged us to put on a criterium like the one in Minneapolis," LaPorte said. "This came all the way from the top. When a major city asks for a bike race, you don't say no."
The time trial has changed location from Sheppard/Warner Road to Lilydale/Water St, a scenic road that runs along the other side of the Mississippi River. LaPorte said that traffic was the main concern and the reason for the course change. "The Shepard/Warner Road time trial shut down a major arterial," LaPorte said. "Since the Friday morning time trial is not intended as a spectator event, it made more sense to run it through the park on the other side of the river. But it will get good TV coverage."