The top placed all-rounders and the fastest sprinters have been playing tactics at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. The hefty mix of time bonus sprints and climbs of attrition will no doubt play a key factor in determining the overall winner on Sunday.
Bissel's Tom Zirbel leads the way by seven seconds ahead of OUCH-Maxxis defending champion, Rory Sutherland and teammate Peter Latham. However the plentiful time bonuses offered throughout the six-stage race are allowing the sprinters to inch their way into overall contention a few seconds at a time.
The stage four criterium offers a 15-second time bonus to the winner as does each subsequent stage finish line. Sprinters John Murphy and his OUCH p/b Maxxis teammate Karl Menzies sit a mere 16 seconds behind the race leader. Likewise, double stage winners Sebastian Haedo and Alejandro Borrajo from Colavita-Sutter Home are within the top ten, roughly 25 seconds back.
"I believe that I can win this race overall by Sunday, for sure," said Borrajo. That's a tall order to fill considering the final two stages host circuits with difficult climbs that are well suited to riders like Zirbel and Sutherland. "I also think that I can be there on the climbs in the last stages and take the time bonuses. We can win this stage race."
Race leaders Zirbel and Sutherland have the terrain on their side with the final two stages offering a significant climb on each circuit. Last year, Sutherland initiated his overall win on the stage five on the Mankato road race finishing circuit's steep climb.
"I think we are going to have to rely on Saturday's course to be the selective group," said Zirbel, referring to the grueling climb on the stage five finishing circuits in Mankato. "I'm not saying Borrajo or Haedo can't make it up that hill four times with us, but I think that it is in our favor to put efforts down on those hills.
"Rory strongly believes that he can outclimb me, so I'm going to have to keep my focus on reacting to him," he added. "We also have other options with in my team, too. I just have to get though tomorrow. I rely on my team to be there for me and keep me out of trouble."