The US peloton will reunite in a battle for valuable points and places toward the National Racing Calendar (NRC) ranking at the Nature Valley Grand Prix held June 15-20 in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota. The series leaders Alison Powers (Vera Bradley Foundation) and Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home p/b Colavita) are up against strong opposition from the top teams in the country.
Amaran is leading the NRC individual series by a slim margin of points ahead of runner up Ben Day (Fly V Australia) and third placed Ben Jaques-Maynes (Bissell). Day will not be competing in the six-stage event and is instead racing at the Tour de Beauce, a UCI 2.2 stage race held in Canada the same week. Day’s Fly V Australia squad is currently leading the NRC series team competition ahead of Jamis-Sutter Home and Bissell.
Last year’s Nature Valley Grand Prix was won by Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis). The Australian will return with a strong team that includes Karl Menzies, Hilton and Jonny Clarke, Brad White, Jake Keough, Matt Crane and Adrian Hegyvari.
"Nature Valley is so criterium oriented that you need to have a squad that can race hard in the crits and there are so many time bonuses," said the squad’s directeur sportif, Mike Tamayo. "Rory, Karl and Hilton can hold their own in a time trial, especially the kind of time trial it has turned out be. All three of those guys can do well in the time trial and put us in a position to win plus get time bonuses."
Other participating teams include Jelly Belly p/b Kenda, Kelly Benefit Strategies, Trek-Livestrong, Team Type 1, Kenda p/b Geargrinder and the Nature Valley Cycling Team.
Powers leads the women’s NRC individual series ahead of the German Road National Champion Ina Teutenberg (HTC-Columbia) in second place and Mara Abbott (Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12). Powers team is also leading the NRC team competition ahead of Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12 and Colavita-Baci p/b Cooking Light.
"It is a gigantic point giver because it is a 2.1 NRC," Powers said. "I’m really excited for the race. It is one of the biggest competitions of the year because it has the most points and all the teams come."
The women’s race is the third of four events in the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series. Mara Abbott is the current overall leader. The series started at the Redlands Bicycle Classic and went on to round two at the Tour of the Gila. The Nature Valley Grand Prix marks round three and the series will conclude at the Cascade Cycling Classic.
"I would love to win it again," said Powers, who won the overall series last year. "It is a series just for women and I am the defending champion. Mara beat me in the first two race and so maybe for the second two I can try to beat her. I’m not giving up. I would love to win it. My team is so strong and we will give it our best try for sure."
The HTC-Columbia women’s team will make an appearance at this year’s event with its newest recruit Evelyn Stevens. Other teams participating include Webcor Builders, TIBCO, Kenda, BMW-Bianchi, the Collegiate All-Stars and Nature Valley Cycling Team.
Executive Director David LaPorte announced that the Nature Valley Grand Prix had opted to invoke a new USA Cycling rule that allows race organizers to specify that "massed-start legal" bicycles would be required for time trials. The rule will be enforced for the Nature Valley Grand Prix’s opening 9.6 km St. Paul Riverfront time trial held on June 16.
The opening time trial is among the toughest for its flat and fast start along Lilydale Road followed by a steep finale up the Ohio Street hill to the finish line.
"I am really disappointed they banned time trial bikes, extremely disappointed," Powers said. "We don’t have many time trials and we are given nice stuff from our sponsors and not many races to use it, it is unfortunate. That being said, I am still excited for the race."
Other changes made to the six-stage route will be seen on stage two’s Downtown Saint Paul Criterium which has moved from Lowertown to the heart of the entertainment district. The change of location is meant to attract more spectators, out to catch a glimpse the speedy late-afternoon event.
Stage three will bring the peloton through the Goodhue County and finish on a series of four circuits in Cannon Falls. The peloton will be forced to negotiate a technical dirt road descent before entering the first finishing circuit. The racing will resume with a day for the sprinters on stage four’s Uptown Minneapolis Criterium.
Another major change saw the elimination of stage five’s Mankato Road Race, replaced by the new Menomonie Road Race to be held over the border in Wisconsin. The new addition will travel over a predominantly rolling course and will finish with four flat circuits.
The peloton will embark on the toughest stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix at the sixth and final stage Stillwater Circuit Race. The technical course will begin at the base of Chilkoot Hill. It is only a couple of hundred metres in length but steep enough to tear the legs apart on each lap. The peloton will continue to gradually ride up hill until they reach the top of a blazing fast descent that wraps back around to the base of Chilkoot Hill.