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Nature Valley Grand Prix - Stage 1 Men
By Staff
Date: 6/11/2008
Nature Valley Grand Prix - Stage 1 Men

Nature Valley Grand Prix - Stage 1 Men
Mother Nature rains on the men's parade St. Paul... Kirk O'Bee and Aaron Olson lesson the pack as a moto crash causes officials to neutralize the race after 20 laps

By James Lockwood
Photos to come

Stage 1- St. Paul Lowertown Criterium
Race Neutralized
After 20 Laps
With the same statement, two riders gave differing opinions to the finish of the first stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

“Well, that’s bike racing,” said both Toyota-United’s Ivan Stevic and Healthnet-Maxxis’ Frank Pipp after course officials called off the Downtown Saint Paul Criterium.

But what Stevic meant in agreement with officials, Pipp said in disagreement.

With 25 laps left to go in the 45-lap race, officials stopped the riders after a lead motorbike crashed on a rain-soaked course. At the time, Pipp’s teammate, national criterium champion Kirk O’Bee, had a 20-second lead on the peloton, and the pace he and Bissell’s Aaron Olson had set had shattered the race into small echelons just trying to hang on.

“This is bike racing, it’s not a democracy,” Pipp said, complaining that the officials should not have asked the remnants of the 138-man field if they wanted to continue racing.

Less than half the field remained with more than half the race to go after riders about to be lapped were pulled. Not all the pulled riders left the course, though, and some complained that when the race stopped, it would have been nearly impossible to separate lapped riders from those who weren’t.

“The official should have made the call,” Pipp said.

No matter who did, Stevic was happy the call was made.

“I think the commissaires made the right decision,” he said. “It was too many crashes.”

Weather played the main role in the first stage. Heavy rains pounded the course 90 minutes before the men started, and light rain continued through the race.

While race organizers tried to accommodate for the wet roads by reversing the route on the 6-corner course - setting more of an uphill course into most corners - oil on the city streets played havoc with the wheels losing traction, especially in corner 3.

Olson’s teammate on Bissell, Richard England, said playing it safe hindered any hope of staying with the leaders. “As soon as you hit the brakes, gaps would just open,” he said before the officials called the race. “I think you probably call it off if you want to have everyone stay safe.”

Until that moment, O’Bee and Olson had put on a clinic. Five laps into the race, they attacked the front of the strung out peloton and took O’Bee’s teammate Rory Sutherland and Andrew Bajadali of Kelly Benefit Strategies/Medifast.

With Sutherland doing little work, the four developed a sustainable gap on the field, if only by 10 seconds. Left on his own to chase was Stevic, who led the main peloton through many chase laps but had no teammates in the group to help.

With 34 laps to go, Olson and O'Bee dropped Bajadali and Sutherland and had built a 20-second gap over a Kelly Benefit Strategies-led field by 25 laps to go. By then, nearly half the field had been pulled before being lapped, and another 43 riders had been flagged to stop racing.

However, those riders didn’t, and when the riders were stopped at the line for the crashed motorcycle, lead riders mixed with lapped riders, and leaving officials little or no way to know who was where on the course before the accident.

That left Olson and O’Bee out in the rain with nothing to show for their efforts. For Nature Valley defending champion Stevic, though, he arguably came out the big winner on the day, losing no time or teammates. Rock Racing also came out ahead, as few of the team riders made the split to the the lead group.

With no points, time, or jerseys or general classification placements awarded in the first stage, the riders will go into Thursday’s Stage 2: 60-mile Cannon Falls Road Race with a clear slate like stage one never happened.

As they said, that’s bike racing.

Results: none - Photos to come

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