|- Race report courtesy of James Lockwood, communications director of the Nature Valley Grand Prix and Giana Roberge of Saturn Cycling.|
The 2003 Nature Valley Grand Prix began yesterday, taking place in four different locations in Minnesota. With a purse of $22,000 for the men’s combined races and $16,000 for the women, this is surely a carrot to induce the best of the best to attend.
The newly crowned U.S. National Champ defended his jersey well Thursday, but not well enough to hold off a determined Navigators squad who were out to show that they are just as strong as Saturn.
Riding a three-man break into Virginia, Minn., during the inaugural Iron Range Road Race, the first stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, Ciaran Power of the Navigators found his legs in the final sprint to beat Mark McCormack, who finished third right behind newly turned professional Adam Bergman of Jelly Belly in the 96-mile race from the shores of Lake Superior.
"My third place was not what I was hoping for, obviously," McCormack said. For Power, though, the day was right on target. "It worked out pretty good for me," he said.
While Power claimed the spoils of the day, at the finish it sounded like the race actually belonged to Bergman, a Minnesota native who just signed with Jelly Belly on Monday. In his first professional race, he actually led into the last corner trying to outsprint the two seasoned professionals.
"It was obvious he was really, really strong," Power said. "It took a lot for me to get around him."
"He's got a good future in American racing if he sticks with it," McCormack said. "It's great to see someone like that stick his neck out there. He could have sat in a lot more, but he didn't."
The crowd, and Bergman, took the second-place finish as a victory. "It really means a lot to me," said Bergman, of Lino Lakes. "It gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the weekend."
The race started out on a slow climb from Two Harbors, Minn., a small shoreline community just up the road from the shipping port of Duluth. With a 2-percent grade, the riders slogged their way through the first 17 miles to the first sprint. At that point, Bergman, Navigators' Henk Vogels, Saturn's Tom Danielson and Murray Carter of the Twin Cities amateur team Flanders Bros. broke from the pack, with Vogels taking the points.
The four stayed away, joined soon after the sprint by Power, McCormack, 7-Up/Maxxis' Oscar Pineda, Bianchi/Grand Performance's Paul Ellis and Broadmark Capital's Doug Ollerenshaw. With two Saturns and two Navigators in the break, the nine stayed out for most of the race, building a lead of 1:30 halfway through the race.
The decisive break came with 20 miles left as the group entered the only hilly part of the course in Evelth, Minn., with their lead back down to around 40 seconds.
"It was inevitable," McCormack said of the break, describing the other six riders as tired. "I figured it was better to get the situation under control."
"I saw McCormack jump and then Power, and I just tried to sit in and hang on," Bergman said.
By the time the trio entered Virginia for 7 laps on the 1.6-mile finishing circuit, their lead was back to 70 seconds, and they weren't letting it drop. McCormack said he thought he had to the legs to win, but a cramp in his right leg on the back stretch of the last lap prevented him from finding his form.
Power will take the leader's red jersey into the 6-mile time trial along the newly created Mesaba Trail from Gilbert to Virginia Friday morning before heading for a circuit race in downtown Minneapolis Friday evening. Vogels, Power's teammate, will wear the sprinter's jersey while Bikesource/Whole Foods' Steve Tilford will wear the white jersey for the best amateur.
On the women’s side, the national criterium champion, Tina Mayola-Pic, put herself in the right breaks in the inaugural Iron Range Road Race, the first stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix, to come into Virginia, Minn., with seven other riders for a 7-lap, 1.6-mile circuit finish that played to her strengths.
The women's field was an impressive one, with Saturn, Victory Brewing, Rona, T-Mobile, Nurnberger, Diet Rite, Jamba Juice, and America's Dairyland all fielding strong teams. The first stage for the women was a 61 mile effort bringing them from the small town of Hoyt Lakes to the quaint town of Virginia. Although a relatively flat looking profile, the actual roads rolled up and down, combining for a steady worth of effort over the course of the 61 miles. The race finished on seven laps of a criterium style course through downtown Virginia, which would later prove challenging for the officials as the groups that had formed out on the road merged and combined.
"It was really hard to tell how it would play out," said Mayolo-Pic, who finished ahead of TDS Telecom's Sarah Ullmer and Saturn's Katie Mactier in a sprint finish. "Saturn was really driving hard."
With three riders in the initial 14-women break, Saturn’s Manon Jutras, Amy Moore and Mactier controlled the final eight riders that broke on the hills coming out of Eveleth four miles from the finishing circuit. The Saturn trio led most of the laps around circuit, but in the end were only able to put Mactier in third.
"It was a great team effort," Mactier said. "We set the race up really nice for the next couple of days."
The race started out slowly, with most initial breaks shut down for the first 15 miles. Not until after about 40 miles did a break form that looked to hold, and it held for the rest of the race. "I was kind of scared," Mayolo-Pic said. "I looked around and saw all the Saturn and Rona racers and thought, ‘Oh my.’"
"I was a little surprised to see it form," said Ullmer, who finished second in the race. Of the 14 to break, Ullmer was one of eight to have no teammates in the break.
Early after the break formed, it became clear that the presence of the Saturn women along with three riders from Ron-Esker would lead the break to the finish. Saturn animated most of the race, making sure few in the break just sat on.
"I knew I wasn’t just going to get way with sitting on," Mayolo-Pic said. "I would drift back a little to see who was, and each time I did Katie was there telling me to pick it up."
The break built a lead of more than 1:30 coming into Eveleth, a small mining community that makes up the Quad Cities of the northern iron range in Minnesota, when Equipe Nurenberg's Margaret Helmsley tried to break away from the group on a short, steep climb. The break failed, and Saturn along with Ullmer countered, stringing the 14 out as they went through the center of the town heading down hill. As they hit the next hill, the last of the day about six miles from the finishing circuit, the group split into two, with Saturn leading the final eight.
As they came down the straight before the final corner, Jutras and Moore had popped, leaving Mactier to fight for herself. "She had to go from the four corners out [1.5 km from the finish]," Mayolo-Pic said.
But the perfect wheel did not belong to the Diet Rite rider. That belonged to T-Mobile’s Dotsie Cowden. "Dotsie had the perfect wheel," Mayolo-Pic said. "I was just able to power past her."
"Cowden was in good position on the last corner, but we knew she was not a strong finisher," said Diet Rite’s director Al Boucher.
With the win and time bonuses, Mayolo-Pic took the red leader’s jersey heading into the time trial on Friday morning on the Mesaba Trail from Gilbert to Virginia. However, she said she knows Saturn will be on strong for the time trial.
"They have such a strong team of riders," she said, expecting Ina Teutenberg to show her talents on Friday. Ullmer takes the sprinter's jersey into the time trial.
1. Tina Mayolo Pic - Diet Rite
2. Sarah Ulmer – TDS
3. Katie Mactier – Saturn
4. Karen Bockel – RONA/Esker
1. Ciaran Power – Navigators
2. Adam Bergmann - Jelly Belly
3. Mark McCormack – Saturn
4. Marty Nothstein – Navigators
5. Ivan Dominguez - Saturn