Nature Valley Grand Prix began bright and early this morning with a time trial to start our double day. While an early morning wake-up call isn’t always welcome, we are lucky we went as early as we did because some of the men, who raced after us, were forced to ride in the rain. The entire women’s field rode in dry, clear conditions.
Due to construction, the time trial course was significantly altered from years’ past. No more uphill time trial to sort the riders ahead of the three crits and two road races. Instead, we raced a very straight forward out and back course along the river. No aero equipment of any kind was allowed. As you see in the photo above, it was strictly road racing set-ups for the time trial.
There was nothing technical or difficult about the stage. It was a pure power course lacking any features to sort the field. The winner was the one who could stomp on their pedals the hardest for 7.7 miles. Today, that was my former teammate Carmen Small (Optum Health p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies).
I didn’t have a great day. I went into the time trial lacking any real expectations and aware that having done only one other time trial this season (the uphill time trial in Vail ten days ago) put me at a disadvantage. Although I lacked expectations, it’s hard not to feel disappointed when I’m not happy with my result at the end of a race. I finished in 25th place, 1: 15 down on Carmen. We actually didn’t have a great showing as a team. Our highest placed rider was Amanda Miller in 18th place. It was definitely a bit of a let down.
We were done racing by 10AM and headed back to our host housing where we would eat, nap and otherwise relax ahead of the St. Paul criterium. We lined up tonight for our 28 lap race wanting to be aggressive and make something happen. Unfortunately, neither Optum nor Exergy wanted to allow anything to go up the road. Carmen was going for the intermediate time bonuses and Jade Wilcoxson was racing for the sprint jersey. Exergy was keen to keep things together for Theresa Cliff-Ryan. With two major teams doing everything they could to keep things together, it was hard to get a move up the road. Not that we let their plans stop us from carrying out ours.
We launched repeated attacks. Megan Guarnier and Amanda each attacked a few times. I went up the road twice, and Lyndsey Meyer took her turn, too. Other than our attacks, it was pretty quiet tonight. In addition to Exergy and Optum looking to shut everything down, it was really windy. I think that nullified several attempts and dampened spirits. I knew before the stage even started that it was super unlikely a break would stick – but I was still surprised that more people didn’t try.
Although the crit was quiet, it was as sketchy as usual. This course includes gaps in the concrete, potholes, a section of brick road and tight corners – it’s pretty treacherous. A lot of women here are decently strong but lack experience in racing technical crits. These two factors taken together – the roads and the riders – can occasionally lead to disaster. Today, most people kept it upright.
The race ended in a bunch sprint. I did what I could for Sam Schneider in the finish, but I think I ended up dropping her a bit too early. I pulled off with about half of a lap left to race, and I should have hung on closer to the finish. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to hold the wheel ahead of me, and I thought she was better off on a sprinter’s wheel. Having spoken to her post race, I now realize that she could have used my help until the last corner – that she would have preferred my wheel instead of fighting for someone else’s. In the end, Sam managed ninth in the sprint. Theresa Cliff Ryan (Exergy Twenty12) took the win ahead of Leah Kirchmann (Optum Health p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies). Carmen rounded out the podium and easily retained her race lead.
Not the best start to the five days of racing, but nothing too terrible. With the time gaps on the overall, we may have the chance to race more aggressively than we would have if we were currently sitting up higher in general classification.
Official race reports from each stage (along with full results) can be found on the Nature Valley Grand Prix website: