Small, Zirbel to lead strong women’s, men’s fields
Defending Nature Valley Grand Prix women’s champion Carmen Small and men’s titleholder Tom Zirbel return to defend their titles when the 15th annual race rolls through central Minnesota and western Wisconsin next month.
The heart of the 10-day Nature Valley Bicycle Festival that features amateur and professional races and community events is the June 12-16 Grand Prix that concludes in Stillwater on Father’s Day Sunday. The Grand Prix is considered the most prestigious race on the men’s and women’s USA Cycling national racing calendar.
“This is an extremely talented field and we are excited to have several racers with international experience participate in the Nature Valley Grand Prix,” said David LaPorte, festival executive director. “It will give our fans a chance to see some of the world’s best athletes compete right here in the Midwest.”
The Nature Valley Grand Prix donated $30,000 to the Children’s Lighthouse pediatric hospice project last year. Visit www.childrenslighthousemn.org for information From 2003-2011, the Grand Prix raised more than $160,000 for Children’s Hospital Pain and Palliative Care Unit.
The Grand Prix starts with a June 12 time trial along St. Paul’s Mississippi River Boulevard and an evening criterium, or short circuit race, surrounding Rice Park in downtown St. Paul.
Cyclists then face a June 13 revamped and extended road race in and around Cannon Falls. Racers compete over a 93-mile course finishing with a circuit through Cannon Falls with three separate bridge crossings and a finish on the Cannon River.
That is followed June 14 with an evening criterium in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood.
The race moves to western Wisconsin June 15 for the Menomonie Road Race.
The Grand Prix concludes June 16 with the Stillwater Criterium that includes the 24 percent grade climb up Chilkoot Hill, the most difficult climb in North American cycling.
Who to Watch
- Team Specialized lululemon: Ranked No. 2 in the world. Includes Small, Taylor Wiles and Olympian Evelyn Stevens.
- Team TIBCO: Shelley Olds, 2010 Nature Valley Grand Prix champ and 2012 Olympian; Grand Prix veterans Meredith Miller and Amanda Miller
- Team Colavita: Tina Pic, six-time U.S. National Criterium champ; Lindsay Bayer, 2012 Nature Valley Pro Chase team member.
- Team OPTUM: Jade Wilcoxson, 2011 Nature Valley top amateur; Brianna Walle, 2012 Nature Valley top amateur, now a pro cyclist.
- Team OPTUM: Zirbel; Jesse Anthony, 2011 Grand Prix men’s champ; Scott Zwizanski, 2010 runner-up; Chad Haga, 2013 Joe Martin Stage Race winner, top-ranked U.S. Racer and 2011 Nature Valley Grand Prix Top Amateur.
- Team Jelly Belly: Fred “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez, four-time U.S. Champ. Won 2012 Minneapolis Criterium with teammate Brad Huff.
- Team Jamis-Hagens Berman: Juan Jose “J.J.” Haedo, Argentina, won the Joe Martin Road Race, been on the podium at three European grand tours, include third in Stage 5 of the Tour de France.
- Leon van Bon, The Netherlands, two-time Tour de France stage winner, 1998 and 2000; 1992 Olympic silver medalist; two Tour Dupont stage wins.
- Team Cash Call Mortgage: Cole House, first Native American pro cyclist; first American to win the Belgian U23 Gran Prix Waregan; won Stage 1 of Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, Calif.
Nature Valley Pro Chase
Winning man and woman in each of a series of nationwide amateur races get all-expenses paid invite to ride in the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Riders to watch include Emily Georgeson of Tomah, Wis., and UW-EC graduate; Anna Christiansan, a Michigan native training out of Portland, Ore., and Scott Giles, a U.S. Navy pilot from Maryland and Pro Chase winner from the Jefferson Cup.
The Twin Cities Bicycle Club will promote the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival by offering nearly 100 group rides to prepare recreational riders for the June 15 Gran Fondo in Menomonie.
- Gran Fondo: Lets riders experience the same challenging course the pros cycle.
- Spectator Ride: Participants travel by bicycle to view the pro race.
- Visit www.naturevalleybicyclefestival.com/Gran_Fondo to register for the Gran Fondo and Spectator rides.
Nature Valley Grand Prix 2012 men’s champion Tom Zirbel, left, and women’s champion Carmen Small will defend their titles in the 2013 Nature Valley Grand Prix June 12-16 at locations in central Minnesota and western Wisconsin, including the final race in Stillwater June 16. (Photo courtesy of Nature Valley Grand Prix)