Former champions, Olympians and local newcomers to compete in North Star Grand Prix

Shelley Olds of Team TIBCO, above, celebrates her victory in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, a cycling stage race which concluded in Stillwater on Sunday. (Contributed photo by Matt Moses)

Shelley Olds of Team TIBCO, above, celebrates her victory in the Nature Valley Grand Prix, a cycling stage race which concluded in Stillwater on Sunday. (Contributed photo by Matt Moses)

Top cyclists from across the country will converge on the Stillwater Criterium Sunday, June 15, for the culmination of the 16th annual North Star Grand Prix.

The North Star Grand Prix (formerly the Nature Valley Grand Prix) will be June 11-15 in central Minnesota and western Wisconsin. The North Star Grand Prix is the most prestigious race on the men’s and women’s USA Cycling National Racing Calendar.

The race starts Wednesday, June 11, with the morning time trial route along Saint Paul’s Mississippi River Boulevard and an evening criterium (short circuit race) surrounding downtown’s Rice Park. It continues with a road race in and around Cannon Falls on June 12, followed by an evening criterium in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis on Friday, June 13. Cycling teams travel east to Menomonie, Wis, on Saturday, June 14, for the Menomonie Road Race. The race concludes on Sunday, June 15, with the Stillwater Criterium, which includes a brutal 24-percent-grade climb up Chilkoot Hill, the most difficult climb in North American cycling.

The women’s race promises to be a battle as former Grand Prix champions Carmen Small (2012) and Amber Neben (2011) take on a strong field of women, including 2013 runner up Jade Wilcoxson. Team UnitedHealthcare makes its first appearance at the North Star Grand Prix with three strong veterans, Cari Higgins, Alison Powers and Lauren Tamayo, a 2012 Olympic silver medalist. Local teen Kelly Catlin, who placed in the top ten in a Junior World’s Competition last fall, will also compete against the pros.

On the men’s side, the team has filled with 150 riders, with 50 turned away. Team Optum will return with 2012 champion Tom Zirbel, 2011 Champion Jesse Anthony and 2010 runner up Scott Zwizanski. They’ll have stiff competition from Team Jelly Belly’s “Fast Freddie” Rodriguez, a four-time USPro champion who has also won several races in the grand tours in Europe and Team Jamis’s J.J. Haedo, an amazing sprinter who won all three criterium races last year.

“These are extremely talented fields and we are excited to have several racers with international experience and Team3M’s international team as well as local phenoms like 18-year old Kelly Catlin from Arden Hills and Mia Loquai from Hastings participate in the North Star Grand Prix,” said David LaPorte, executive director of the North Star Bicycle Festival. “It will give our fans a chance to see some of the world’s best athletes compete right here in the Midwest.”

New this year is the race’s name. The pro stage race was known as the Nature Valley Grand Prix from 2001-2013 because the title sponsor was the Nature Valley granola bar brand of General Mills. At that time, they positioned their brand as an energy bar for athletes. Because the energy bar category is now so cluttered, Nature Valley decided to reposition itself as a snack that can be taken along while enjoying nature. As part of this brand repositioning, it eliminated sponsorship of events in many competitive sports, including cycling.

The North Star Grand Prix is a part of the North Star Bicycle Festival. Now in its 16th year, the North Star Bicycle Festival is celebration of bicycling that includes amateur and professional racing and community events. The North Star Grand Prix attracts top American and International racing teams and nearly 300 top riders from around the world. Spectators can watch the races for free. Proceeds from the festival to go Children’s Lighthouse of Minnesota, a pediatric hospice project. For a schedule of events visit northstarbicyclefestival.com.

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