The Nature Valley Bicycle Festival got its start in 1998, when the Lance Armstrong Foundation approached David LaPorte and asked for help to create a Twin Cities replica of the popular Austin, Texas-based Ride for the Roses. LaPorte launched the Tour de Wings in 1999. The two-day event featured a criterium in Saint Paul, around the grounds of the state Capitol, and a track race at the National Sports Center Velodrome.
In 2000, Great River Energy became a major sponsor and the event was named the Touchstone Energy Bicycle Festival. Track racing at the NSC Velodrome featured a four-day EDS Cup and the criterium moved from the state Capitol to downtown Saint Paul.
Nature Valley Granola Bars joined as a festival in 2001 and a new road race stage was added. Great River Energy sponsored the U.S. Track National Championships during the festival, which attracted capacity crowds at the National Sports Center and the festival made its first charitable donation to Camp Heartland.
From 2002 to 2006, the festival grew into a major annual Minnesota sporting event. Renamed The Great River Energy Bicycle Festival and Nature Valley Grand Prix, new venues and communities got involved, ultimately making the festival a six-stage race over a five-day period. Stillwater, Minn., became the marquis criterium of the event featuring an epic climb up Chilkoot Hill. In 2003, a stage was added in Minneapolis, which made the Friday Night Minneapolis Downtown Classic the most widely attended stage of the five-day Nature Valley Grand Prix.
The Nature Valley Grand Prix also became a key race for professional women as the field tripled in size and teams began seeking registration months in advance. The popularity of the event helped the Nature Valley Grand Prix rise to become the most important women’s stage race in North America.
In 2007, the Nature Valley Grand Prix became the top level stage race on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar. Organizers also launched a women’s Collegiate All-Stars team, the first of its kind in the nation. Most recently, both the men’s and women’s races became invitation only events, topping out at 140 female and 140 male riders. Nature Valley also added a national talent identification program, the Nature Valley Pro Ride, which selects two teams of six men and six women at qualifier races held in the U.S. attend and compete as part of the Nature Valley Cycling Team.
The Nature Valley Bicycle Festival featuring the Nature Valley Grand Prix continues to be a top professional event anticipated each year by bicycling enthusiasts from around the country.