Cliff-Ryan Sprints To Second Stage Win At Nature Valley Grand Prix
Optum seemingly had the race in hand with four laps to go after reeling back Megan Guamier of Team TIBCO on a breakaway. Guamier had tried the same tactic in St. Paul.
But Small, without Kirchmann to lead her out for the final laps, decided to pull her other riders off the front and see if she could sneak onto the podium on her own. Kirchmann finished the race but was too far back to help.
“With a lead out, we can definitely win,” Small said. “But we missed Leah. We don’t have another true sprinter. I didn’t want the girls to do a bunch of unnecessary work just for me to get second or third anyway. I’m pretty confident I can get at least top three with other girls (from other teams).”
When Optum pulled back, Exergy jumped to the front.
“The girls felt the panic in the field,” Ryan said. “They gathered and we got to the front with three to go, and we strung it out. I was out of the cluster that had it strung out and going so fast that no one could pass me. They did an awesome job.” Optum still leads Exergy by 32 seconds in the team standings.
Defending overall champion Amber Neben of Specialized-lululemon, who learned she had been named to her second consecutive Olympic road team about two hours before the start, again chose not to mix it up on a close course with tight turns, just as she did in St. Paul. Neben dropped back after the opening laps and was never a factor, finishing 25th. She remained second in the overall standings 41 seconds behind Small.
“No disrespect to the race, but the Olympics only come around every four years, and if you get a chance you’ve got to put everything into that,” she said.
“Tonight was more about staying safe than anything. I just found a nice little pocket where I was comfortable, and I wasn’t having to fight too many wheels. That was just my priority tonight, staying safe. The other girls had all the freedom in the world they wanted to do during the race.”
So will she play Saturday’s 81.3 mile Menomonie Road Race safe too? Not quite. “I think we’ll race aggressive,” she said. “We’d like to get a stage win for the team.”
All four women named to the Olympic road cycling team on Friday are former Nature Valley champions or stage winners. Kristin Armstrong won the race four straight years from 2006 to 2009. Shelley Olds ended Armstrong’s run in 2010. Evelyn Stevens won the Stillwater stage in 2010.
Neben learned she made the team in an email from national team director Jackson Stewart.
“It kind of brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “I’m excited, I’m honored and I’m humbled, all at the same time.”
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About the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival
Now in its 14th year, the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival is an 11-day celebration of bicycling that includes amateur and professional racing and community events. The Festival will open on June 7-9 with the Minnesota Fixed Gear Classic at the National Sports Center Velodrome. The marquee event, the Nature Valley Grand Prix, will be held June 13-17. The stage race has become the top event on the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar, attracting top American and international racing teams and nearly 300 riders from around the world. The Festival is a volunteer-run event with all profits donated to Children’s Lighthouse of Minnesota. For more information, visit www.naturevalleybicyclefestival.com.
About the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar
Entering its 16thseason in 2012, the USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC) is a road cycling series sanctioned by USA Cycling. It is designed to provide a ranking system for all elite-level cyclists, both amateur and professional, through participation in the nation’s premier cycling events.
About Nature Valley
Nature Valley, the brand that created the granola bar category in 1975, brings variety to healthy, active consumers looking for wholesome and great-tasting snacks. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Nature Valley is part of General Mills, a leading global manufacturer and marketer of consumer foods products. For more information, visitwww.NatureValley.com.