Featured Stories

Nature Valley Grand Prix Interviews w/Ramsden, Numainville, Jackson and Erker + PHOTOS

by Amy Smolens

June 19, 2013 (Minnesota) – Pedal recently caught up with Canada’s Denise Ramsden and Joelle Numainville both with Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies, at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, their last race before the 2013 Road Nationals. We also chatted with Optum’s General Manager, Jake Erker (a Canuck as well) and Team Tibco’s founder Linda Jackson, one of Canada’s all-time cycling greats.

Just before Stage 5, the Menomonie Road Race, we caught up with Ramsden, 22, the reigning Canadian road champ, who eventually finished a strong 12th overall in the pro women’s GC and just missed out on the TRIA Orthopedic Best Young Rider jersey, which she relinquished to Tayler Wiles (Specialized-lululemon) on the final stage. Her teammate, Jade Wilcoxson, finished second overall.

Denise Ramsden  – Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies – TRIA Orthopedic Best Young Rider, 9th on GC @ 1:18 behind Jade Wilcoxson

Denise, you’re in a good battle with Tayler Wiles (Specialized-lululemon) out there for the White Best Young Rider Jersey. Is that something that you keep in the back of your mind despite the fact that your team is in Yellow with Jade Wilcoxson?
Denise Ramsden: Oh, I think we also keep an eye on her because she can still be a threat to the Yellow Jersey. If that means I keep White, that’s great, but definitely the Yellow is the main focus.

But you don’t get to wear your beautiful Maple Leaf jersey and even if you were to lose it today, tomorrow’s a criterium!
DR: I know, I’m kind of sad because today would have been my last day getting to wear the Canadian Road Champion Jersey before we go to Nationals next week so, yeah.

Take it out tomorrow and show us, but hopefully you’ll keep this jersey.
DR: Yeah, hopefully I’ll still have the White.

Talk about how well your team is riding. You were out there on a solo break for a long time in the Stage 4 Minneapolis Uptown Crit, Jade is in Yellow, Brianna Walle leads the QOH – the team has shown a lot of depth and strength. How much confidence does the team have?
DR: We have eight girls and every one of ’em could ride a break and over half the team could take a sprint win so we have a lot of options, it’s great.

Good luck today.
DR: Thanks.

Next we spoke with Erker, before the start of the penultimate Stage 5. He was gunning for his squad to defend the title in the event, but amateur Travis McCabe (Elbowz Racing p/b Boneshaker Project) upset the favourites. Team Optum was able to keep the deficit manageable so teammates Friedman and Zwizanski still are 1-2 on GC. The top 7 on GC remained the same, so one stage is left to see if the Optum men can make it three straight overall victories at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

Jake Erker – General Manager, Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies

You have Mike Friedman in Yellow, Jesse Anthony and Tom Zirbel have taken Yellow in this stage previously, and you have Scott Zwizanski in 2nd on GC. You have multiple options here so how do you play it?
Jake Erker: Yeah, I think we have three guys that are still in contention so we have multiple cards. Obviously we don’t care who wins the race, as long as it’s one of us, but we do feel the pressure, because we’ve won the last two years. This is our hometown race for Optum, the team is based in Minnesota. Hopefully we come out on top today. The race the last two years has been reduced to six riders (per team) so it makes it more difficult to defend and the field this year has a little bit less glue in it so it’s riskier when you let something go up the road.

There isn’t as much l backup, there aren’t as many other teams that have interests and as much horsepower to bring something back if we’re in a tight spot.

What are you hearing about the weather out there?
JE: I don’t know, I heard something about a big storm coming in a couple hours. Friedman said he wants it to rain, he doesn’t like it hot, so he’ll be happy. Well, somebody will be.

Thanks and good luck.
JE: Thanks.


Stage 6 – Stillwater Criterium

For those of you who are new to the Nature Valley Grand Prix, you may not know that the Stillwater Criterium isn’t your typical crit. It’s more like a sadistic circuit race – the women race 13 laps of a brutal loop, climbing the infamous Chilkoot Hill with its maximum 21% grade 14 times. No pancake-flat downtown sprintfest for this stage!

Jade Wilcoxson (Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) had worn the yellow jersey since Stage 2, with both Carmen Small (Specialized-lululemon) and Shelley Olds (Team TIBCO) lurking behind her. Olds had pulled back eight seconds from Wilcoxson by way of a time bonus on Stage 5, so coming into the final stage she sat just one second behind the race leader. If she could take back two seconds on the day’s challenging course, Olds would repeat her overall victory from 2010.

What a surprise it was for me to walk up to the Team TIBCO compound pre-race and see team founder Linda Jackson, one of Canada’s all-time cycling greats. She had flown in the night before give the team a bit of added support.

Linda Jackson – Founder, Team TIBCO

To what do we owe this appearance here?
Linda Jackson: Nature Valley’s one of my favorite races to come and see the team, it’s such a great race. (Race director) Dave LaPorte’s done an awesome job and Stillwater’s just an incredibly goose-bumpy, spine-tingling race to watch so I just couldn’t miss it.

Your team did a great job yesterday and helped pull Shelley Olds to within one second of the lead. With what you know about this Stillwater course and what you know about Shelley can she take that one second and more to win the race?
LJ: I think she can. Optum’s an incredibly strong team, I have a lot of respect for (team director) Rachel Heal and what she’s done for the program. It’s gonna be a fierce competition out there. I believe in Shelley, I believe in Claudia (Häusler – 6th on GC), I believe in our team and it’s going to be really exciting to watch.

Back to you – I know you had an accident a few months ago. Tell Pedal readers what happened and how you are recovering.
LJ: I was hit by a car going 30 miles an hour – I was going north and this woman was going south and she took a left turn right in front of me. I had 14 broken bones including vertebrae, scapula, ribs and a shattered wrist with both wrists broken. Now it’s 4-1/2 months later and I’ve actually been on my bike four times. So I’m really excited to be back – I thought I was going to be terrified to ride my bike and I am, so I do a lot of trainer work (laughs). But one of these days I’ll get back on the road and in groups and keep on doing that – I love my bike too much to stay off it.

Glad you’re back and good luck to the team today.
LJ: Thanks.

Joëlle Numainville – Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies – 4th on GC @ :29 behind teammate Jade Wilcoxson

How much energy did you and your team spend yesterday chasing Team TIBCO and trying to keep Jade in yellow?
Joëlle Numainville: Oh, it was a long day. But you know, I think it was not too much. We were hoping for a break but I guess it didn’t work out. It was a pretty hard race and I was dead by the end. But whatever, it’s a good race.

And now you have to go up this killer Chilkoot Hill 14 times…
JN: It’s not 13 times?

Well, the race starts at the bottom, you go up the hill, then you do 13 laps, so you actually climb the hill 14 times…
JN: Oh, yeah, that’s true… I forgot about that.

How hard is it gonna be for you and your team to keep Shelley from getting two seconds from Jade?
JN: I think we’ll be fine. I personally really like this race so I think we’ll be fine. It will be hard but I feel confident that we’ll have a good result as long as Shelley doesn’t take the overall. I think it will be pretty challenging but that steep hill, it’s kind of fun to do it, you know? It’s like Philly but a little bit more times. No, I like it!

And everyone on the team is riding well.
JN: Yes, we have a pretty good team so I’m confident, it’s not like I’m stressing out going into the race.

But now you know that you have to go up the hill 14 times.
JN: Yeah, but everybody’s tired – TIBCO’s tired too…

I’m tired just thinking about it…
JN: Ha, yeah, everybody’s tired.

The race worked out well for Team TIBCO and impressed the boss. Claudia Häusler and Joanne Kiesanowski finished 1-2 on the day out of a small break. The Yellow Jersey group was together on the final lap when disaster struck the woman in Yellow. Jade Wilcoxson overcooked the turn before the final ascent of Chilkoot and crashed badly, losing skin, time, and her victory in the process. Olds sprinted up the hill into 5th place on the stage and the Yellow Jersey, repeating her accomplishment of three years earlier.

Linda Jackson – Founder, Team TIBCO

Wow, that was impressive teamwork that you displayed.
Linda Jackson: That was just an impressive show of teamwork. When Jo (Kiesanowski) marked that Specialized-lululemon move (by Ally Stacher and Tayler Wiles) and got in that break I thought that was perfect for us because now Optum would have to work. And then to see Claudia bridge across to it was textbook perfect. And Manel (LaCambra, Director) was up there helping them and giving them strategy and tactics. It was just fantastic, it couldn’t have worked any better, it was a great race.

And overall – kind of a tough way to win it, but Shelley does come out with the Yellow Jersey.
LJ: You know it’s unfortunate that Jade crashed but I have no doubt in my mind when I saw Shelley fly up that hill that she would have won the overall. I mean, you never know, of course, but Jade took the corner too hot and you never like to see a crash but I’m confident Shelley would have won.

So how good an overall win is this for the team leading to the upcoming races?
LJ: Oh, it as a great win for the team, it was phenomenal. They’re really coming together, we head to the Giro now and I hope that we have some good results in Italy as well.

LJ: Thanks.

Good to see you!
LJ: You, too!


The men’s race was a little more straightforward. The men raced 20 laps and ascended Chilkoot Hill 21 times. Mike Friedman (Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) had 37 seconds on his teammate, Scott Zwizanski, and another second on Elbowz Racing p/b Boneshaker Project’s Andres Diaz. But with this course, even 38 seconds isn’t a lock… but Optum surrounded their leader, kept him safe and kept the pace high. They neutralized every break and as usual, the Stillwater stage was a race of attrition. Friedman placed 2nd to super sprinter Juan Jose Haedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman p/b Sutter Home) out of a decimated lead group to lock up his first U.S. Stage Race victory ever. This was the 3rd straight win for this Minnesota-based squad, following Jesse Anthony’s victory in 2011 and Tom Zirbel’s last year.

Jake Erker – General Manager, Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies

Everyone always says that bike racing is a team sport and it’s not always obvious. but today and all week it was obvious that Team Optum helped and protected Mike Friedman.
Jake Erker: Beyond protection, it was all week, setting up the situation that we had. We definitely created the situation where Mike had the time gap in order to win the overall. It was a comfortable margin for a race like this, given the strength of our team and you could see the guys setting up on front just sort of bringing back any moves that were dangerous and we just sort of worked through our guys, saving some for the finish who would be instrumental to Mike at the end. And then Mike got second in the stage, he solidified his position, showing everyone how strong he was – but without everybody else it still wouldn’t have been possible.

Three in a row for your team at this race – how important is that to win again in the home state of your team and your sponsors?
JE: Yeah, it’s really important. This is the home town of Optum and the team is based in Minneapolis so it’s very important for us to do well at this race. We had a little bad luck with the women. Honestly I think that we had that sewn up, too, but Jade crashed in the corner and she went down pretty hard. So we’re feeling for her and we’re excited for the men – it’s a little bittersweet today.

What’s next for you?
JE: A little bit of a break now for the guys. We also have the men coming home from Korea, they just wrapped up there, where Eric Young won two stages. And now everybody gets a little break until BC Superweek, the Tour of Delta is UCI this year so that’s an important objective for us. Then we move on to Cascade and then August as you know is super busy, with Elk Grove, Utah, Colorado and then Alberta and possibly Europe in the fall.

What about Canadian Nationals?
JE: We’re going to have Marsh Cooper and Sebastian Salas, and we’re also bringing Ryan Anderson back on board, who was with us for two years – so he’s coming back aboard, his first race will be Nationals with us next weekend.

Thanks, sounds good. See you down at the podium!
JE: Thanks, you bet!

Final GC Men here.
Final GC Women here.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.