June 15, 2006 — TEAm Lipton’s Kristin Armstrong continued dominating the time trial discipline by taking the first stage of the Great River Energy Bicycle Festival’s Nature Valley Grand Prix.
The current U.S. National Women’s Time Trial Champion finished the Saint Paul Riverfront Time Trial in 9 minutes, 25 seconds, six seconds ahead of the defending Nature Valley Grand Prix champion Christine Thorburn, who finished in second at 9:31.
“The field is really deep this year. We have riders coming from places as far away as Australia and New Zealand,” Webcor/Platinum Builder’s Thorburn said before the time trial.
Armstrong seemed to sense the importance of the day’s event. “I think it is important to go out and put up a strong time today. There are several tough stages ahead,” she said prior to taking the starting ramp.
Armstrong added that the short 4.5-mile stage made posting a good time even more important. This is her first time at the Minnesota five-day stage race, but other TEAm Lipton riders told her the race is won with time bonuses.
Thorburn, who wore the leader’s jersey for five straight days last year, is all too aware of that.
“I actually finished four seconds faster this year than last,” Thorburn said after the race. Even though she was disappointed with the second place finish, Thorburn found something to smile about. “My teammates are happy, it means they don’t have to protect the yellow jersey.”
Thorburn was very excited for several of her Webcor/Platinum teammates who posted solid times, including Erinne Willock, who finished just outside of the podium with a 9:49. It was enough to capture the white BMC Best Young Rider Jersey, though.
In third place was Alison Powers of Rio Grand/Sports Garage at 9:45.
Stage winner Armstrong also was quick to praise her teammates. “There is no room for error out there, so I give a lot of credit to my teammates who went out before me. They offered tips on how the wind was blowing and in an event like this, every second matters.”
Armstrong now will don the yellow leader jersey as the Nature Valley Grand Prix heads to the Cannon Falls road race for the second stage. The Nature Valley Grand Prix, the first of three races in the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series, runs through Sunday.
O’Neill Smokes Field — Men’s Report
by James Lockwood
Waiting for an hour after posting the fastest time, Navigator Insurance’s Bernard Van Ulden just shook his head as Health Net/Maxxis’ Nathan O’Neill blazed through the finishing chute to post the winning time.
“I knew he would go fast,” Van Ulden said. “If I had beaten him, you would have seen me doing back flips down the street here.”
Still, the second year pro was good enough for second place at 8 minutes, 42 seconds, and he was the only rider who would spoil a Health Net sweep of both the podium and top five in the first stage of Great River Energy’s Nature Valley Grand Prix.
“It makes a statement,” O’Neil said of both his win and the team’s performance in the St. Paul Riverfront Time Trial along the Mississippi River. The Australian national time trial champion beat Van Ulden by 13 seconds, coming in at 8:29, and stayed ahead of Greg Henderson, Karl Menzies, and Gord Fraser enough that he may be able to hold onto the leader’s jersey for a bit.
That trio came in separated by about a half second, with Henderson clocking 8:48.52 and Fraser coming in at 8:49.07.
Whether the intermediate and finishing time bonuses are enough to pass the jersey around the team or he keeps the jersey, O’Neill said it is nice to have the options.
“The other three guys [on the team] behind me are all sprinters. It gives us a lot of options,” O’Neill said.
“It puts us in a pretty good position,” Fraser said.
Health Net’s director sportif Jeff Louder was pleased with O’Neill’s and the team’s performance, but he wasn’t surprised.
“Whether we are riding on good spirits or on the form from racing the past couple of weeks, it doesn’t matter. It is finally good to be building some momentum,” he said. With Henderson’s wins at Mt. Hood, Reading and Philadelphia, O’Neill continues Health Net’s success in the past couple of weeks.
However, Louder said given competition at this year’s Nature Valley Grand Prix in the men’s field — with several of North America’s top teams fielding full squads — he was not as assured as his riders that the team would keep the jersey. “The big dynamic here are the time bonuses,” he said.
Van Ulden, who raced Nature Valley last year with only three other teammates, said this year having a full team will change the nature of the tactics for the team, as well as not having to defend the jersey going into stage two.
“I am not here to sit on some wheels,’ he said. “I’m here to make something happen.”
Whether that means taking the jersey in stage two is another story. Navigator’s director sportif Ray Cippolini said on paper the 58.6-mile road race in stage two looks like a sprint fest, but he noted in the country, elements can play a big role.
“There’s a lot of racing to be done yet this week,” Cippolini said, not tipping his hat to any strategy the team may have to disrupt the Health Net momentum.
Frankie Andreau, directing Toyota-United in its first appearance at the Minnesota stage race, was a bit more direct about tactics heading into the week. “You focus more on a stage win,” he said while sitting with his rider, Stefano Barberi, who walked away with the BMC Best Young Rider’s jersey as well as the sixth fastest time at 8:58.
The Nature Valley Grand Prix heads to the Cannon Falls, Minn., on Thursday for a 58.6-mile road race for the second stage before returning to the Twin Cities for the Minneapolis Downtown Classic criterium on Friday. It finishes on Sunday in Stillwater, Minn.
1 Nathan O’Neill (Health Net pb Maxxis) 8.29.79
2 Bernard Van Ulden (Navigators Insurance) 0.12.88
3 Greg Henderson (Health Net pb Maxxis) 0.18.73
4 Karl Menzies (Health Net pb Maxxis) 0.18.81
5 Gordon Fraser (Health Net pb Maxxis) 0.19.91
6 Scott Nydam (Rio Grande/Sports Garage) 0.22.58
7 Doug Swanson (Nature Valley Racing Team) 0.24.55
8 Reid Mumford (ABD) 0.27.07
9 Kirk O’Bee (Health Net pb Maxxis) 0.27.78
10 Stefano Barberi (Toyota-United) 0.28.58
94 Martin Gilbert (Kodakgallery.com/Sierra Nevada) 1.15
1 Kristin Armstrong (TEAm Lipton) 9.25.39
2 Christine Thorburn (Webcor-Platinum) 0.06.57
3 Alison Powers (Rio Grande/Sports Garage) 0.19.89
4 Rachel Heal (Victory Brewing Team) 0.21.24
5 Kori Seehafer (TEAm Lipton) 0.22.75
6 Erinne Willock (Webcor-Platinum) 0.23.99
7 Katie Mactier (Argon 18/Champion Systems) 0.25.51
8 Sue Palmer-Komar (Colavita/ Cooking Light) 0.30.09
9 Tina Pic (Colavita/ Cooking Light) 0.31.26
10 Charm Breon (Cheerwine) 0.32.57
12 Felicia Gomez (Webcor-Platinum) 0.35.51
18 Alex Wrubleski (Team Biovail) 0.40.44
19 Betina Hold (Webcor-Platinum) 0.40.50
23 Anne Samplonius (Team Biovail) 0.47.18
25 Leigh Hobson (Victory Brewing Team) 0.48.71
36 Joelle Numainville (Team Biovail) 0.56.86
40 Karol-Ann Canuel (Equipe du Quebec) 0.59.80
41 Joanie Caron (Equipe du Quebec) 0.59.93
43 Gina Grain (Colavita/ Cooking Light) 1.05.0
55 Emilie Roy (Equipe du Quebec) 1.13.79
58 Stephanie Bourbeau (Team Biovail) 1.15.50
67 Julia Bradley (Team R.A.C.E.) 1.20.00
74 Jennifer Trew (Team Kenda Tire) 1.24.93
75 Kirsten Robbins (Victory Brewing Team) 1.25.04
100 Marie-Pier BÃ©dard (Equipe du Quebec) 1.40.07
114 Tara Ross (Victory Brewing Team) 1.55.23