The Midwest state of Minnesota became saturated with spandex-clad cyclists this past week, as the North Star Bicycle Festival hosted the next stop on the USA Cycling Pro Road Tour. A lack of a UCI-rating did not deter the top domestic male and female racers from showing Minnesota what they are all about.
The concurrently held men’s and women’s North Star Grand Prix featured six stages over five-days, creating a week full of exciting racing. The event culminated with the Stillwater Criterium, which tackles the famed Chilkoot Hill and its 18% grade.
Stage 1: St. Paul TT (8km/5mi)
In the men’s race, perennial time trial powerhouse Tom Zirbel (Rally Cycling) was the only rider to go under the 10-minute mark with a time of 9:59.310 and entered the evening criterium wearing the yellow jersey.
“It’s short enough and straight enough that you gauge your effort over 10 minutes and make sure you’re completely exhausted at the end,” Zirbel said of the course. “None of the corners are technical. It’s just about feeling good on the day.”
Aaron Beebe (Bissell-ABG-Giant) edged out Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) by one-hundredth of second to secure second place on the stage.
Brianna Walle (Team TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank) took the victory in the women’s race by less than a second over her teammate Lauren Stephens with a time of 10:55. Australian Lauretta Hanson (Colavita-Bianchi Racing) rounded out the podium in third, 26 seconds behind.
“In previous years I tended to go out too fast on this course,” Walle, who finished third in 2013 and second in 2014, said. “Looking at power, that’s a 20 watt difference. This year I rode it smarter, paced it better and made sure I wasn’t going out too hard. I was hungry for this win today.”
Stage 2: Downtown St. Paul Criterium (Men: 40 laps Women: 28 laps)
Cylance-Incycle took the men’s race by the horns and controlled the peloton for the last 15 laps of the 1.2km circuit to deliver Justin Williams to victory. Williams outsprinted current U.S. national criterium champion Brad Huff (Rally Cycling) and Bryan Gomez (Gateway Harley-Davidson Trek) to take the win. Zirbel successfully defended his lead in the general classification.
“We came together in the end and held it on the front long enough for [Rally Cycling] to take over,” Wiliams said. “We can’t really drag race Danny Pate and Tom Zirbel, so we figured they’d come around eventually. We decided to take the front just to keep me out of the scuffle and out of the trouble and I just basically got to relax at the front.”
Two major crashes, the latter coming with two laps remaining, forced race officials along with team directors to call off the women’s race.
Race leader Walle agreed with the decision. “It made sense to me,” Walle said after the race. “Both crashes were pretty bad. There was so much disarray and nerves that it was safer to call it quits. There were still people down on the road, so it was a good decision.”
Stage 3: Cannon Falls Road Race (133.7km/83.1mi)
Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) won stage three ahead of breakaway companion Julio Padilla (Team Arapahoe Resources) after an early crash caused a stoppage in racing. Huff won the field sprint six seconds behind Padilla to claim third place. Zirbel safely defended his overall lead for another day.
A massive crash involving over half the peloton just four miles into the race caused many teams to rethink their race strategy, including Rally Cycling who lost two riders to the crash.
The race paused for 20 minutes as medical resources focused on fallen riders, and the caravan was not able to advance since the carnage spread across the width of the road.
In the women’s race, which was delayed and shortened by 12 miles (19km) due to the crash in the men’s race, Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) demonstrate her sprinting prowess. Rivera took the victory by more than a bike length over Kimberly Wells (Colavita-Bianchi) and Erica Allar (Rally Cycling). Walle finished safely in the pack to defend her lead in the general classification.
“The [finishing] circuits were fast and hard so that was good for us,” Rivera said. “We were able to come together as a team at the end and I was happy to seal the deal.”
Stage 4: Uptown Minneapolis Criterium (Men: 35 laps Women: 24 laps)
The evening fourth stage criterium did not disappoint in providing aggressive racing in Uptown Minneapolis.
Williams took his second stage win of the week, as race leader Zirbel crashed in the closing stages of the race. Huff took third on the stage and a six-seconds time bonus to take the yellow jersey from his teammate, as Zirbel was awarded the same time as the peloton. Alfedo Rodriguez (KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo) finished second on the stage.
“There was a little bit of disrespect of Tom and the yellow jersey following my wheel,” Huff said. “Tom was trying to protect my wheel. Because Tom had to double up his aggression to keep his position he ended up crashing himself. When I heard Tom went down and I knew I had to just stay up there and I had to stay in position for possible stage win.”
Skylar Schneider (ISCorp Cycling p/b SmartChoice MRI) claimed stage four in the women’s race. The 17-year-old, still competing on junior gears, out sprinted Rivera. Samantha Schneider, Skylar’s sister, held on for third place after leading out her sister.
Walle held onto her leader’s jersey for another day.
“We didn’t have the numbers we were expecting up at the front so we had to be a little bit more patient, but it ended up playing out in our favor,” Schneider said.
Rivera was gracious in defeat stating, “If anyone was going to beat me today I’m happy it was Skylar. She deserves it. I remember when I was that punk kid who beat senior riders with regular gears. I’m really impressed by her.”
Stage 5: North Mankato Road Race (Men: 156km/97mi Women: 124km/77mi)
Joseph Schmalz (Elevate Cycling) won stage five out a breakaway, as Huffman and he attacked at the start of the finishing circuits and managed to hold on all the way to the line.
The duo’s advantage at the finish plus bonus seconds were enough to put Huffman in yellow by 26 seconds over his teammate Huff.
“It was one of those things where [Schmalz] was going to start sitting on to try to win and I wanted to get as much time as possible,” Huffman said after the stage. “The best situation was to make an agreement to ride as hard as we could otherwise we start playing games and on a finish like that where it’s slightly uphill we could have gotten caught just in the last [kilometre] if we started playing around.
“I just committed and rode all the way to the finish and gave it to him. I think it was the smart play to get the jersey.”
Joelle Numainville (Mission Health) held off a surging Samantha Schneider and Rivera to take the win by a slim margin in stage five. The Canadian champion attacked with 11 kilometres remaining and held off the fast closing peloton, winning by 10 seconds.
“I just wanted to have an aggressive race and make the most of it, so I attacked twice,” Numainville said. “I’m really happy with how I raced.”
The general classification remained unchanged with Walle still in the yellow jersey.
Stage 6: Stillwater Criterium (men: 23 laps, women: 14 laps)
Stillwater hosted a fantastic criterium to finish out the 2016 edition of the race. The 2.25km/1.4mi course is made famous by the finish atop the 18% grade of Chilkoot Hill.
Huff powered to victory in the men’s race despite being dropped on many of the laps, as Orlando Garibay (Cylance-Incycle) and Steve Fisher (Canyon Bicycles- Shimano-Specialized) completed the podium.
“I was getting dropped every lap,” Huff said. “I would go through this rotation where I would get dropped, and by the top of the hill I would make my way back up into the group behind Danny [Pate]. Then I’d get dropped, then I’d make it back to Danny. I would do that lap after lap to position myself for the hill, then at the end I just dug deep.”
The Minneapolis-based Rally Cycling swept the final podium with Huffman, Huff, and Zirbel finishing 1-2-3 in the general classification.
Ellen Noble (North Memorial) took a stunning victory out of a breakaway to win the final stage of the women’s race. Noble beat-out Heather Fischer (Rally Cycling) and race leader Brianna Walle on the final charge up Chilkoot Hill.
“I gave it my all to get the victory for him,” Noble said, dedicating the win to her late father. “I’m beside myself.”
Walle sealed overall victory after successfully defending the yellow jersey for all five days of racing.
“For me, this race is sentimental,” Walle said. “Four years ago, I won Best Amateur through the Pro Chase program and now I’m in yellow. It’s pretty cool. This is the biggest win of my career. Last time I was in yellow was with the US National team in the Czech Republic, so this is a big deal.”
Men’s Top 5 Overall
1. Evan Huffman (Rally Cycling) 10:24:55
2. Brad Huff (Rally Cycling) +18”
3.Tom Zirbel (Rally Cycling) +27”
4. Nicolae Tanovitchii (Lupus Racing) +31”
5. Joseph Schmalz (Elevate Cycling) +38”
Sprint: Justin Williams (Cyclance-Incycle p/b Cannondale)
KOM: Andrew Dahlheim (Team Arapahoe Resources)
Best Amateur: Ayden Toovey (Subaru NWIS & MS)
Best Young Rider: Ayden Toovey (Subaru NWIS & MS)
Team Classification: Rally Cycling
Women’s Top 5 Overall
1. Brianna Walle (Team Tibco-Silicon) 8:07:27
2. Lauretta Hanson (Colavita/Bianche Racing) +40”
3. Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) +40”
4. Heather Fischer (Rally Cycling) +48”
5. Samantha Schneider (ISCorp Cycling p/b SmartChoice MRI) +55”
Sprint: Sophie Mackay (Supermint Hagens-Berman)
QOM: Erica Allar (Rally Cycling)
Best Amateur: Kathryn Buss (Medical Collegiate All Stars)
Best Young Rider: Lauretta Hanson (Colavita-Bianche Racing)
Team Classification: Rally Cycling