Alison Starnes (Tibco) yelled from the effort as she came across the hilltop finish line of the 6-mile time trial that opened the Nature Valley Grand Prix. She didn’t know it at the time, but the painful effort earned Starnes her first NRC win.
“I’m still kind of in shock,” Starnes said soon after the finish Wednesday, standing next to her coach Kristin Armstrong. (Armstrong directs the competing Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12, but personally coaches Starnes.)
Armstrong, who won Olympic gold in the Beijing time trial, had straightforward advice for Starnes.
“She told me to hurt,” Starnes said.
With about 5.5 miles of flat followed by a stiff 200-foot climb, Starnes’ pain lasted 14 minutes and 38 seconds.
HTC-Columbia rounded out the podium, with Linda Melanie Villumsen second and former Wall Streeter Evelyn Stevens third.
Villumsen said the hill was harder than she expected.
“We rode it in training and it wasn’t so bad,” Villumsen said. “But of course after 8 or 9 kilometers of racing it feels quite different.”
In the men’s race, Scott Zwizanski (Kelly Benefit Strategies) stormed the course in a winning time of 12:54. Two-time NVGP champion Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis) stopped the clock at 13:04 for second on the day. Zwizanski’s Kelly teammate Zach Bell placed third at 13:10.
“I rode well this past weekend, and knew I had good form,” Zwizanski said. “I‘m pretty confident lately in my TT . I’m not always the best at shorter ones, but I was hoping for a big finish today.”
Sutherland said he was content with his opening effort.
“Scott’s a good time trialist and a good guy as well, so finishing second to him is not a bad way to start the tour,” Sutherland said. “This race is very important for UnitedHealthcare, which is based in Minneapolis. It’s one of the most important races for us during the year.”
Sutherland enjoyed good form at the Amgen Tour of California, where he finished seventh overall — the best finish by a non-ProTour rider.
He is hoping to keep his California form going through this week.
“It’s difficult; you’ve got to find that happy medium of recovery and motivation,” Sutherland said. “After training all winter since October for the Tour of California, it’s a little hard to hold on for another month.”
In the Kelly camp Zwizanski is trying to hold on — to the leader’s jersey — for another four days.
“As a team, we always want to win the race,” Zwizanski said. “We have a few guys up there in GC so we will have options.”
Riders had few options in the “Merckx style” time trial, which prohibited aero bikes and gear in the spirit of fair competition with both UCI-registered pro teams and Cat. 1 squads racing at Nature Valley. Most riders used standard road bikes with tall aerodynamic wheels. Aero bars and helmets were not allowed. Most riders agreed the rule didn’t affect the final standings, as engines, not gear, won the day.
Racing continues Wednesday evening with a criterium in downtown St. Paul, just across the Mississippi from the TT course.
- 1. Scott Zwizanski Kelly Benefit Strategies in 12:55
- 2. Rory Sutherland United Healhtcare P/b Maxxis at 9
- 3. Zach Bell Kelly Benefit Strategies at 15
- 4. Bernard van Ulden Jelly Belly P/b Kenda at 23
- 5. Jeremy Vennell Bissell Pro Cycling at 23
- 1. Alison Starnes Team Tibco in 14:38
- 2. Linda Melanie Villumsen HTC-Columbia
- 3. Evelyn Stevens HTC-Columbiaat 5
- 4. Alison Powers Team Vera Bradley Foundation at 7
- 5. Ruth Corset Team Tibco at 9