The stage 3 Cannon Falls road race at the North Star Grand Prix saw the day’s winners also take over race leadership in both the men’s and women’s fields on Thursday.
Crosswinds caused havoc and shook up the general classification in the men’s peloton. Two teams, Optum and Jamis-Hagens Berman, took advantage of the conditions to force a split and stack a select lead group that made it to the finish line.
Canadian Ryan Anderson (Optum) took the stage win and the yellow leader’s jersey from his teammate Tom Zirbel. Cuban rider Luis Amaran (Jamis-Hagens Berman) was second on the stage, with New Zealand’s Heath Blackgrove (Boneshaker D1 Racing), third.
“I don’t think I ever went behind, and I found myself in all the front splits,” Anderson said. “And then with 60 kilometers into the race we had the whole team together, it was blowing pretty good through the first feed zone and we just decided to try to split up the race there. Jamis was sitting right with us, so the two of us really committed and that caused the big split of the day and then we rolled it.”
Anderson has a 16-second lead on Amaran, with Blackgrove down another second. Four riders each, from Optum and Jamis-Hagens Berman, sit in the top 10 of the general classification, separated by one minute and one second. Team SmartStop lost its GC hopes with Eric Marcotte’s early crash, and Travis McCabe fading from the lead group.
Amaran was expecting the winds to be a factor but was surprised to see the resulting shake-up. “On a day like this, when it’s so windy, it’s something that I could expect, but what we didn’t expect is that it would be pretty much only two teams in the group — but we were ready for it,” Amaran stated, via translation from his teammate, Ian Crane.
The winds ramped up the nerves in the peloton at the start of the 97-mile road race, causing a few early crashes. The field had to be neutralized after an early gravel section, but the aggressive racing resumed six miles into the stage. One such crash involved Marcotte, the U.S. national road champion, who was second in the general classification going into the stage. Marcotte was never able to catch back on to the front of the race and finished 37 minutes down.
Small goes big
In the women’s race, Small and her Specialized-lululemon teammates put in a smart race on the long and windswept Cannon Falls course, letting the teams with greater numbers of riders battle it out for breakaways. Her decisive kick up the finishing hill to the finish line, from five riders back, gave her the stage win and with it a 12-second time bonus, which put her in the yellow leader’s jersey.
Alison Powers (UnitedHealthcare) started the stage 10 seconds ahead of Small, but finished five seconds behind her on the stage. Powers now stands at second place on the general classification, at seven seconds back.
The strong winds and long distance made this a race of attrition, with a third of the peloton falling off the lead pace within the first several miles of the 97.1 mile rural course. An early group of 20 contained all eight members of the UnitedHealthcare team as well as five Optum riders, three Specialized-lululemon riders, and two each from teams TIBCO and Vanderkitten. UnitedHealthcare was sure to stay on top of every attack, launched mostly by TIBCO and Optum, with support from Specialized-lululemon.
A chase group of nine riders trailed behind the lead group of 20 for about 18 miles, hovering at 40 seconds back. The two groups eventually merged after the first feed zone, 39 miles into the race, as the lead group’s momentum was broken and UnitedHealthcare showed signs of wear from the wind.
Once merged, all but two riders from the chase group stayed on. It was this selection of 27 riders that made it through into the finishing circuits at Cannon Falls.
A break consisting of Ally Stacher (Specialized-lululemon), Annie Ewart (Team Optum), Sharon Laws (UnitedHealthcare), and Olivia Dillon (Colavita-Fine Cooking) gained a one-minute advantage at mile 75. Gillian Carleton (Vanderkitten) bridged up to this group, and the quintet entered the final circuits together. This break was caught in the first lap of the four laps of the finishing circuit.
“I stayed calm and collected because it can be a really stressful situation,” said Small of her effort in the final few laps. “I knew that UHC had done so much work that they wouldn’t be able to do a leadout like they had been doing the last few days, and I used that to my advantage.
“I had a plan about how I wanted to do the sprint, I had that in my head, I had Tayler [Wiles] helping me out getting me up to the front in good positioning and she hit it pretty hard coming into the finish. Then I took a run at everyone, I went from fifth wheel, right where the course flattens out before the hill I kicked really hard and passed everyone in the field.”
Stage 2 winner Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare), and Leah Kirchmann (Optum), rounded out the podium in second and third place respectively.
Racing continues on Friday with an evening criterium in Minneapolis’ dynamic Uptown area, a neighborhood of trendy shops, bars and restaurants located just south of downtown near the chain of Minneapolis lakes.