Evans Wins – Shelley Evans (center), representing Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12, took advantage of her sprint and climbing abilities to capture the yellow jersey in the 2010 Nature Valley Grand Prix. Evelyn Stevens (left), won second riding for HTC Columbia, followed by Ruth Corset, Team TIBCO. Photo by Matt Moses.
by Cynthia Lou
Today was an exciting day in women’s bike racing filled with aggressive attacks throughout the 13 laps of a 1.5 mile criterium race that included the infamous Chilkoot Hill and its 18% average-grade climb. Shelley Evans and her team Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12 stamped their determination on the race by driving the tempo from the beginning, eventually landing her in the winning breakaway group ahead of Linda Villumsen (HTC-Columbia), who wore the yellow jersey coming into the stage.
“We had a plan to keep the yellow jersey with Linda [Villumsen],” said René Wenzel, team director for HTC-Columbia. Villumsen started the stage with an 11 second advantage over Evans. “But we also knew it wasn’t her favorite course, the hill was a little too steep so we kept Evelyn as the plan B. The HTC Columbia girls are super happy about having been here. We won three stages – I don’t think we could ask for much more than that.”
“This race is a race of attrition, we knew we needed to make it fast and hard from the beginning” said Evans. “The front of the race is the front of the race, everything behind is just going back. We knew we had to make it hard, not to let people get into a rhythm and put the pressure on from the beginning, push the pressure on over the climb so nobody could get comfortable, so that’s what we did.”
The was a series of attacks from the beginning, with riders from HTC-Columbia, Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12, Colavita/Baci, Team TIBCO, and Webcor Builders at the front.
“We did as much as we could,” said Team TIBCO team director Emma Rickards. Team TIBCO sent many riders up the road on attacks including Meredith Miller, Brooke Miller, and Ruth Corset. “The girls had a great week of racing, with Ali [Starnes] winning the time trial and being in yellow for a couple of days. Criteriums are not her forte, so to see her maintain that jersey was really awesome to see. The girls had some great racing yesterday and today. It was awesome women’s racing to see the yellow jersey change around so much.”
By five laps to go, a five person break with a 12 second lead formed with Evans, Stevens, Villumsen, Erinne Willock (Webcor Builders) and Ruth Corset (Team TIBCO). On the way up Chilkoot Hill with three laps to go, Stevens launched the decisive attack that would set her up for the stage win. By the top of Chilkoot Hill Stevens had a slight three-second lead, and with two laps to go she had a 20 second lead over Catherine Cheatley (Colavita/Baci) and Ruth Corset (Team TIBCO), while Evans and her teammate Mara Abbott were 24 seconds back.
With one lap to go Stevens had 24 seconds on the chase, enough to put her in the virtual yellow. But the toll of being out solo took it’s toll. Evans, supported by her teammates, were able to close the gap down to just 12 seconds by the time they crossed the finish line. Villumsen finished the stage at just over one minute back.
“I’m marking this as number five,” said Kristin Armstrong, team director of Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12, referring to her own previous four victories on the bike, and today’s victory as director.
Last year, Evans was second to Armstrong, who won the Stillwater Criterium and the overall general classification.
In true form, the Nature Valley Grand Prix seems to be the place where professional riders are groomed and leave their stamp on the professional circuit.
This year, Evans stands atop the podium in GC, while Stevens stands atop the podium as the stage winner.
“I did this race last year, I think this was my first or second pro-/NRC race,” said Stevens. “It’s nice to see the improvement from a year ago.”
“I raced here in 2008 with the Ryan’s Colegiate All Stars Team,” said Chloe Forsman (Specialized D4W/Bicycle Haus), winner of the Nature Valley Top Amateur Rider Jersey.
“This is the first time I’ve finished more than half of this race, so, I’m pretty stoked about that!” Forsman laughed. “I knew it was going to be a matter of how long I could suffer with the group up the hill and then trying to stay together on the false flat and not lose any wheels on the flatter sections.”
Brooke Miller won her first big NRC race at Nature Valley in 2006, “when I was just a pup!” she laughs. “I love [Stillwater]! And you’re talking to someone who, the first two times I raced it, when the officials pulled me off I thanked them. It’s really hard but it’s just so fantastic!”
The final podium included Linda Villumsen in the Fruit By The Foot Best Young Rider Jersey, Team TIBCO atop the best team general classification, Evans in the Wheaties Sprint Jersey, Mara Abbott (Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12) in the Jelly Beans Sport Beans Queen of the Hills Jersey, and Evelyn Stevens in the Freewheel Bike Most Aggressive Rider Jersey.