Mankato, MN -Team TIBCO's national road and criterium champion Brooke Miller earned a hard-fought 3rd place in Stage 5 of the Nature Valley Grand Prix Saturday, the notoriously difficult Mankato Road Race.

In what Team TIBCO directeur sportif Jeff Corbett described as a "bizarre day," Miller took her podium spot out of a break of six riders that formed about 90km into the 134km stage. The break benefited from a game of chicken in the peloton, with Team Type 1, which missed the break, looking to race leader Kristen Armstrong (Cervelo Test Team) to chase, while Armstrong waited for TT1 to start the chase to protect 2nd overall Alison Powers.

The game went on long enough for the break to open a gap that neared four minutes at its largest, before Armstrong finally started to give chase, with Miller the birtual race leader on the road.

"Even when they hit the finishing circuits with 12km to go, the gap was still out over three minutes," Corbett said.

The finishing circuits - four trips around a 3km circuit including about 1.6km of climbing that averaged 14% - proved decisive. Alexis Rhodes (Webcor), who had attacked at the same time as Miller to establish the break, rode off solo, dropping Miller and Dotsie Bausch (Jazz Apple).

"The circuits were hard for me," Miller said. "I'm not well suited for this kind of course. It hurt going up that hill. For climbers, it's fine. For sprinters, not so good. But I love this stage, even if the circuit isn't suited for me."

Miller's move was a counter attack of a move that contained TIBCO's Julie Beveridge, and was the culmination of another day of aggressive riding by Team TIBCO.

"We started attacking about 20km into the stage," said TIBCO's Joanne Kiesanowski. "At one point, after one of the turns into a crosswind section, we tried to line it up and see if we could splinter the field, but the crosswinds weren't strong enough today."

Instead, the team put Brooke Miller, Meredith Miller, Amber Rais, Emma Rickards and Beveridge on attack patrol, which Kiesanowski, Katharine Carroll and Lauren Tamayo - the team's highest placed riders on GC - remained protected in the peloton, conserving energy for the hard finishing circuits.

"We wanted to keep pressure on Armstrong, and Team Type 1," Kiesanowski said.

While the tactics worked for Team TIBCO, one of the unintended beneficiaries was Webcor, which was basically going for broke after a disastrous Stage 3 crash took pretty much their entire team out of contention for the overall.

"Alexis and I attacked at the same time," Miller said. "I just grabbed her wheel and we drove it together. I really didn't think it would stick."

Bausch and Kelly Benjamin (Colavita) soon joined the duo, while Olivia Dillon (Nature Valley Cycling Team) and Nicole Evans (Value Act Capital) chased for 32km before finally catching the break.

"Once the break was established, Jeff called me off so I could rest up for the circuits," Miller said.

After hitting the circuits, Benjamin, Evans and Dillon dropped off on the first climb. Miller hung in and attacked the remaining duo on the downhill and got a gap. But on the second time up, Rhodes caught and dropped Miller, leaving her and Bausch to fight it out. On the third circuit, Miller attacked again on the downhill and dropped Bausch, but the Jazz Apple rider was able to catch and pass Miller on the final trip up and over and hold on for 2nd place. Miller finished about 0:40 behind Rhodes.

Behind them, Armstrong was making a frantic chase to maintain her hold on the yellow leader's jersey, trying to reduce the gap enough to also account for the 0:15 time bonus Rhodes got for the win. She did so by 0:11 ahead of Rhodes, with Powers now 3rd overall, still 0:12 behind. Miller's move earned her a big jump up to 5th overall, 0:32 behind Armstrong after gaining 2:02 on the race leader, plus a six-second time bonus on the line.

Carroll took advantage of the other teams chase efforts to attack on the final circuit, opening up a gap and gaining a few seconds on the rest of the field. She sits 6th overall, 0:48 back, while Kiesanoswki holds the 8th overall position.

Team TIBCO will have one more chance to gain back time on their rivals with Sunday's Stillwater Criterium, featuring the notoriously steep and painful Chilkoot hill.

Last year, Kiesanowski finished 3rd in the final stage. "It's a really hard course," she said. "The racing is on straight from the gun."

Photo (c) Jason Mancebo