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Nature Valley cuts mens teams to six riders

The Nature Valley Grand Prix is hoping to shake up the men’s stage race in 2012 by reducing team sizes to just six riders. Organizers announced the change Tuesday.

“This change will shake things up and make the racing more exciting for the spectators,” said Micah Rice, USA Cycling’s managing director of national events. “With their focus on spectator experience, it’s not surprising that the Nature Valley Grand Prix was the first stage race to make this change. Smaller team sizes will also reduce the travel costs for the teams, a factor that played a big role in the development of the 2012 USA Cycling National Racing Calendar (NRC) and National Criterium Calendar (NCC).”

The race’s executive director David LaPorte consulted with Rice in deciding on the move. Limiting riders to using standard road bikes beginning in 2010, LaPorte is no stranger to innovation aimed at improving the competition in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul event.

“The Nature Valley Grand Prix has been a leader in bringing new fans into the sport,” said Jamis-Sutter Home director Sebastian Alexandre. “Reducing the team size will make the racing even more exciting for the fans. For the teams, it will be fun racing, that is for sure. With smaller squads, the teams and riders will have to carefully plan their race strategies and the overall lead could change after every stage. It will be a really big show.”

In a press release issued by the event, three-time U.S. road champion Fred Rodriguez (Exergy) also greeted the news warmly, saying the change should open up the racing in June.

“From my experience of races that run smaller teams, it creates more opportunities for everyone in the peloton,” Rodriguez said. “It’s harder for the big teams to take control and more riders have a chance. It also takes the predictability out of the top riders being on the podium. I see the winner being someone who is aggressive and willing to take a chance.”

Women’s teams will continue to field eight riders. LaPorte said the control that teams like UnitedHealthcare have exhibited in the men’s event has not impacted the women’s race.

“Team size has not been a factor in the women’s race,” said LaPorte. “The last time the overall winner was on a full team of eight was 2006. If we reduced the women’s maximum team size, all we’d be doing is forcing them to leave their development riders at home. One of our goals is to build women’s racing and excluding their future stars would have the opposite effect.”

The 2012 edition of the Nature Valley Grand Prix will take place June 13-17.

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