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Bernard Van Ulden broke the UnitedHealthcare lock on the Nature Valley Grand Prix Saturday when he won the Menomonie Road Race from a long breakaway.
Van Ulden (Jelly Belly-Kenda) was aggressive in the closing circuits and beat Jesse Anthony (Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth) and Jay Thomson (Bissell) to the line at the end of the 100-mile fifth stage.
“Coming into the circuits here, I was dying a thousand deaths,” said Van Ulden. “I started cramping and I knew I didn’t have the legs to go against the sprinters so I figured my best chance was going to be either keep it together and try not to lose time because I was relatively high up there on GC, or to try to get off the front.”
Yellow jersey Robert Förster (UnitedHealthcare) was in the field, far enough behind the leaders that officials did not allow them onto the finish circuits. With an eight-second time bonus at the finish, Anthony, who started the day fourth overall at 33 seconds back, assumed the race lead.
“It felt pretty good; it’s been a while,” said Anthony of seizing the overall lead. “Just like we approach every other hard race that suits our abilities, we looked for opportunities to make the race hard and isolate the leader. … We just used our team’s strength to our advantage and it worked out well.”
The Menomonie circuit is arguably the toughest of the five-day National Racing Calendar event, with almost constant rollers, including four significant enough to hold King of the Hills points. UnitedHealthcare had owned Nature Valley until Saturday, winning every stage and placing multiple riders on the podium each day. That wouldn’t be so at the end of Saturday.
“It’s been tough to follow those guys around in the crits all week, but we knew today and Stillwater were opportunities to use the strengths we have,” said Anthony. “We were definitely looking forward to today and tomorrow to really be aggressive.”
Anthony’s KBS squad knew the first opportunity came on the day’s second rated climb, Star Hill. A five-rider breakaway that included Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home), Kyle Wamsley (Bissell) and Matt Cooke (Exergy) was almost two minutes up the road when hey took to the front of the peloton and drilled the pace.
“We just attacked when we could, as hard as we could,” said Anthony. “(Jason) Donald took a massive 1km suicide pull over the top and I was dying just to stay on his wheel. I was afraid to look back — I was just staring at his hub.”
That acceleration split the field, with 13 riders making the group. Among them were three KBS riders – Anthony, Marsh Cooper and Andrew Bajadali. Also there was UHC’s Rory Sutherland, second overall at 18 seconds. Sutherland, the three-time defending champion, was the only UHC rider in the move, however. Förster was not.
Frank Pipp and Andy Jacques-Maynes were there for Bissell. Third overall Tom Zirbel made the split for Jamis.
That group caught the original breakaway and when a chase group caught on with Van Ulden, Thomson, Reid Mumford (Kelly Benefit Strategies) and Jamey Driscoll (Jamis), the selection was made.
The 17 leaders, representing all of the big teams, rolled hard toward the start/finish in Menomonie over Oak Ridge Hill and the K&P climb, plus a battering array of non-stop ramps. With Sutherland the virtual leader and his UnitedHealthcare squad showing their criterium acumen the entire week, his rivals knew they had to strike while he was isolated. The attacks came fast and hard from the Continental GC contenders.
“Sitting in the group there and seeing who’s there and being pretty isolated was a pretty difficult situation to be in to come up with a game plan to counteract what’s going to happen,” said Sutherland. “When you’ve got a lot of guys following you to make sure you don’t get in there and counterattacking it makes it difficult.”
When Sutherland covered a move near the entrance to the finish circuits, Anthony countered. Van Ulden, Thomson, Amaran, Andres Diaz and Fred Rodriguez (Exergy) and Heath Blackgrove (Elbowz) joined him, and with most of the teams in the 17-man group represented, the chase fell on Sutherland’s shoulders.
“Most of the teams are in there. Once the ship sails, it’s sailed,” said Sutherland. “They were trying to put it to me and it was a success.”
Sutherland pulled the chase for a while, but the gap wouldn’t come down and he relented.
The leaders entered the finish circuits with an advantage of more than two minutes. And despite a number of attacks in the last two laps, they went to the line with a lead of more than four minutes over Sutherland’s chase.
Van Ulden, one of the main aggressors in the finale, took top prize and Anthony fought hard for second and the valuable bonus seconds. His result gave Anthony the leader’s jersey, 12 seconds ahead of Van Ulden and 37 seconds ahead of Diaz on GC.
“We have a great team to defend the jersey,” said Anthony. “I feel like I really have only two guys I have to watch. … The team’s ready to step up and has been riding awesome all week. Tomorrow’s going to be a full team effort.”
- 1. Bernard Van Ulden, Jelly Belly-Kenda, 3:49:43
- 2. Jesse Anthony, Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth, at 0:02
- 3. Jay Thomson, Bissell Pro Cycling, at 0:02
- 4. Andres Diaz Corrales, Team Exergy, at 0:04
- 5. Luis Romero Amaran, Jamis Sutter Home, at 0:04
- 1. Jesse Anthony, Kelly Benefit Strategies-OptumHealth, 8.46:41
- 2. Bernard Van Ulden, Jelly Belly-Kenda, at 0:12
- 3. Andres Diaz Corrales, Team Exergy, at 0:37
- 4. Luis Romero Amaran, Jamis Sutter Home, at 0:40
- 5. Heath Blackgrove, Elbowz Racing, at 1:22