Evan Huffman and Brianna Walle captured overall victories at the North Star Grand Prix following Sunday’s Stillwater Criterium in Minnesota.
Huffman’s victory came as his Rally Cycling teammate and national criterium champion Brad Huff took the stage win on the 10-turn, 1.4-mile course. Huff employed a winning kick on the final climb of Chilkoot Hill that averages 18 percent.
Orlando Garibay (Cylance – Cannondale) and Steve Fisher (Canyon Bicycles – Shimano – Specialized) finished second and third on the stage.
Huff found himself behind the front group nearly every time the race hit that steep climb, but on the final lap (of 23) he was in the lead pack and went into the red while attacking on the slope.
“I was getting dropped every lap,” Huff said. “I would go through this rotation where I would get dropped, and by the top of the hill I would make my way back up into the group behind Danny [Pate]. Then I’d get dropped, then I’d make it back to Danny. I would do that lap after lap to position myself for the hill, then at the end I just dug deep.”
On the final lap, Huff’s teammate Tom Zirbel helped position him where he needed to be on a fast descent that led to the climb, with two narrow right turns in between.
From there, it was matter of Huff staying with the lead pack and timing his move just right.
“I just took a deep breath and knew that if I just hit it with all my momentum I might be able to get it,” Huff said.
Huffman kept himself as close to the front of the race as possible all day to prevent anyone from taking yellow from him. That included Joseph Schmaltz (Elevate) and Nicolae Tanovitchii (Lupus Racing Team), whose moves late in the race forced Huffman to counter.
“When Schmalz went the first time that was really, really hard,” Huffman said. “Then when Nicolae Tanovitchii went I had to follow that and I really suffered a lot. I had a buffer of 30-40 seconds but I didn’t want to have to use it so I didn’t have to panic up that finishing climb up at the end.”
Huffman’s overall time was 18 seconds faster than second-placed Huff and 27 seconds better than third-placed Zirbel.
Noble wins women’s crit
Ellen Noble of North Memorial won the women’s Stillwater Criterium in emotional fashion, dedicating the victory to her late father. Heather Fischer (Rally) and Walle (Tibco – Silicon Valley Bank) finished second and third on the final ascent up Chilkoot Hill.
“I gave it my all to get the victory for him,” Noble said. “I’m beside myself.”
Noble had a bit of luck on her side, as she hooked handlebars with another rider as the climb to the finish began.
“I powered down to untangle myself and that’s what surged me forward,” Noble said. “I attacked to get away and thought ‘oh my God, I’m in the lead.’”
Walle led the North Star Grand Prix wire to wire, taking the yellow jersey after the stage 1 St. Paul Riverfront Time Trial and holding it all the way to the top of Chilkoot Hill.
“For me, this race is sentimental,” Walle said. “Four years ago, I won Best Amateur through the Pro Chase program and now I’m in yellow. It’s pretty cool. This is the biggest win of my career. Last time I was in yellow was with the U.S. national team in the Czech Republic, so this is a big deal.”
Walle finished 40 seconds ahead of runner-up Lauretta Hanson (Colavita – Bianchi Racing) and third-place Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) on GC.