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MINNEAPOLIS (VN) — The familiar figures of Jade Wilcoxson (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) and J.J. Haedo (Jamis-Hagen Berman) sprinted to victory on Friday at the Nature Valley Grand Prix Minneapolis Uptown Criterium.
Optum sent rider after rider off the front in the women’s race, forcing Tibco-To the Top and Specialized-lululemon to chase to protect their positions on the overall and score time bonuses for Shelley Olds and Carmen Small.
“The riders going off the front are all still within a minute of the lead so the other teams just can’t let them go and lap the field — they have to react,” said Optum director Rachel Heal. “That was the plan — leave the other teams to work until a lap to go.”
With two laps remaining Wilcoxson tucked in behind the Tibco train with just one teammate nearby and Small on her wheel.
“Lauren [Hall] was there, Lauren took care of me,” said the U.S. national road champion. “Things were kind of sketchy out there and I told her just to get me to the front and keep me safe. Forget about the sprint, let’s stay safe.”
Come the final lap, she said, “all my girls were up there, like a dream. I was on their wheel and from there on out it was a perfect lead-out.”
Wilcoxson took her second consecutive win and padded her GC lead with 13 seconds in time bonuses. Olds finished second on the day and collected two time bonuses, moving up a spot into second place overall at nine seconds back. Small finished third and sits third overall at 11 seconds.
In the men’s race, Optum ruthlessly chased down everything that moved on behalf of race leader Michael Friedman. Going into the final lap, he had a solid escort of orange helmets and took the lead diving into the final 90-degree, right-hand corner. U.S. national champion Fred Rodriguez (Jelly Belly-Kenda) sat second wheel with Haedo third.
“I wasn’t too worried about getting to that last corner first,” Friedman said. “I just had to be in the top three to the last corner so I could get across the line in one of the top spots.”
Coming out of that corner it was Haedo who packed the biggest punch of the bunch. The Jamis rider took his second win of the week ahead of Travis McCabe (Elbowz Racing-Boneshaker Project) and Friedman.
Haedo said Rodriguez “got in a little bit of trouble in the last corner. That’s why I got next to him out of the corner.”
“From then to the line, it was more like a drag race.”
In addition to taking third on the day Friedman placed first and second in the two time-bonus laps, adding valuable seconds to his overall lead.
“It was really, really chaotic,” Friedman said. “If you make a mistake, you’re going to crash. You’re bar to bar, going into a corner at 33 miles an hour. And you have five different teams vying for that last spot, going into that corner first. It’s a battle royale, man.”
Racing at the Nature Valley Grand Prix continues Saturday with the Menomonie Road Race, a hilly affair serving up 82.3 miles for the women and 101 for the men. The NVGP concludes Sunday with the Stillwater Criterium.