Tom Zirbel (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) won the North Star Grand Prix, and Fabrizio Von Nacher (KHS-Maxxis-JLVelo) won the Stillwater criterium, the final stage of racing, as his fellow breakaway companions Ben Hill (Donkey Label Racing) and Kevin Girkins (Elbowz Racing Team) took second and third respectively.
The break formed early in the 23-lap race. Five riders were off the front by the second lap, but within one lap only Von Nacher, Hill, and Girkins were left. They hovered between 50 seconds and 1:15 ahead of the field for the majority of the race. Optum controlled the front of the race, chasing down a few bridge attempts but otherwise holding steady and keeping Zirbel protected.
“This course is all about positioning,” said Zirbel. “The team kept it as low-stress as possible for me, neutralizing the attacks that were dangerous for me by slowly ramping it up. I think the teams here know that my team was really strong so that discouraged any attacks by GC threats. It was about as low-stress as I could have hoped for. No mechanicals, no crashes. I was pretty happy with that.”
Though Zirbel and Von Nacher came away from Stillwater and the infamous Chilkoot Hill with its 18-percent average grade as winners, neither consider themselves to be climbers.
“I’m a sprinter,” said Von Nacher. “But I have been losing some weight this past month so, I have been working it.”
“One of the main reasons I went into the break was because Fabrizio [Von Nacher] was there,” said Girkins. “If he won all three (KOM), and I won none, he would have passed me by one point. So him going into that break was my motivation. Just being [in the break] alone was my way to seal it up. The first KOM [sprint] I had to fight for. After that they pretty much let me set pace.”
Bryan Gomez (Champion Systems-Stan’s NoTubes) sealed up the points classification, despite crashing several laps into the race. His teammate, Fabio Calabria, worked with him to chase back to the field after the crash, but the crash took its toll on Gomez and he and Calabria were eventually pulled.
“Fabrizio [Von Nacher] not getting the [KOM] jersey made him really want the stage win so he started to sit on a little bit,” said Girkins. “I just really wanted on that podium so I just drove it the last lap to try to keep that gap open as long as possible.”
Hill attacked the break to extend the lead over the field. The trio finished just a few seconds ahead of the peloton, which contained Zirbel, Nicolai Tanovitchii (Jelly Belly-Maxxis), and Kaler Marshall (Canyon Bicycles-Shimano). Tanovitchii won the best young rider’s jersey and best amateur jersey; he was also third overall. Mac Brennan (Hincapie Racing) finished second overall.
Chris Winn (GS Ciao) was awarded the most aggressive rider jersey for his bridge attempts. Carmen Small (Elbowz Racing Team) officially finished the North Star Grand Prix as the only woman to ever race in the pro men’s field.
“It was a shock, that first lap,” said Small. “I knew today I probably had to dig the deepest out of all the days to make it. The steeper it gets the bigger the difference in power with the men and women. So many parents brought their young kids to take pictures with me.
“Being a role model for these young girls is incredible. That’s something that you don’t think much as an elite athlete. You don’t think that you’re a hero of these young kids but you are and you don’t notice it until you are up there doing this kind of stuff so that was really an incredible experience.”