World road champion Giorgia Bronzini won her third stage at the Nature Valley Grand Prix Sunday, coming around Evelyn Stevens at the top of Chilkoot Hill for top prize in the Stillwater Criterium.
Stevens (HTC-Highroad) led an elite group of 12 riders over the climb nearly every lap and on the final ascent Bronzini (Colavita-Forno D’Asolo) closed an early gap and came through for the win. Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) was third.
Stevens, Amanda Miller and Ally Stacher rode the front on the climb to protect the overall lead of teammate Amber Neben, who locked up the final leader’s jersey when she came through for sixth on the day. Erinne Willock (Tibco-To the Top) finished behind Armstrong atop Chilkoot to defend her second-place GC standing.
“I didn’t really have to do anything but just watch them,” Neben said. “It went according to plan. I’m proud of them, they rode really well this week. I have the yellow, but really, we all won.”
Added Stevens: “Amanda rode great today. We were able to work together to set Amber up and keep her in yellow, and we almost took a stage win at the end. But with a GC victory we’re happy, it’s what we came here to do.”
And Bronzini? “I have no words for Evie (Stevens) — she made the race,” the world champion said, laughing. “I tried to save my power for the last climb because I came here with all of the best climbers and I’m a sprinter. So I tried only to follow (wheels) and save my best sprint for the final.”
Thirteen laps and 14 climbs of the 20-percent Chilkoot Hill faced riders on the fifth day of the National Racing Calendar event. The 71 starters dwindled to around 30 over the opening six laps before a split drove a wedge in the race on the climb.
HTC made the front group in a big way — Neben, Stevens, Miller, Stacher and Chloe Hosking all made the split. Bronzini, Willock and her Tibco teammate Joelle Noumainville, Armstrong, Kaytee Boyd (BikeNZ National Team) and Jade Wilcoxson (Nature Valley Pro Ride) were there too.
“Ally, Amanda and Chloe raced their hearts out,” Stevens said. “Amanda and Chloe took it on the back, then I would take control on the climb. I think it was perfect teamwork – no one could get away. It was really exciting.”
Behind the leaders, 14 riders gave chase led by a collection of Colavita riders pulling for third-overall Leah Kirchmann and best young rider Rushlee Buchanan. As the leaders smashed up Chilkoot with five laps remaining, the chase went backward and wouldn’t stop.
Stevens, Miller and Stacher were a three-woman wrecking crew in the yellow-jersey group. Lap after lap, Miller and Stacher took the front of the group on the backside descent and pulled hard to the base of the climb.
Then Stevens took over, driving an unrelenting pace on the wall, watching over her shoulder for Neben and the GC rivals.
Willock and Armstrong never appeared to be in trouble, but could not escape the hard pace. With four to go Boyd and Miller hit the base of the climb hard, gapping Willock by a bike length. She and Neben fought hard to close the gap with Armstrong behind them in the middle of the group.
With two to go, Stevens replaced Miller on the front of the group. When Armstrong jumped hard at the base of the climb, she split the group, but when they arrived to the base of the descent a half lap later, they were back together. That wouldn’t be so on the bell lap.
Stevens led the penultimate climb of Chilkoot until Armstrong surged on the left side of the road. The acceleration caught Bronzini out and she dug to close the gap, Neben on her wheel. Stevens took the leaders down the descent and they arrived to the base of the climb for the final time as five: Stevens, Armstrong, Bronzini, Willock and Neben. Three riders chased at four seconds.
“I wanted to sit and let Highroad do their work to protect the jersey,” Armstrong said. “I knew two minutes would be too much to gain today so we went for the stage win for the team. I tried my best, I tried to go with two to go but everyone out there was really strong. I just couldn’t get that extra acceleration.”
In a bid to both repeat her 2010 stage win and keep Neben’s rivals at bay, Stevens jumped on the low angle base of the climb, gapping Armstrong by 20 feet. Halfway up the climb Stevens was slowing, but Armstrong and Bronzini were coming back.
The world champion spun a rabbit’s cadence on a low gear and came by Stevens on the right. Armstrong was pinched on the left and watched as Bronzini raised her arms for the third time in Minnesota. Stevens held on for second, Armstrong on her wheel.
Neben came through at the back of the group to secure the GC win, her first at Nature Valley.
“It was a great ending to a great day today with the GC win from Amber,” said HTC-Highroad sport director Ronny Lauke. “That was our goal for this race and the girls worked hard to achieve it.
“We wanted to ride the whole criterium hard and fast but steady, and the girls were amazing to watch. All five of them really rode to perfection.”
- 1. Giorgia Bronzini, Colavita-Forno D’asolo-Cooking Light, 51:14
- 2. Evelyn Stevens, HTC-Highroad, at 0:01
- 3. Kristin Armstrong, Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12, at 0:03
- 4. Erinne Willock, Team Tibco-To The Top, at 0:04
- 5. Jade Wilcoxson, NVGP Pro Ride, at 0:04
- 1. Amber Neben, HTC-Highroad, 8.04:25
- 2. Erinne Willock, Team Tibco-To The Top, at 0:19
- 3. Kristin Armstrong, Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12, at 0:49
- 4. Ally Stacher, HTC-Highroad, at 1:06
- 5. Evelyn Stevens, HTC-Highroad, at 1:10