Nature Valley TT goes Merckx-style

Nature Valley Grand Prix is banning aero equipment at its opening time trial, to even the playing field.

The Nature Valley Grand Prix will go back in time in June after announcing Sunday that organizers will disallow the use of aero equipment in the race-opening St. Paul Time Trial.

Nature Valley Grand Prix executive director David LaPorte announced the decision to disallow TT bikes Sunday after conferring with team managers planning to be at the start on June 16.

“The decision was made partly to simplify logistics for the teams and partly out of fairness,” LaPorte said. “We have a time cut in the time trial to ensure that no one loafs to stay fresh for the criterium that night. But in the past, we have had some strong riders cut primarily because they did not have time trial bikes. We have also had some riders in the past who haven’t competed because of the expense of bringing two bikes, particularly with the outrageous charges the airlines are imposing.”

LaPorte was uncertain Sunday of the extent of the new regulation and whether it would outlaw clip-on aerobars or disc wheels. According to the statement, “The Nature Valley Grand Prix will work with USA Cycling officials to spell out the specific restrictions regarding aero equipment (wheels, helmets,etc.), which will ultimately appear in the race bible.” Races that have
similarly disallowed TT bikes, like the Tour of Qatar and 2008 Tour de Georgia, have also outlawed the use of bar extensions and disc wheels.

Jelly Belly-Kenda director Danny Van Haute supported the decision to go Merckx-style at Nature Valley. “Not everyone can buy time trial equipment and if the pro teams have this equipment, it’s not fair to the riders who don’t,” he said. “I’ll bet the results will be the same with time trial bikes as they would be without.”

Team Vera Bradley Foundation Director Lisa Hunt said it is disappointing for her team’s bicycle sponsor not to be able to showcase its time trial bikes.

“However, in the interest of being fair and equitable for all parties all involved, I support the decision,” she said. “Clearly, our strongest time trial riders will strong on a road bike or a time trial bike. So it’s not like we are at a disadvantage.”

While the decision drew mixed reaction from the peloton, LaPorte was confident that the new rule would not significantly impact the final overall standings.

“The time trial is only six miles and the last mile is an eight-percent climb,” he said. “Also, with the new road race in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the seconds gained or lost in the time trial are likely to be insignificant. Unlike the old Mankato road race, this course will be very hilly, with lots of opportunities for aggressive teams to shatter the pack. If big time gaps don’t form, it will likely be because the teams haven’t taken advantage of the terrain.”

In 2009, Rory Sutherland attacked in the last lap of final stage to edge Tom Zirbel, who held the jersey from his stage 1 time trial win, by three seconds in the overall. Kristin Armstrong led the women’s race wire-to-wire, securing the overall win after taking the opening TT.

The 2010 Nature Valley Grand Prix kicks off June 16 in the Twin Cities with the St. Paul Time Trial and Criterium. The five-day, six-stage race  concludes June 20 with the Stillwater Criterium.