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Tvetcov, Small notch TT wins at Nature Valley Grand Prix

Reigning U.S. time trial champion Tom Zirbel finishes three seconds behind Tvetcov

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly-Kenda) upset national time trial champion Tom Zirbel (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) in the St. Paul Riverfront Time Trial, the opening stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix on Wednesday.

In a driving rain that left puddles all over the 7.7 mile course, Tvetcov finished in 16 minutes, 2.65 seconds, more than three seconds ahead of defending champion Zirbel (16:05.80). Cash Call Mortgage’s Chris Barton finished third in 16:15.17. Zirbel was the last of the 114 starters on the course, an out-and-back route on a winding bluff road overlooking the Mississippi River.

“I knew I was going to have to go a little bit slower on the course because of the rain,” said Zirbel, 34, who won his national title at the USA Cycling Pro Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on May 25. “But I knew it was a good course, and a good course for me. I thought I put together a good ride, but Serghei put together a great ride. He deserved it.”

This was the second time trial stage victory in less than a month for Tvetcov, who trains in the United States year-round and lives near Atlanta. He also won at Mutual of Enumclaw Stage Race on May 18. Tvetcov joined Jelly Belly in April after previously riding for Tusnad, Aerocat and Team Exergy.

Tvetcov figured he was in good shape when he finished Wednesday, even with Zirbel still to race, because the rain refused to let up.

“I thought when I finished and I was in the lead, I didn’t feel bad,” he said. “And then I won the race. That’s good.”

Tvetcov’s time was about six seconds slower than Zirbel’s winning time at the 2012 Nature Valley Grand Prix.

The second stage of the six-stage Nature Valley Grand Prix, the Downtown St. Paul Criterium, begins Wednesday night at 7:45 p.m.

Newly crowned U.S. Time Trial Champion and Nature Valley Grand Prix defending champion Carmen Small (Specialized-lululemon) won the St. Paul Time Trial in a repeat of her previous year’s result.

In spite of the heavy rain, Small was only two seconds slower than her time last year. However, this year she will compete against her former team, Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, with second, third, fourth and fifth places being held by Joelle Numainville, Brianna Walle, Jade Wilcoxson, and Lauren Hall, respectively.

Numainville kicked off the race in dry conditions and held the hot-seat first position all the way until last-starting Small took over the top position.

“Last year I was up against Amber [Neben] and I’m a faster sprinter than her,” said Small. “This year it’s going to be between those three girls and they’re fast, and with only seconds between us it’s going to be harder to keep, but of course we’ll fight for it.”

The Nature Valley Grand Prix features three criterium races, including tonight’s St. Paul Criterium, with special time bonuses awarded on specific laps and at the finish. These time bonuses tend to favor sprinters, and is the difference that Small refers to.

“We have a lot of depth with our team so we don’t just have one strong rider, we have many strong riders,” said Rachel Heal, director of the Optum women’s team. “We can go into the week with lots of options, and w’ere set up for a really good week.”

Walle, last year’s Nature Valley Grand Prix Top Amateur, will wear the Sport Beans Queen of the Hill jersey in tonight’s St. Paul Criterium, while Numainville will wear the Wheaties Sprint Jersey, Tayler Wiles (Specialized-lululemon) the TRIA Orthopedic Center Best Young Rider jersey, and Katharine Hall (Kowalski’s Market’s Collegiate All-Stars) the Nature Valley Top Amateur jersey.