The North Star Grand Prix (which used to be called the Nature Valley Grand Prix) is an NRC race consisting of six stages over five days. It starts with a time trial and a Criterium on the same day, then a 97 mile road race, followed with a Friday night Criterium in uptown Minneapolis. Saturday is usually a road race, 101 miles finishing in the town of Menomonie, and on Sunday we finish up the race with the Stillwater circuit which entail twenty-three times up the 24% Chilkoot hill.
Going into the race, our team decided to see how the time trial played out before we decided on an overall game plan. In the TT, I finished 16th place, eight seconds out from the best amateur jersey so it was pretty straight forward what we were going for. Over the course of the next couple days, I rode aggressive. I made the break in the St. Paul downtown Criterium but with Optum controlling the race and motivated to keep it together, we were caught with 1.5 laps to go. In the Cannon Falls road race, thirty mile per hour winds and echelons stretching across the roads completely imploded the field to pieces. Fortunately, the front group did not contain any of the guys in the best amateur competition, so again, I remained eight seconds down.
The next stage was the Uptown Minneapolis Criterium. When I went to sign in, I noticed my name was highlighted on the sign in sheet and meant I would be getting a call up. It is not too often I get a call up at an NRC race so I was certain to take advantage of starting in the front to make the early break. After three laps, I noticed two guys got off the front and Optum was letting them go. I took the opportunity to use my momentum to attack out of the field and ride solo across to the break. The three of us rolled through for another lap before two more riders joined and then all five of us worked together. Over the course of the race, we increased our gap to almost a minute. I took the time bonus that was offered with sixteen laps to go and we all continued to work together. With five laps to go and still a forty-five second lead, I knew we were going to make it to the line free from the field and I would not be leading the best amateur competition by thirty-two seconds.
Now that I had the green jersey, I just had to keep an eye on the other two riders who were closest to me. As long as they didn’t get away from me, I was good. During the Menomonie Road Race, a break of riders got away after about twenty-five kilometers into the race. None of the riders in the break were a threat to my jersey, so all I had to do was sit and conserve as much energy as I could for the final stage.
All week, my legs felt great. I was recovering well, getting enough sleep, and was feeling great. Mentally, I was ready for Stillwater and even more ready to solidify winning the best amateur jersey. For the first seventeen laps of the Stillwater Cirterium, I felt great, the pace was easy, I was climbing up Chilkoot hill well, and I was excited to see what would happen when the race heated up in the final laps. I was feeling confident I had the legs to finish the job and that none of the other amateurs would be able to ride away from me. However, bike racing is not always about who is the strongest, it’s not all about fitness, tactics, diet, recovery……it’s also about luck. For whatever reason on this day at Stillwater, my luck ran out with six laps to go. Coming off the downhill into the last turn, somehow my chain came off. I had taken this turn seventeen times already with no problems. As I tried to pedal, I just spun my cranks while coasting towards the base of the Chillkoot climb. Fabi pushed me while I tried to carefully shift it back into the big ring and back to the small ring. Eventually I ran out of flat ground to coast and found myself at the bottom of the hill. I decided to just get off the bike and put the chain back on by hand as I watch the race ride away. I immediately got back on the bike, tried to get the momentum going again as I zig-zagged up the hill, and then began chasing with everything I had. I chased for five laps, caught two smaller groups who had split off the front group, and laid everything I had out there to keep my jersey. In the end, it wasn’t enough. I lost the best amateur jersey by forty-eight seconds and was humbled by the sport of cycling. You never know what can take place in a bike race and the race is definitely never over until you finally cross that finish line.
Overall, the North Star Grand Prix was a great race for the KHS-Maxxis pb JAKROO Team. We were tested in many ways over the week, and in the end, we did everything we could. We used the experience as a lesson, turned negatives into positives, and used this race to reiterate the face that we are going to be ready to go at Nationals in two weeks.