Nature Valley Grand Prix 2006
Race 5 - Armstrong holds onto leader’s jersey, Ulmer takes final stage
Stillwater Criterium - 18 miles, 22.07mph
By Steven Kay
For the second year, the winner of the women’s prologue in Great River Energy’s Nature Valley Grand Prix went into Sunday’s fifth stage holding the yellow jersey.
And, for the second year, that rider came away with the jersey.
TEAm Lipton’s Kristin Armstrong maintained her lead to finish as the overall 2006 Nature Valley Grand Prix Champion, holding onto the yellow jersey for the duration of the five-day event.
Unlike Saturday’s race, though, when she took victory away from Jazz Apple’s Sarah Ulmer, Armstrong only finished fourth. Instead, Ulmer took the well-earned win on the 1.2-mile criterium course that included the famed Chilkoot Hill, a 50-meter climb pitching at 18 percent.
While nearly 100 racers began the day’s race, a group of three riders – Armstrong, Ulmer, and Team Biovail’s Anne Samplonius – broke out in front after the second lap. They would remain out in front by as much as 20 seconds from the chase group, headed by Webcor-Platinum Builder’s Christine Thorburn, until the final lap.
Chilkoot Hill proved to be challenge even for the most experienced of riders.
“I felt like my heart was going to come out of my chest,” Armstrong said of the push up the hill.
With huge crowds on the hill yelling at the riders, Armstrong said she found assistance with her drive for the finish.
“The crowds today were awesome, especially at the finish. It really helped give me that extra push up the hill,” Armstrong said of the crowds.
The hill turned out to be the final hurdle in what was a gruelling couple of days.
“I’m going to go home and put my feet up for a few days,” an exhausted but thrilled Armstrong said after today’s final stage.
Biovail’s Alex Wrubleski and TEAm Lipton’s Kori Seehofer came in second and third, respectively. Overall, Seehofer also finished second followed in third by defending Nature Valley champion Thorburn.
A gracious Armstrong was not only very impressive in her first Nature Valley Grand Prix, she was impressed by the event.
“This whole event was very well run. The volunteers did an amazing job this whole week, including the volunteer director [David LaPorte],” she said.
The other major story of the 5-day Nature Valley Grand Prix was the emergence of the relatively unknown Palo Alto Bicycle Works/TIBCO rider Brooke Miller. Miller captured Thursday’s road race in Cannon Falls and had a strong showing today in Stillwater. She was awarded the Freewheel Bike Sprint Jersey for her efforts.
Miller, who until last week was known only to diehard cycling enthusiasts, will now be a force on women’s racing scene. Her coach and legendary cyclist Linda Jackson sees big things in Miller’s future.
“Brooke has a shot at making it to the 2008 Olympics. If not 2008, then certainly by 2012,” Jackson said when asked about Miller’s chances for the next Olympic games.
Webcor-Platinum’s Erinne Willock held on to the BMC Best Young Rider Jersey.
The Great River Energy Nature Valley Grand Prix is the first event in the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series. It continues next month with the Tour De Toona and concludes in September with the Bermuda Grand Prix. Armstrong will wear the yellow jersey when the Women’s Prestige Series continues in Altoona.
Until then, Armstrong will take a few well-deserved days off, and then begin her preparation for the US Nationals.
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