Leah Kirchmann wins stage 5, Amber Neben takes lead at 2011 Nature Valley Grand Prix

Leah Kirchmann and Amber Neben led the women’s peloton on moving day at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

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2011 Nature Valley Grand Prix, stage 5, Amber Neben
Amber Neben drives the break, trying to squeeze more seconds out of the clock. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

Leah Kirchmann and Amber Neben led the women’s peloton on moving day at the Nature Valley Grand Prix.

Kirchmann (Colavita-Forno D’Asolo) won the stage-5 Menomonie Road Race ahead of Neben (HTC-Highroad).

Neben, who entered the day third overall and 29 seconds behind yellow jersey Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12), jumped across to an early breakaway on the day’s second climb. She followed Kirchmann into the jersey after 81 miles of brutal, rolling terrain.

Neben will start Sunday’s Stillwater Criterium with a 21-second lead over Erinne Willock (Team TIBCO/To The Top), 38 seconds over third-placed Leah Kirchmann (Colavita/Forno d’Asolo presented by Cooking Light), and 52 seconds over Armstrong, who slid to fourth.

The atmosphere was reverent, but competitive, at the start of the race, as riders lined up with memories of Friday’s crash-cancelled stage still top of mind. Rolling out of the neutral start, Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 controlled the pace and set out to protect Armstrong’s jersey.

At first, it looked like a repeat of Thursday’s Cannon Falls race was on, with all early attacks being brought back. But within the first 14 miles the decisive break that would change the complexion of the race was launched.

Figuring in the break were: Inga Cilvinatte (Diadora-Pasta Zara-Manhattan), Kirchmann, Megan Guarnier and Samantha Schneider (Team TIBCO/To The Top), Ally Stacher (HTC-Highroad), Anna Barensfeld (Missing Link Coaching Systems presented by Specialized), and Tayler Wiles (Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12). The escapees quickly grew their lead to a minute.

“Immediately on the feed zone climb (at Star Hill), we were able to get her (Armstrong) isolated,” Neben said about her team’s strategy. “It was once I was able to get across to the break that I thought we would have a chance. There were enough numbers in the break to ride with me. It came down to the length of the day, and we were motivated at the front to keep going.”

Wiles dropped off the pace at the third Queen of the Hills competition and returned to the peloton to support Armstrong, who was beginning to slip out of the overall lead.

”It was really aggressive today,“ Willock said. ”We had two girls up in the break, and Joelle (Numainville) drove it hard over the top of the third KOH, and it was over the third KOH that I bridged across.”

”Before Erinne and Amber were in the break, I was the leader of the group and we all worked pretty evenly to keep it away,” Kirchmann said. ”But as soon as they got there, I wasn’t leading the race anymore so I could save my legs for the sprint.”

The seven entered the finishing circuits with a 33-second lead that increased to 45 seconds, then stretched to more than a minute, thanks to Neben and teammate Stacher working to extend the lead over the hilly four-mile finishing circuits. Back in the second group, Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 was doing the majority of the chasing.

”I knew there was a chance to move up onto the podium on GC, and that was our goal,“ explained Willock. ”Leah didn’t do any work all day, and that’s fine, and that’s the way the game goes.“

Jade Wilcoxon (Nature Valley Grand Prix Pro Ride) retains the Nature Valley Top Amateur jersey, while Willock was awarded the Freewheel Bike Most Aggressive Rider jersey.

Quick results
Stage 5

  • 1. Leah Kirchmann, Colavita-Forno D’asolo-Cooking Light, 3:21:08
  • 2. Amber Neben, HTC-High Road, s.t.
  • 3. Erinne Willock, Team Tibco-To The Top, s.t.
  • 4. Anna Barensfeld, Missing Link Coaching Systems-Specialized, s.t.
  • 5. Ally Stacher, HTC-High Road, s.t.


  • 1. Amber Neben, HTC-High Road, 7.13:05
  • 2. Erinne Willock, Team Tibco-To The Top, at 0:21
  • 3. Leah Kirchmann, Colavita-Forno D’asolo-Cooking Light, at 0:38
  • 4. Kristin Armstrong, Peanut Butter & Co. Twenty12, at 0:52
  • 5. Anna Barensfeld, Missing Link Coaching Systems-Specialized, at 0:59

Complete results

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