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By VeloNews Interactive
Newly crowned U.S. national champ Mark McCormack’s first defense of his new stars-and-stripes jersey fell short at the opening stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix Thursday. McCormack’s Saturn squad rode wisely, making the key breaks and setting up for the final sprint, but could not hold off a tough Navigators squad determined to show its strength.
Riding a three-man break into Virginia, Minnesota, in the inaugural Iron Range Road Race, Navigators’ Irishman Ciaran Power found his legs in the final sprint to beat McCormack, who finished third behind new professional Adam Bergman (Jelly Belly) in the 96-mile race from the shores of Lake Superior.
“Third place was not what I was hoping for, obviously,” McCormack said.
The race started out on a slow climb from Two Harbors, a small shoreline community just up the road from the shipping port of Duluth. The riders slogged their way up a 2 percent grade through the first 17 miles to the first sprint, where Bergman, Navigators’ Henk Vogels, Saturn’s Tom Danielson and Murray Carter of the Twin Cities amateur team Flanders Brothers broke from the pack, with Vogels taking the points.
The four stayed away, joined soon after the sprint by Power, McCormack, 7UP-Maxxis’ Oscar Pineda, Bianchi-Grand Performance’s Paul Ellis and Broadmark Capital’s Doug Ollerenshaw. With two Saturns and two Navigators in the break, the nine stayed out for most of the race, building a lead of 1:30 halfway through.
The decisive break came with 20 miles left as the group entered the only hilly part of the course, with their lead back down to around 40 seconds.
“It was inevitable,” McCormack said of the break, describing the other six riders as tired. “I figured it was better to get the situation under control.”
“I saw McCormack jump and then Power, and I just tried to sit in and hang on,” Bergman said.
By the time the trio entered Virginia for seven laps on the 1.6-mile finishing circuit, their lead was back to 70 seconds, and they weren’t letting it drop.
Although McCormack took the intermediary time bonus on the line, the finishing honors would go to Powers, who took the sprint from the front over Bergman. Navigators’ Marty Nothstein brought the field home for fourth over Saturn’s Ivan Dominguez.
While Power claimed the spoils of the day, at the finish it felt like the race actually belonged to Bergman, a Minnesota native who just signed with Jelly Belly on Monday. In his first professional race, the Lino Lakes resident actually led into the last corner, trying to outsprint the two seasoned professionals.
“It was obvious he was really, really strong,” Power said. “It took a lot for me to get around him.”
Added McCormack: “He’s got a good future in American racing if he sticks with it. It’s great to see someone like that stick his neck out there. He could have sat in a lot more, but he didn’t.”
The crowd – and Bergman – took the second-place finish as a victory.
“It really means a lot to me,” Bergman said. “It gives me a lot of confidence for the rest of the weekend.”
Power will take the leader’s red jersey into the 6-mile time trial along the newly created Mesaba Trail from Gilbert to Virginia Friday morning before heading for a circuit race in downtown Minneapolis Friday evening.
Vogels will wear the sprinter’s jersey while, in an ironic twist, racing veteran Steve Tilford (Bikesource-Whole Foods), will wear the white jersey of best amateur.
In the women’s race, Tina Mayolo-Pic (Diet Rite) emerged the winner of a three-up photo-finish sprint, edging out Katie Mactier (Saturn) and Sarah Ulmer (TDS).
The women’s stage was a 61-mile trip from the small town of Hoyt Lakes to Virginia, finishing on seven laps of a criterium-style course through downtown Virginia – a course design that would later prove challenging for officials, as groups that had formed out on the road merged and combined.
The field stayed together for the first 20 miles despite constant attacks from all the teams. About 25 miles into the race, a group of 14 formed, with good representation from all the major teams: Mayolo-Pic, Ulmer, Magen Long (Jamba Juice), Dotsie Cowden (T-Mobile), Margaret Helmsley (Nurnberger) and Sarah Conrad (Basis); Saturn had Amy Moore, Manon Jutras, and Mactier, while Rona-Esker had Meshy Holt, Erinne Willock and Karen Bockel.
The group of 14 remained intact until three miles from the entrance to the finishing circuit, when a series of attacks finally split the group. Upon entering the circuit, Mactier took the time bonus over Mayolo and Ulmer. Feeling secure in their ability to win the final sprint, Jutras and Moore rode tempo at the front, leading Mactier out, but in the end, the photo finish showed Mayolo was the winner, giving her an additional 30 seconds of time bonuses and putting her in the leader’s jersey going into tomorrow’s time trial.
1. Ciaran Powers, Navigators
2. Adam Bergman, Jelly Belly
3. Mark McCormack, Saturn
4. Marty Nothstein, Navigators
5. Ivan Dominguez, Saturn
1. Tina Mayolo Pic, Diet Rite
2. Sarah Ulmer, TDS
3. Katie Mactier, Saturn