Tom Zirbel regains lead, Carmen Small defends jersey in Menomonie stage of Nature Valley GP

Zirbel makes break pay dividends as Specialized-Lululemon teammates surprise women's field

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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MENOMONIE, Wis. (VN) — Tom Zirbel (Team Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) regained the overall lead in the Nature Valley Grand Prix on Saturday as fellow breakaway Alejandro Borrajo (Jamis-Sutter Home) won the penultimate stage, the Menomonie Road Race in Wisconsin.

In women’s racing, Specialized-Lululemon teammates Emilia Fahlin and Loren Rowney went one-two as Carmen Small (Optum) finished fifth to retain her overall lead.

Zirbel and Borrajo were part of an eight-man break that included Andres Diaz (Team Exergy), Christiaan Kriek (Jelly Belly-Kenda), Tommy Nankervis (Competitive Cyclist), Coulton Hartrich (Athletix Cycling Team Benefiting Globalbike), Heath Blackgrove (Elbowz Racing), and Ben Jacques-Maynes (Bissell Pro Cycling).

The break put Zirbel into the virtual lead on the road. Diaz, who was just 18 seconds down on the Optum rider, tried to slip away to snatch the 12-second time bonus for first place.

But that prize went to Borrajo, and Kriek and Nankervis collected the remaining bonuses by finishing second and third on the day.

“Take up those time bonuses!” said Zirbel, laughing. “I told (Borrajo) with two laps to go that I wanted him to win. There was no need for him to worry — he was the fastest guy there.”

Zirbel now has a 17-second advantage over Jacques-Maynes and 18 seconds over Diaz going into Sunday’s finale, the Stillwater Criterium — 20 laps of a very technical course, including the infamous Chilkoot Hill with an average grade of 18 percent.

Fahlin and Rowney, meanwhile, surprised the women’s field with their one-two finishing punch. Race leader Small’s Optum squad kept a lid on things all day, snuffing every move up to and including an attack by Amber Neben (Specialized-Lululemon) with three laps to go.

Theresa Cliff-Ryan’s Exergy-Twenty12 team took over then, setting up what appeared to be the perfect lead-out.

But Fahlin moved up with Rowney on her wheel and the two rocketed into the final corner together.

“I knew I had Loren on my wheel to try to get her first into the corner,” said Fahlin. “I went first into the corner and held it off all the way. Having Loren coming in second was very cool.”

Emily Collins (Vanderkitten-Focus) took third on the stage.

Cliff-Ryan said her team simply “mistimed things.”

“Everything was in perfect order,” she added. “We’ll fix it up tomorrow and see how it goes.”

Small now leads Fahlin by 36 seconds and Neben by 44 going into Sunday’s final stage.



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