Walle takes third in Nature Valley TT despite mechanical problem

Optum rider had to pedal in the small chainring for the last two miles of the race, and then finished third

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (VN) — Brianna Walle raced her way onto the Nature Valley Pro Chase team in 2012 and surprised many when she placed 17th in the general classification. Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies picked up Walle for 2013, and the neo-pro out of Oregon has logged big performances throughout the year — including a stage win at the San Dimas Stage Race and several podium finishes at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.

At the opening stage of the Nature Valley Grand Prix on Wednesday, Walle racked up another NRC podium appearance, finishing third at the St. Paul River Front Time Trial. Walle finished in 17:37, five seconds down from winner Carmen Small, despite having a mechanical issue in the second half of the race.

“After the turn around I must have hit a bump. An external part of the frame broke off, which holds the housing for the front derailleur. It shifted down into my little ring,” Walle said. “I couldn’t get into my big ring at that point. For the last two miles I was little ringing it.”

It’s not the first time Walle has finished on the podium in spite of a mechanical. Walle won the Oregon Road Race Championships last year after getting stuck in her little chainring on the final climb. “I did a spinning sprint to the finish,” laughed Walle. “My rear wheel was bopping around.”

The disaster required a quick race decision.

“I have two options,” she told herself. “I can do a fast cadence in my little ring, or coast, reach down, grab my chain, and force it into the big ring. So I chose option A,” said Walle. “I could have definitely put some more power out, but it is what it is. That’s bike racing.”

Walle credited her recent turn at the velodrome in Blaine, Minnesota, for her success in the small chainring. “It’s a good thing we were at the track a couple of days ago at the National Sports Center,” she said. “I got in the track mindset that this is going to be a high cadence effort.”

Before coming to Minneapolis-St. Paul for the Nature Valley Grand Prix, Optum director Rachel Heal took her riders to the velodrome in order to start preparing the squad for a possible appearance at the UCI team time trial championships in Tuscany this fall. Optum is currently 14th in the UCI women’s team rankings, and is hoping to be one of the top 15 teams to qualify by the August cutoff date. With strong developing riders like Walle and Jade Wilcoxson, a podium appearance at worlds appears to be a realistic short-term goal.

Heal put her team through a series of speed and form workouts at the velodrome in Blaine. Heal credited the type of work the team completed in Blaine for Walle’s ability to push through her shifting issues.

“On the track, during the effort, you don’t want to change gears so when the speed starts ramping up you just have to start pedaling faster,” Heal said. “That obviously stood her in very good stead today.”

Walle’s talent and enthusiasm for cycling is hard to match. Unfettered by negative thoughts after her time trial mishap, Walle rode equally hard at the St. Paul Downtown Criterium later in the day. Walle worked diligently throughout the race, patrolling the pack and going for time bonuses, in support of teammates Joelle Numainville and Jade Wilcoxson.

“It was awesome,” an enthusiastic Walle said after the race. “We made sure to do our jobs, to be as aggressive as possible, stay at the front, and go with anything that made sense.”

The Optum rider’s work was rewarded as Lauren Hall finished first, followed by Wilcoxson, who also took the lead in the GC.

Walle may not know how good she is yet, but the word is getting out.

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