Nature Valley Grand Prix, Rule 5-Style

The bunch grinds up Chilkoot Hill in Stillwater, MN; Photo: Podium Cafe

I was raised in St. Paul, Minnesota at a time when the only cycling fame the area could lay claim to was that Greg LeMan lived in the area during the winters (I crossed paths with him many times skiing on the Birkebeiner trail, which was always pretty cool).  As far as professional bike racing went, there were very few top-level races, with most of the big spectacles being in the Pro-Am category.

That all changed when the Nature Valley Grand Prix was introduced several years ago.  The star attraction of the race was the Stillwater Criterium, which features a study in  Rule #10 up Chilkoot Hill, a 20% monster that is so steep it sees more action from kids sledding on it in Winter than it does from car traffic in Summer.  The first year it was held, Michelle and I staked out a prime location on the hill and watched none other than Chris Horner take the honors after effectively doing hill repeats on that beast for 45 minutes.   For a day, it was our own little slice of pro racing with European-style crowds.  The race claims to be the hardest crit in the US and despite not having seen every crit in the US, I can confidently say there’s a non-zero chance that they are right.

Having moved away from the area in 2004 we haven’t seen the race in ages, but we always follow it with great interest.  It was with delight that we noticed that Velonews recently posted a preview wherein it claimed that the this year’s edition would be particularly selective, with some climbing added by introducing a stage in my favorite old Ardenne-like training region near Menomonie, Wisconsin.

I did, however, notice a glaring error in the VeloNews report:

…a rule banning aero gear in Wednesday’s six-mile time trial should make the race tigher. Race organizers have gone “Eddy Merckx-style” for this year’s race in hopes of leveling the playing field for lower budget squads.

Surely this is a typographical error and what they intended to say was, “Rule 5-Style”.  But, given how easily Merckx and Rule #5 might be interchanged, I can understand the mistake.  I just don’t want to see them make a habit of such things.

10 Replies to “Nature Valley Grand Prix, Rule 5-Style”

  1. Frank nice reminder of hilly crits, 2 east coast ones from years ago were Sunapee NH and Greenwich CT. One year Asheville NC which not only climbed every lap it had 11 turns – fun.

    Form was not in the racers vocab after 30-50 laps in these races and it always seemed that after a few laps a small group of climbers would have the race to themselves with the winner and one or two others separating on the last few laps.

  2. @Rob
    Wow, Asheville must have been brutal. I trained in Boone for a while, which was awesome. Meat Camp road, I think it was, was nasty. I can’t imagine doing so many laps on a hilly crit. All the crits I did were flat, twisty jobs. Lots of fun. A hilly crit sounds like you’d need vomit crews on the roadside.

  3. @Nathan Edwards
    After I did some digging, I have it on the excellent authority of some random person on Flikr that the hill is 700m long. The data is suspect, however, since they also say the grade is 22%, while the race organizers claim it’s 20%.

    700m sounds about right, though. It’s not terribly long. More than 500m for sure, and less than 1000m.

  4. Wow, that is pure brutality!

    I haven’t ever done anything of that sort, that steep for so long. We have alot of short steep stuff around here, 15-18% but much shorter. I have done some like that repeated and it tears my legs up, but 22% 700m long is an animal i just don’t want to cross.

  5. & on a side note, give’m credit, they are big ringin it!!!

    22% for me in a big ring…no way…absolutely no way…not like they are

  6. @frank In those days I was peaking by June and although I never won I loved those races as they suited my style so I could hang in for top 20. But if you check old Velo news they only gave results to 10… Asheville was a fun one-off (1 year in the early 80’s) stage race, road stage in the Biltmore estate, down town Asheville crit, hill time trial (just outside Asheville, up the “mountain”) and for the top 25in G.C. a miss and out (devil take the hindmost for you Brits) back at the Biltmore. I was 26th but some one bowed out so I got to mix it up with the hot shots of the day and made it to 15th… good memories.

    @Souleur I wonder if they have done the climb and this is the top where they are shifting into the big ring and out of the saddle to put some time on the slower climbers? Or its the last lap… just wondering – 20%?

  7. I always spent my half an hour to read this website’s articles or reviews every day along with a mug of coffee.

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