Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bloodbath on Hennepin Avenue

Lauren Tamayo leads Shelley Olds, Leah Kirchmann and Joelle Numainville around a corner in Minneapolis.

The Uptown Minneapolis Criterium is a popular feature of the 5-day, 6-event Nature Valley Grand Prix, one of the premier bicycle races in the US. On June 17, eighty-one ladies, including world road racing champion Giorgia Bronzini, from Placenza, Italy; Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong; US champion Shelley Olds; world record holder Lauren Tamayo; multiple world champion Amber Neben and US time trial champ Evelyn Stevens lined up at the intersection of 31st & Hennepin to make 28 laps around a neighborhood variously described as "trendy" and "chic", then crowded and noisy with cyclists, racing fans, al fresco diners and various breeds of dogs on leashes, all celebrating the end of the work week.

As is often the case, the women's race was an aggressive affair compared to the tame, predictable effort put forth by the men later in the evening. The powerful Peanut Butter & Company/2012 team was anchored by Armstrong, a four-time winner of the women's championship and leader by 23 seconds in the general classification standings after three stages. Other teams had taken aim at winning the stage, if not the overall leadership. Diadora Pasta rider Olds, who had won the NVGP general classification as a member of the Peanut Butter & Company/2012 team last year, attacked immediately with Amanda Miller of HTC and Leah Kirchmann of Colavita/Forno d'Asolo. They were soon joined by second-year sprint star Joelle Numainville and then powerhouse Lauren Tamayo. Eventually this group extended its lead far enough that Armstrong's place in the standings was threatened and teammate Tamayo dropped back to escort the US Olympic hopeful back to the front. The riders were making a right turn from Lake Street to Hennepin Ave. to get the bell for the last lap when disaster struck. Olds may have brushed a barrier and then struck another rider. The crash ultimately took 39 riders down, including some of the leaders.

Four competitors were taken to the hospital by ambulance, including Olds, Hillary Billington, Robin Bauer and Laura Ralston. Armstrong received road rash and an injury to her arm but walked away. During the time it took to sort matters out, remove broken bikes and send injured riders to the hospital, officials nullified the race, meaning that no results would apply, including points awarded for sprints. Two more events remain to be contested, a 76 mile road race around Menomonie, WI on Saturday and a gut-wrenching up hill and down 13 lap criterium in the St. Croix River valley city of Stillwater on Sunday.

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