Saturday, June 17, 2006

Tilford Just Keeps Going!

Officials, spectators and racers knew it was coming, but the question was when.

And 17 minutes into the hour-long race for the men's third stage of Great River Energy's Nature Valley Grand Prix, the race was called while sheets of rain drenched a happy Steve Tilford who laughed at the elements and won the Minneapolis Downtown Classic.

"It's like fat boys at night," he said, referencing the mountain bike races he also does. "You never know what's going on. You have to watch the lap cards."

That might have been easier said than done. With dark clouds draping downtown Minneapolis throughout the evening, a usually day-lit course was darkened into a twilight criterium, and as rain started to fall just 7 minutes into the race, visibility dropped even further.

Expecting the rain and a sketchy race along the 1-mile, 6-corner course, Health Net/Maxxis sent all their riders to the front, riding single file into all the corners and protecting their GC leader, Nathan O'Neill. When the rain started, O'Neill's teammates continued the high pace, stretching the peloton quickly and shelling riders off the back early.

When the rain started, officials gave no indication they would shorten the race and, in fact, rang the bell for the first sprint prime 10 minutes in. With bonus seconds on the line, the racers did challenge for the prime, with Nevada's Martin Gilbert - the most aggressive rider in Thursday's second stage - taking the 5-second bonus for first, and Health Net's Greg Henderson and Gord Fraser following suit for the 3-second and 1-second bonus, respectively.

Then the rain began to fall harder. Twelve minutes in, Jelly Belly's Andrew Bajadali attacked with Fraser on his wheel, but it was quickly pulled back. Sensing the urgency as the weather began to worsen - with lightning directly above the course - Van Ulden then attacked and got a 5-second gap, which grew as he came around for a second solo lap.

By the next lap, though, Van Ulden was nowhere at the front as his back wheel succumbed to the rain slickened course.

"You could see his back tire just bouncing out of the corners," Tilford said.

That is when Tilford saw his opportunity. A veteran bike racer a background in mountain biking and cyclocross, he attacked into the first corner and held it straight through. His lead was enough that 150 meters from the line, he sat up and began celebrating, with Henderson and Fraser cruising in behind for the bonus seconds.

Tilford said it wasn't a calculated risk that he took, just a chance for the win. "You just don't want to let everybody come up on the back of you," he said, crediting both his skill and his tires for the win. "If I'm riding good, in the rain I can ride with anyone."

Danny Van Haute, director sportif for Jelly Belly, said the officials made the right call to end the race.

"It's a safety issue," he said. "Just let everybody start tomorrow."

On Saturday, the riders head to Mankato, Minn., for an 86-mile road race that finishes with a 4-lap circuit that includes a climb of 14 percent. The Nature Valley Grand Prix finishes Sunday in Stillwater, Minn.

TREK Midwest is sponsored by the TREK Bicycle Store of Omaha.

1 comment:

speedomodel said...

Good for Tilford! The rain makes him look like Nosferatu, though. Scary.