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It took the 11 years and four treks, but I’ve made friends with the North Shore of Minnesota – a stretch of Lake Superior shoreline, highway, infamous landmarks, and seasonal resorts.

Up until now, my travels that direction epitomized the word miserable. Few other places in the country boast about bad weather to attract tourists, but for those in Duluth and points north along the treacherous northwest shore of Lake Superior, bad weather is a piece of nearly every historical moment worth noting. For me, one late summer trip several years ago featured horizontal rain and high winds for two straight days. A second venture resulted in a foot of snow and high winds. The third trip, a late April getaway, included some sun, but the wind blew so fierce it might as well have been the Antarctic. This pattern seems to be the norm.

The vistas and opportunities to hike, bike and relax in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota are too numerous to ignore…and so away we went on Saturday to kick off Labor Day weekend 2010.

And brother, we hit the weather jackpot.

Two full days of “sunny and mid- to upper-60s farenheit” ruled our short getaway. On Day One, the lofty cotton-ball-esque dotted skies served as a personal tour guide as we hiked miles and miles of the Superior Hiking Trail – enough steps to make our feet, calves, knees and thighs tell us “enough.” If you haven’t stepped onto a piece of the 270-plus miles of this trail, add it to your bucket list. And while you’re at it, make sure to take the Lookout Mountain trail section for a scene unlike any other you’ll find in Minnesota.

That evening we ate and slept in Grand Marais. Our dinner bell rang at The Crooked Spoon, a crowded cafe on Wisconsin Street where the chef served up a wicked lamb tenderloin and the most beautiful leafy green salad I’ve ever seen. And while very much a tourist town, for a Saturday night, Grand Marais seemed very quaint and quiet overlooking a calm Lake Superior.

On a cloudless Day Two, Cheri and I biked the Pincushion Mountain trail, just a couple miles from Grand Marais off the Gunflint Trail highway. Leaving the town, this highway rises over 1,000 feet in just 2.5 miles or so. After completely wasting our legs peddling the mountain bike trail, I coasted back in to Grand Marais – nearing 40 mph on two wheels and barely turning the crank.

Another hike on the Superior Hiking Trail to take in Devil’s Kettle gave new meaning to late summer in Northern Minnesota. As we sat on the rocks of the Brule River watching the falls the color was unbelievable. From the rocks to the sharp dark walls of the river’s gorge to the green chlorophyl-laden shrubs and trees to a clear blue sky. Now that’s what being outdoors is suppose to be about.

Lesson learned. The North Shore may be unforgiving at times with its wind, driving rain and lake effect snows, but pick your moment and place and you can be pleasantly surprised by the gift of such a place. And you may, like me, make friends with a piece of America that you had for awhile given up on.

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Minneapolis – This year’s edition of the Nature Valley Grand Prix will go “old school,” with a return to Eddy Merckx-style racing for the individual time trial that opens this year’s USA Cycling National Racing Calendar event.

Kristen Armstrong competing in the 2009 Nature Valley Grand Prix Stage 1 Time Trial.

Executive Director David LaPorte said the Nature Valley Grand Prix has opted to invoke a new USA Cycling rule that allows race organizers to specify that “massed-start legal” bicycles are required for time trials. The rule will be enforced for the six-mile (9.6 km) St. Paul Riverfront time trial on June 16.

“The decision was made partly to simplify logistics for the teams and partly out of fairness,” LaPorte said. “We have a time cut in the time trial to ensure that no one loafs to stay fresh for the criterium that night. But in the past, we have had some strong riders cut primarily because they did not have time trial bikes. We have also had some riders in the past who haven’t competed because of the expense of bringing two bikes, particularly with the outrageous charges the airlines are imposing.”

LaPorte said he doesn’t expect the change to significantly affect the overall results of the five-day, six-stage race.

“The time trial is only six miles and the last mile is an eight-percent climb,” he said. “Also, with the new road race in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the seconds gained or lost in the time trial are likely to be insignificant. Unlike the old Mankato road race, this course will be very hilly, with lots of opportunities for aggressive teams to shatter the pack. If big time gaps don’t form, it will likely be because the teams haven’t taken advantage of the terrain.”

The Nature Valley Grand Prix will work with USA Cycling officials to spell out the specific restrictions regarding aero equipment (wheels, helmets, etc.), which will ultimately appear in the race bible.

The decision to prohibit time trial bikes is certainly not unique, as several international races (Tour of Qatar, Tour of Langkawi, etc.) have banned time trial bikes and aero equipment for years. In the U.S., the team time trial stage of the 2008 Tour de Georgia featured the same restrictions.

Danny Van Haute, director of the Jelly Belly Cycling presented by Kenda professional men’s team, said the decision to prohibit time trial bikes will level the playing field. “Not everyone can buy time trial equipment and if the pro teams have this equipment, it’s not fair to the riders who don’t,” he said. “I’ll bet the results will be the same with time trial bikes as they would be without.”

Team Vera Bradley Foundation Director Lisa Hunt said it is disappointing for her team’s bicycle sponsor not to be able to showcase its time trial bikes. “However, in the interest of being fair and equitable for all parties involved, I support the decision,” she said. “Clearly, our strongest time trial riders will be strong on a road bike or a time trial bike. So it’s not like we are at a disadvantage.”

LaPorte said he will poll all women’s and men’s teams after the race – as he has done in previous years – to get an idea of whether the new rule should be retained for 2011.

About the Nature Valley Grand Prix
The Nature Valley Grand Prix, which takes place in Eastern Minnesota and Western Wisconsin, is the premier stage race on the 2010 USA Cycling National Racing Calendar. The 2010 race will include stops in Saint Paul, Cannon Falls, Minneapolis, Menomonie, and Stillwater. The Nature Valley Grand Prix is a part of the Nature Valley Bicycle Festival, a volunteer-run event, with all proceeds donated to Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, the festival’s benefiting charity. More information can be found at: www.NatureValleyBicycleFestival.com

About Nature Valley
Nature Valley, the brand that created the granola bar category in 1975, brings variety to healthy, active consumers looking for wholesome and great-tasting snacks. Headquartered in Minneapolis, Nature Valley is part of General Mills, a leading global manufacturer and marketer of consumer foods products. For more information, visit www.NatureValley.com.

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The 11th edition of the Minnesota Bicycle Festival and Nature Valley Grand Prix ended today in Stillwater, Minn. Under clear skies (thankfully) and warm temperatures, thousands of spectators lined the now infamous Chilkoot Hill to watch the pro men and women battle in their respective races.

For the women, Kristin Armstrong hung on to a 12-second lead coming into the final stage to win both the final stage and the overall general classification in her last pro race in America.

The men’s race proved to be even closer, with Aussie, Rory Sutherland taken the overall but just a couple seconds in a final lap sprint to beat Tom Zirbel who wore the yellow jersey in all previous stages of the race. Phillip Mamos of Amore e Vita p/b Life Time Fitness-Velo Vie, won the Stillwater Criterium stage – also on the final lap.

Phillip Mamos pumps both fists as he crosses the finish line to win stage 6 of the 2009 Nature Valley Grand Prix. Photo by Steve Pottenger

Phillip Mamos pumps both fists as he crosses the finish line to win stage 6 of the 2009 Nature Valley Grand Prix. Photo by Steve Pottenger

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This year’s Minnesota Bicycle Festival featuring the Nature Valley Grand Prix started under clouds of drizzle on Wednesday morning, June 10. But riders refused to let wet weather dampen their objective: to reach the podium on Day One of the five-day, six-stage race.

Gold medal Olympian, Kristin Armstrong lived up to all early expectations as she completed the time trial stage in first place, blasting past several riders on her way to the finish. It’s Armstrong’s last race in North America as she winds down a stellar cycling career and launches a junior development program in her hometown of Boise.

Kristin Armstrong finishes Stage One Time Trial of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. (Photo: Steve Pottenger)

Kristin Armstrong finishes Stage One Time Trial of the Nature Valley Grand Prix. (Photo: Steve Pottenger)

“This is one of my favorite races,” a beaming Armstrong said following her time trial win. “Minneapolis is very welcoming,” she added, noting that the community and fan support at the Nature Valley Grand Prix helps her prioritize this race over others when deciding her racing schedule.

On the men’s side, defending Nature Valley Grand Prix champion, Rory Sutherland, stands in fifth place in the overall points race following the time trial and stage two criterium in Saint Paul. Meanwhile, Tom Zirbel (team Bissell) currently sits with the yellow jersey.

“Last year, we…didn’t finish too well,” said Zirbel, who put in a blistering time of 12 minutes, 36 seconds and the 7.2-kilometer time trial course, beating Sutherland by 13 seconds. “We have some stronger guys on the team this year. Hopefully, we learned from last year and will do better.”

Racing continues on Thursday in Cannon Falls, Friday in Minneapolis, Saturday in Mankato, Minn., and Sunday’s finale in Stillwater.

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The Snvgp-karmstrong-s6-6_15_08outhwest Journal reports on the upcoming Minnesota Bike Festival.

Click here to see that newspaper’s coverage.

Take note, three-time Nature Valley Grand Prix champion and Olympic Gold Medalist, Kristin Armstrong, has confirmed she will ride in the 2009 NVGP as she readies herself for the 2009 World Championship Time Trials and Road Race in September. The field of 140 women will once again be forced to contend and compete with Armstrong’s power, performance and unparalleled time-trial expertise.

This year’s Festival is shaping up to be one of the best ever.

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Those of us with young children will appreciate this video from Fatty at fatcyclist.com.

I made my kids ride on their own when they were small – refusing the trail-a-bike method for fear they would be lazy and refuse to let go of their training wheels. After seeing this video, however, I wish I’d given them the carnival rides that Eldon is experiencing with his twin girls.

Katie Rides Rodeo Trail at Lambert Park from Fat Cyclist on Vimeo.

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One That Got Away

hamiltonTyler Hamilton won’t be riding in the Nature Valley Grand Prix or any other pro bike races. Seems his shortened career is the result of not one, but two positive doping tests. The most recent caused by DHEA (steroid) in a supplement he knowingly took.

The full story was reported on ESPN.com (click here).

The back story is depression. It runs in Hamilton’s family and has become his nemesis in life. I wish Hamilton well and hope he finds peace in his fight with depression.

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