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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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Saint Paul Downtown Criterium

The 2010 Nature Valley Grand Prix got underway on Wednesday, June 16 in Saint Paul.

The morning Time Trial event started with nearly 300 men and women riders competing in “the race of truth.” That evening, the first criterium races were held in downtown Saint Paul.

While a new venue, downtown Saint Paul drew several thousand spectators and provided the pro bike racers with a longer, more challenging, course. The end result proved to be exciting with a sprint finish in the women’s race, with HTC Columbia rider Chloe Hosking grabbing the win. Theresa Cliff-Ryan (Colavita/Baci Pro Cycling) and Shelley Evans (Peanut Butter & Co Twenty12, finished second and third respectively.  The men’s race was dominated by Kelly Benefit Strategies for the first 37 laps. In a shake down during the last three laps, United Healthcare p/b MAXXIS grabbed the front. The international finish included Australian Hilton Clark and Kiwi rider Karl Menzies (riding for United Healthcare) finishing 1 and 2; and Italian Luca Damiani (Kenda Pro Cycling p/b GearGrinder) finishing in third.

Thursday night, the racers traveled to Cannon Falls where they met with unfavorable weather that included National Weather Service-issued tornado watches, hail and high winds reaching 60 miles per hour. The men’s race got started as planned at 5 p.m. Central time, but by 5:35, officials decided not to start the women riders on the 66-mile road course; and the men were called back in with the race being neutralized.

Friday night, the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis will once again get the Minneapolis Criterium along the popular sections of Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street. The one-mile-long course is pancake flat and includes plenty of turns where the anticipated crowd of 15,000 will be able to enjoy all the racing action.

Full race results are available here: http://www.naturevalleybicyclefestival.com/Grand-Prix/Results/2010-Results/St–Paul-Crit-Men.aspx

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Seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, doesn’t have to ride a bike. He chooses to because he knows what people facing cancer go through each day. He understands the struggle and the fear. He wants to make a difference.

So no matter what you may think of Armstrong’s comeback this year, this ad from Nike and the 31 words spoken by Lance undeniably proves he’s in it for the cause, not the attention.

LIVESTRONG.

Narrative:

The critics say I’m arrogant. A doper. Washed up. A fraud. That I couldn’t let it go. They can say whatever they want. I’m not back on my bike…for them.

Music: “Auto Rock,” by Mogwai

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A few photos from my recent trip to Lausanne, Switzerland where I spent a Saturday acting like a tourist.

Lausanne Rooftops

This photo overlooks the rooftops of Lausanne. It’s a view from the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which sits about halfway up the hill the city sits on. In the distance is Lake Geneva and beyond that the French Alps.

Gargoyle

A gargoyle sits atop the Museum of History building. Speaking of history, Napolean stayed in Lausanne and Mozart played two concerts at a theater in the city.

Lausanne Market

The market on Saturday filled with both locals speaking Swiss French, German and Italian – and tourists like me speaking any of a dozen other languages.

TourdeSuisse

The Tour de Suisse whipped through Lausanne, with the breakaway owning a four minute lead on the peloton, followed by a caravan of team and support vehicles that must have been a mile long all by itself.

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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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