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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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The Nature Valley Grand Prix is a bootstrap kind of event. It was founded by someone interested in creating awareness about the cycling community in the Twin Cities. It’s grown to become a major contributor to Children’s Hospital and the pediatric hospice and palliative care unit managed by Children’s. A pro race that brings in 300 men and women riders for one of the largest stage races in North America.

The race director and a bevy of volunteers make this annual event happen – and more than 60,000 spectators come to the various stages in Saint Paul, Cannon Falls, Minneapolis, Mankato, and Stillwater to take in all the family-friendly fun and excitement during the five-day event. They do it on a shoestring budget and rely on PAYING sponsors who see value in associating their company name with a professional race that, year-after-year, exceeds expectations.

Yet some small businesses leech on to aspects of the event for free (you can read about one such example here). They do not provide support to the pro riders who come to Minneapolis for a week every June and bust their lungs racing. They make NO contribution in support of Children’s Hospital. They do not officially sponsor any part of the Nature Valley Grand Prix or the Minnesota Bicycle Festival, yet they assume sponsor-like rights to edge their way into the action, disrupting riders and the race itself if necessary.

The Nature Valley Grand Prix doesn’t pretend it can stop unseemly behavior at every venue. Race officials politely ask ALL fans to follow spectator guidelines, stay off the roads and out of the way of cyclists who are there to perform (and win) races. NVGP can’t take away signs or free speech (AS IF!).  But if some asshole with a sign and one to many beers in his gullet thinks it wise to run elbow-to-elbow with cyclists in the midst of a race, he’s gonna find himself quickly removed from the course.

Our race director and volunteers are putting on a respectable event that cyclists WANT to be part of. We have our guidelines and rules and we expect everyone who attends to adhere to them. And the racers expect the same amount of respect.

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Out of the chute let me say I’m not a big professional sports fan. Sure, I follow (at arm’s length) the home town teams of the Vikings, the T-Wolves, the Twins and the Wild (although I just don’t get hockey). Pro sports are, in my view, getting closer and closer to resembling the World Wrestling Entertainment franchise and less like a place where great athletes can show off their prowess on a team or a field. Therefore, I’m much more a watcher and fan of the Olympics – where amateurs (and yes, some professionals), can legitimately compete.

A recent trade completed by the Minnesota Timberwolves however, prompted me to think back on the tradees career – at least that that has been visible to me through the media.  Power forward Kevin Garnett has moved to the Boston Celtics after 12 years as a T-Wolve. He came right out of high school – one of the only talents in the NBA to do so and become a superstar. Fans here watched as he matured and became an MVP player – one of the best – many people say.

Like many NBA greats, he is deserving of an NBA championship, but it has eluded him because of many reasons, none smaller than inept ownership and management of a team that has shown windows of greatness – only to be defeated by poor decision making by the administration.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have a history of great teams. NBA championship teams. So as Garnett moves to Boston and joins several other mature players hungry for a winning season, the Timberwolves enter a rebuilding phase.  Boston gets the better deal.

Not only is KG an athlete and a winner, he is a quiet contributor to the community he lives in.  While in Minnesota, Garnett gave millions to various causes – many involving kids who live in poverty. These kids only need a boost, a glimmer of hope, to stay on a good path – to stay in school.  Garnett provides millions of glimmers of hope to kids each year.  So the City of Boston will benefit through Garnett’s transition to Massachusetts. And the Celtics, they benefit as well with a new leader, an MVP-type player and someone who wants to win it all before his days on the court are done.

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