Jade Wilcoxson Wins Stage Three of Nature Valley Grand Prix, Mike Friedman Finishes Second to Take Overall Lead

Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies continued its dominance of their hometown Nature Valley Grand Prix yesterday at the Cannon Falls Road Race, delivering Jade Wilcoxson to the top step of the podium for the women, and Mike Friedman to the runner-up step for the men. Friedman took the yellow jersey from Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly p/ b Kenda) and the lead in the sprinter’s competition after a day of tactical racing by his teammates helped put separation between the man known as Meatball and Tvetcov.

It was the third consecutive day of racing in Minnesota with multiple Optum p/b KBS athletes on the podium, and Wilcoxson’s victory and subsequent 12-second time bonus pushed her further into the overall lead she claimed at Wednesday night’s criterium. Both teams head into the weekend of racing in a familiar spot – defending the overall.

ED NOTE: Jade Wilcoxson was featured today in a Wall Street Journal article on the rider’s meteoric rise from a pre-diabetic diagnosis six years ago, to claiming the most coveted trophy in American cycling. Read the article here or pick up a copy on newsstands around the country. 

“We rode great today, used great teamwork to battle through a pretty chaotic race,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “Having both our men and women in yellow heading into the final push this weekend puts us into a good situation tactically, and we look forward to defending the yellow jerseys and going for more stage wins.”

View a gallery of the Cannon Falls race by Casey B. Gibson.

Tough Day of Racing Helps Shuffle Friedman Into Overall Lead

A chaotic day for the men saw numerous breakaways shuffle and reshuffle on the wind swept, rural Cannon Falls course. Tom Zirbel, Chad Haga, and Jesse Anthony helped pushed the pace from the day’s breakaway, which included Tvetcov. Anthony claimed the Most Aggressive Rider jersey after a day of high-powered racing.

“We had Zirbel, Haga, and Anthony in the break, and we rolled up to feed the guys in the team car. I noticed that Tvetcov was sitting on, not really taking pulls,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “I instructed the guys to start attacking hard, and that is definitely one of Jesse’s specialities. It netted him Most Aggressive Rider, and helped turn the tables in our favor a bit in the overall standings as well.”

Constant reshuffling of the lead group eventually turned in the favor of the Optum p/b KBS squad as race leader Tvetcov, Zirbel and Haga returned to the main field while Mike Friedman, Mike Creed and Scott Zwizanski joined Anthony’s new breakaway. Friedman stayed sharp at the head of affairs, pedaling through the chaos to contest the stage win from the lead group. Jelly Belly’s Sean Mazich managed a late escape for the win, but Friedman came home in 2nd to take the race’s overall lead.

Mike Friedman stayed sharp at the head of affairs, pedaling through the chaos to contest the stage win from the lead group. He was narrowly beat out by Jelly Belly’s Sean Mazich, but took the race’s overall lead.

“This race was fun, huh? It’s not the standard ProTour racing where the break goes and then it’s boring for four hours,” a typically candid Friedman said after the race. “That was a race. It was fun. And stressful.”

Wilcoxson Wins Stage, Builds On Overall Lead

In the women’s race, Jade Wilcoxson continued her hot streak with a race-lead extending stage win. A twelve second time bonus granted at the line improved Wilcoxson’s lead in the overall on former teammate Carmen Small to 8 seconds.

Speeding through the 2.2 mile finishing circuit, the Optum p/b KBS women had strength in numbers near the front of the race. With the peloton mostly intact on the 11-turn circuit, things looked to be heading towards a field sprint, but Wilcoxson and her teammates had other plans, aware of the tough-to-match sprinting ability of Team TIBCO’s Shelly Olds.

“Olds, she has a sprint like nobody’s business,” said Wilcoxson. “The only way I can beat her is if I gap her at like 500 meters out, and even then sometimes she can close it.”

Wilcoxson’s teammate Leah Kirchmann led the newly minted US road race champion through the base of the final hill, and from there Wilcoxson used her unrivaled breakaway speed to gap off Olds and any other threats for the finish line. Olds and Small were unable to close the gap over the final 500 meters, and Wilcoxson won her first road race in stars and stripes.

Joining Wilcoxson on the podium was teammate and neo-pro Brianna Walle, who maintained her lead in the queen of the mountain competition.

“It’s a beautiful thing when the team is firing on all cylinders at a big race, responding to pressure like this,” said Performance Director Rachel Heal. “Having two jerseys and a nice lead heading into the weekend means we are in a great spot to defend. We are excited for more great racing in Minnesota.”

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