One second was all that separated Shelley Olds from the bright yellow leader’s jersey, the highly coveted prize she had yet to earn through the first four days of the Nature Valley Grand Prix.
After each of the last four stages, the jersey belonged to Optum’s Jade Wilcoxson, who, throughout Sunday’s final stage at the Stillwater Criterium, was in Olds’ sights.
As Olds approached the final turn — with TIBCO teammate Lauren Stephens beside her with Wilcoxson out in front — Olds knew it was time to chase.
Wilcoxson, determined to hold off Olds and hold onto her 1-second lead, took the final corner fast trying to make a gap between her and Olds before the last climb, but instead she tumbled to the ground.
Olds did not win the stage — TIBCO teammates Claudia Hausler and Joanne Kiesanowski took first and second, respectively — but that didn’t matter. Olds’ fifth-place finish at the Stillwater Criterium was enough to capture her second Nature Valley Grand Prix victory.
“For all the work my team did today to put me in a position, I was not going to let them down,” Olds said. “So if Jade had crashed or not, I think the result would be the same.”
In the men’s division, Juan Jose Haedo won the Stillwater Criterium, his third criterium win of this year’s Grand Prix. Michael Friedman of Team Optum finished in second place, followed by Jesse Goodrich.
Friedman, who came into Sunday’s race with a 37-second lead in the overall standings, held on to win his first Nature Valley Grand Prix. Andres Diaz and Eric Marcotte, both of Elbowz Racing, took second and third overall, respectively.
While the men’s race was without drama Sunday, the women’s competition had enough to spare. There were multiple falls in the first few minutes after the gun sounded, and all eyes were on the battle between Olds and Wilcoxson as they stayed close to each another throughout the stage’s hilly terrain.
Considered by many riders to be the toughest stage of the Grand Prix, the Stillwater Criterium featured nearly 2,000 feet of climbing, including a large hill, at the top of which was the finish line.
Olds saw Wilcoxson crash coming around the final bend. Having been in her shoes only two years ago at the Uptown Minneapolis Criterium, Olds said she felt for her fellow competitor. Still, she had a race to win. So Olds powered up that final hill, hoping to get a gap between herself and the group she was in.
As Olds crested the hill, the prize finally won, she thrust her fist in the air as she crossed the finish line.
Wilcoxson, who finished second overall to Olds and ahead of third-place overall finisher Carmen Small of Specialized-Lululemon, walked away from her crash with scrapes and bruises. But for the first time in five days, she relinquished the yellow jersey.
“I gambled going through the last couple corners to try and get a gap,” Wilcoxson said, a bandage under her left eye and her arm in a sling. “It was a little bit too much of a gamble, and I paid the ultimate price.”
Olds credited her team’s precision in its strategy for helping her win. She and team TIBCO might not have been leading the entire time, but that was all part of the plan.
“We kind of sat back,” Olds said. “And in the end, we took it.”
And this time, it wasn’t just the leader’s jersey. It was the winner’s.