Anthony and Neben claim Nature Valley victories

  • Article by: ALEX PREWITT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2011 - 12:59 AM

Jesse Anthony's title was his first in the Nature Valley race; Amber Neben bested Olympian Kristin Armstrong.

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Jesse Anthony derailed the blue train in Menomonie.

He then brought home the yellow jersey in Stillwater.

After building up a sizable lead following Saturday's road race, the Kelly Benefit Strategies OptumHealth rider, one week after his 26th birthday, successfully protected the yellow jersey to capture his first Nature Valley Grand Prix trophy with consecutive runner-up finishes in the Menomonie, Wis., and Stillwater stages.

"I was so nervous, I wanted to do it so badly for my team," said Anthony of Beverly, Mass. "We've been working so hard and to finally get a win like this, to earn it the hard way, was just so, so satisfying. I can't even explain it."

Buoyed by an aggressive effort in the 100-mile Menomonie race, Anthony surged past the blue jerseys of sprint-heavy UnitedHealthcare, which had won all four stages heading into Saturday.

But it was on the hills that KBS finally made its move.

"Those guys brought an amazing sprinting team, but we had a lot of good climbers, and that's what it took to get the job done," said Anthony, who finished 17 seconds ahead of overall runner-up Bernard Van Ulden of Jelly Belly. "We wanted to race aggressively yesterday, and today it was trying to finish it off."

UnitedHealthcare's Rory Sutherland, the three-time defending Nature Valley champion, broke away on the final lap and cruised to the stage victory in 1:10.27. Unlike in years past, when Sutherland made a habit out of claiming the yellow jersey on the brutal 21 percent Chilkoot Hill, the Australian entered Stillwater out of contention, the general classification at the back of his mind.

That allowed him to focus on winning the stage for the third year in a row.

"If there's any circuit in the world that's made for me, this one fits pretty much genetically," said Sutherland, who finished 10th overall, over five minutes behind Anthony. "The Kelly guys came in with a very strong team built for climbing, and we came with a stronger criterium team, so for us to win the stages we're good at and for them to win the overall, it's a pretty fair compromise."

Women: Neben wins

Coming into Sunday, Amber Neben of Irvine, Ca., didn't have the women's yellow jersey on her radar, expecting to fill a more supportive role for HTC-High Road.

But she quickly changed her expectations.

After taking the race lead from four-time Nature Valley champion and 2008 Olympian Kristin Armstrong in Menomonie, Neben retained the yellow jersey at Stillwater in a dominating performance that saw four HTC-High Road riders finish in the top 10.

"It was like a dance. Ally [Stacher], Amanda [Miller] and Chloe [Hosking] just rode their hearts out," said HTC High Road's Evelyn Stevens, the reigning Stillwater champ, who finished fifth overall. "Amber stayed safe the whole time. It was perfect teamwork."

Road world champion Giorgia Bronzini won her third stage of the Grand Prix in 51.14, overtaking Stevens on the final climb.

It mattered little in the standings, however. HTC High Road was in control all afternoon, taking over the front of the peloton to protect Neben's comfortable gap.

"We knew we had strong people, and we just wanted to hit the climbs in the front and stay up there while we could," Neben said. "Every time you have the yellow jersey, it's extra motivation. These girls certainly had that today."

Armstrong finished both third in the stage and overall in her tune-up for next week's U.S. championships in Augusta, Ga. Shelley Olds, the defending Nature Valley champion, was absent from the final two stages after suffering rib injuries during the Minneapolis Criterium on Friday.

The door was then opened for Neben, who beat out Team TIBICO's Erinne Willock by 19 seconds, to ride through.

"The whole week has been fantastic; everyone has done something to contribute," she said. "I just happened to be the one in the jersey, but it's really been a team victory this week. When you've got a unit like that and when we ride together, we're tough to beat.

"I was really proud of them, and this was the cherry on top."


    Men's winner: Jesse Anthony

    Women's winner: Amber Neben

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