Rally Cycling dominated the North Star Grand Prix, holding onto the leader’s yellow jersey from start to finish, taking three stage wins, four podiums and sweeping the final general classification podium with Evan Huffman, Brad Huff and Tom Zirbel. Sprinter Erica Allar surprised many by winning the Queen of the Hill. Brad Huff’s victory on the final stage, the grueling Stillwater Criterium, put an exclamation point on the week. Huffman’s victory is the sixth consecutive North Star Grand Prix title for the team.
“The final stage was hard, but it went as planned,” said Huffman, who had taken the race lead less than 24 hours prior. “We used Danny, Brad and Tom to roll attacks back each lap when the course leveled off at the top of the climb. In the second half of the race, the guys in the top ten started attacking and I had to follow two moves which was really hard. Tom led Brad out into the final climb and Brad went really fast up the hill to win the stage.”
The result continued Huffman’s phenomenal first season with Rally Cycling, and was one of his biggest wins to date.
“This is my first stage race victory at this level. It is a big step for me in my development and as a team leader. This season has been really good and I am riding the best I have ever ridden, both mentally and physically. The team has helped me tremendously.”
The team started on solid footing, with Tom Zirbel first claiming the leader’s yellow jersey in the stage one time trial and Huffman taking third. Zirbel smashed the course in a stunning 9:59:31, the only rider to break the 10-minute barrier. The team then defended his lead in the evening’s St. Paul Criterium. In the fight for the stage two victory, National Criterium Champion Huff finished second behind Justin Williams (Cylance-Incycle Pro).
Huffman laid the foundation for his overall victory in the stage three Cannon Falls Road Race. He won after a daring, late race solo bridge to a deteriorating breakaway before outsprinting Julio Padilla (Team Arapahoe Resources) on the final ramp to the finish line. Huff finished third, winning the bunch sprint behind the two escaped riders. Although Zirbel retained the overall lead, Huffman and Huff gained time and loaded the top of the standings with Rally orange. Despite the win, the day was marred by a bad crash that forced Jesse Anthony and Adam De Vos to abandon the race. De Vos was the worse off of the two, suffering broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Huff and Huffman’s efforts would pay off the following night during the stage four Uptown Minneapolis Criterium. In the closing laps, the sky opened up, making the course extremely slick. Zirbel lost traction in a corner and went down. With Zirbel down it was up to Huff to keep the yellow jersey within the team. Coming out of the final corner the National Champion was boxed in, but pushed through to cross the line in third, taking the crucial bonus seconds needed to keep yellow.
The next day Evan Huffman finished second in stage five’s Mankato Road Race after a daring attack saw him go clear with Joseph Schmalz (Elevate). The two rode well together to finish 48 seconds up on the peloton, giving Huffman the time needed to take control of the jersey, the third Rally rider to wear it on the week.
The final stage was an impressive show of strength. The Stillwater Criterium features the dreaded Chilkoot Hill and it wasn’t long before the peloton was shattered. In the closing laps, the team strung out the field with Huffman covering several late moves. Zirbel then came to the front with a half lap to go and led out Huff and Huffman for the final time up Chilkoot Hill. As the group hit the bottom Huff blasted off the front to take the win.
“It is amazing when you have a two-time winner of the race Tom, and a World Champion and Tour de France veteran like Danny riding at the front pulling breaks back all day,” said Huff. “In the final, I just had to grit it out. I was in a low gear, I spun it and just gritted my teeth. I had my teammates pushing me. We’re family, we are a band of brothers and I am proud to win for these guys.“
In the women’s race, Rally Cycling showed they are one of the most aggressive and exciting teams in the peloton. Their teamwork and aggression resulted in two stage podiums and the Queen of the Hills (QOH) jersey for Erica Allar.
The week started with a solid seventh place ride in the time trial for Heather Fischer but the team was dealt a blow in the evening’s St. Paul Criterium. Both Catherine Ouellette and Katherine Maine fell in separate crashes. Maine was forced out of the race with a concussion while Ouellette suffered two chipped teeth. Due to the dangerous course conditions and numerous crashes, the race organizers neutralized the stage and it would not be counted for the general classification.
The next day at the Cannon Falls Road Race the team put the events of the previous night behind them and Erica Allar dominated the Queen of the Hills sprints out on the road before finishing third in the stage. Coryn Rivera (UnitedHealthcare) and Kimberly Wells (Colavita-Bianchi) were the only two riders to cross the line before Allar. Allar’s efforts put her in the QOH jersey, a garment she refused to relinquish for the remainder of the week.
“This is the first time I have won a jersey that required effort day-after-day” said Allar. “In the final stage there were three QOH climbs and I knew if I did well on the first one I could relax a little bit – I would have enough of a lead that I wouldn’t have to worry about the girls in second and third. We went for it as a team, and got the points. After that I focused on making the split and helping Heather and Sara.”
In the Uptown Minneapolis Criterium the team missed the podium after its lead out train was disrupted on the final lap. Despite missing the podium, Fischer and Allar finished strong in sixth and seventh place. As important as the day’s stage results, the team came away unscathed and Allar maintained her lead in the Queen of the Hills competition heading into the Mankato Road Race.
With a tough climb, the Mankato Road Race would be a big test for Allar and Rally Cycling. Allar won the first QOM sprint and finished second in the remaining two, increasing her lead in the competition. The stage victory went to Joelle Numainville (North Memorial Health Care) who soloed in 10 seconds clear on the peloton. Allar crossed the line sixth.
Heading into the final stage, the Stillwater Criterium, Allar needed to win just one of the QOH sprints to secure the jersey. With Sara Poidevin as a lead out, Allar did just that on the first run up the infamous Chilkoot Hill. With the QOH locked up the team set about winning the stage. In the finale Fischer powered up the climb to cross the line in second behind Ellen Noble (North Memorial Health Care).
“We love racing here every year with the men’s and women’s teams, and try to put on a show for the hometown crowds,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney, directing the men’s team to their sixth straight overall North Star Grand Prix victory. “It is always a challenge to keep a yellow jersey, and after some crashes and only four guys racing, it was even harder. It’s a testament to our team-first mentality that we were able to take home yellow this year.”
North Star Grand Prix Final General Classification
1st Evan Huffman
2nd Brad Huff
3rd Tom Zirbel
Women’s Queen of the Hills
1st Erica Allar
Women’s Best Young Rider
2nd Sara Poidevin