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On the road to pro: Hastings woman races against top cyclists in the country

Mia Loquai races in front of the capitol during the Nature Valley Grand Prix. Photo courtesy of Matthew Pastick

A Hastings woman is working her way into the professional cycling world, and she made a significant step in the right direction recently with a strong performance at the Nature Valley Grand Prix, held June 12 to 16 in the Twin Cities region.

Mia Loquai moved to Hastings about three years ago with her husband, John. The two had met in Salt Lake City, Utah, where they both attended college and they both competed in ice speed skating. After the move, Loquai tried to settle into a normal household routine, but she soon found she missed the competitiveness of sports. As a speed skater, she had cross trained a lot in cycling, so when a few friends here suggested she take up competitive cycling, it was a relatively quick transition. She did a local Tuesday night race, did fairly well, and it all started from there, she said.

About two years ago, the Loquais got their first look at the Nature Valley Grand Prix. A couple cycling friends told them it was the biggest professional race in the area, so they went to Stillwater to watch.

"It was just ... breathtaking," Loquai said.

They saw some of the best women cyclists in the country and even some of the best in the world come to Minnesota to compete. And then Loquai's competitive spirit caught hold.

"Obviously, being a competitor all my life, I thought, 'I can do that,'" she said.

After that, she started training and competing with the goal of riding in the Grand Prix. They watched it again last year, and started training especially hard this past off season.

Loquai did really well in her races in April and May - well enough for a semi-pro team, the ISCorp Cycling Team, to offer her a spot on the team. The team was qualified to race in the Grand Prix, and after watching the race for the past two years, Loquai was more than ready to take the position.

Going into the race, Loquai knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish. Each year, the race's top amateurs are recognized with a green jersey, and those amateurs often have the opportunity to go pro. It was the green jersey Loquai had her eyes on.

The race

The Nature Valley Grand Prix was held Wednesday through Sunday, covering six events. The first day was a seven-mile time trial Wednesday morning. Loquai placed 26th, 11 seconds and one position short of the best amateur prize for the day. That evening was the first criterion race, a 28-lap, mile-long loop in downtown St. Paul.

"It was extremely fast, pretty much all-out from the gun," she said.

Dominant pro teams fielded squads full of racers capable of winning, making it difficult to get good positioning. Loquai managed to finish 10th in a field of 70 racers and made up 10 seconds on her goal of getting the green jersey, but still found herself just shy of that prize.

On Thursday, she raced the longest distance she's ever raced: 93 miles of road racing in the Cannon Falls area.

"That was a very intense race," she said. "I've never raced that distance before."

She was able to move up a couple spots to 22nd overall, but still was in second place when it came to the best amateur jersey.

Friday was another criterion race, this one in uptown Minneapolis. Again, it was very fast, with a slight incline that stretched the field and put the weaker races farther back. Loquai finished in the top 25 racers, and this time she clinched the green jersey.

"I was beyond ecstatic," she said.

On Saturday it was an 84-mile race. Toward the end of it, though, Loquai crashed and found herself having to chase the field. She crossed the line 7 ½ minutes behind the leader, pushed back to 36th.

"That was really devastating and hard to take," she said.

But she's taking the experience as one to learn from. Even the best racers crash, and cycling is a sport in which anything can happen. On Sunday, the leader crashed coming around the last corner and lost the winning jersey.

"Things like that do happen," Loquai said.

Looking forward

With her first Grand Prix behind her, Loquai is looking ahead to the next steps in her racing career. Last weekend she competed in the Tour of America's Dairy Land in Wisconsin. There aren't many races left this season, but she's still got her eyes on making it to the professional racing level.

Ultimately, she said, she'd like to compete in the Olympics. She came within one second of making the 2010 ice speed skating team.

"Having that in the back of your mind, it's always something you want," she said.

But for now, she's just taking it one step at a time, with the help and support of her family, friends and teammates.

"Thank you to all my teammates for all their help and sacrifices they've made for a team win," she said. "To my beautiful family and friends down in Florida and here in Minnesota. I love you Mom and Dad. Lastly to my loving husband who, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be the competitor or person I am today. Thank you and I love y'all!"