Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home) outsprinted Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) to win stage 2 of the SRAM Tour of the Gila on Thursday, on a stage marked by vicious winds from all directions — including a last-mile tailwind that produced a screaming fast finish.
(read the stage 2 women’s report)
Amaran gets it right
Amaran figured in the mountain-top finale of stage 1 on Wednesday, opening a big gap with about two steep kilometers to go on the ride up to Mogollon. His doomed attack might have been a bit too early, but served to draw out the eventual podium finishers and cut loose any pretenders still in the front group. Amaran faded and finished 41 seconds back of Leipheimer, in seventh.
On Thursday, the Cuban got the timing right, letting Leipheimer jump first and then passing him to take the win in the long, fast sprint.
“Levi made a very good move with a little more than one kilometer to go,” Amaran said. “I saw that no one from the field was responding, so I decided to try and go. I passed Levi and kept going and saw I had a gap to the peloton.”
With no time bonuses on offer, Leipheimer lost (unofficially) a second or two to Amaran, but gained a small handful on other GC contenders. Second placed Tom Danielson (DZ Nuts) and third-placed Cesar Grajales (OUCH-Bahati) held their positions.
Leipheimer gave credit to Amaran’s sprint. “He opened up a gap and I was able to bring it back a little, but he obviously has more speed than I do,” he said. He said the stage was “pretty smooth” but he thought his teammates maybe went a little harder than necessary. “But they are training, so that’s ok,” he said.
Leipheimer also said he is unfamiliar with such early starts — Gila stages typically start at 9 am. “I’d be a little happier if I got more sleep,” he said.
Trek-Livestrong’s Alex Dowsett held on to his sprints jersey and California Giant-Specialized’s Andrew Talansky held his lead in the U23 competition.
Bissell’s Kyle Wamsley gave credit to his team for his third spot on the podium. “They protected me all the way to about 1km to go, and gave me a super smooth ride while everyone else was in the gutter,” Wamsley said. “I was fresh for the finish. Right as we came (through) the last turn, a few guys came over the top, and I got boxed in a little, and then Levi and then Luis. When I was finally clear I attacked over the cattle grate with 600 meters to go, but with a tailwind like this, it’s hard to close time, and they already had 5 or 10 seconds.
“I wasn’t surprised that Amaran attacked, but I was surprised that Levi attacked. I figured he would just ride it in, but he’s out here for blood just like everybody else is.”
Two youngsters off the front
The day’s story belongs to the buffeting wind and the race’s two ad hoc ProTour teams, Leipheimer’s Mellow Johnny’s squad and the DZ Nuts team — and also by those two teams’ related development squads, Trek-Livestrong and Holowesko Partners.
Holowesko’s Danny Summerhill and Trek-Livestrong’s Ben King broke away from the group near the summit of the stage’s first major challenge, the climb to Pinos Altos. The two maintained a roughly one-minute lead through the mountains and down to the scenic Mimbres Valley.
Roughly half the field got dropped from the lead group in the mountains. But all the favorites were in a front group of about 50, led by DZ Nuts’ Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Tom Peterson (who normally race for Garmin-Transitions), and Mellow Johnny’s Jason McCartney, who is apparently adopting the team workhorse role established by Chris Horner at the Gila last year. Mellow Johnny’s Lance Armstrong appeared to be enjoying better legs than on Wednesday and spent some quality time on the front. Leipheimer, in his red leader’s jersey, stayed protected and rarely out of the top six.
King and Summerhill were given little leash, holding about a half-minute’s lead through the valley before conceding soon after the day’s second and final intermediate sprint.
When the race turned right and left the protective valley, the peloton encountered raging winds in their face and from their left. The six ProTour riders took over the front, with McCartney and Peterson doing more than their share of the work. The wind at times forced dozens of riders onto the dirt shoulder and slowed the pack to about 20 mph on one descent that normally produces 50 mph+ speeds.
The final miles were hectic, as the course wound through the streets of Bayard, to the cheers of local school children. The winds guttered some riders — the under-protected, the inexperienced or the just unlucky — forcing them onto the shoulders and even up onto sidewalks. Bissell’s full squad was protecting Wamsley, while Armstrong and McCartney fought to keep Leipheimer on the front and out of trouble.
With about a mile to go the course turned hard right and picked up a full-on tailwind. Leipheimer was near the front of the strong-out field and jumped hard with about 1k to go. Amaran allowed Leipheimer a brief gap before blowing by him. With the tailwind reducing the value of drafting, it was every man for himself and the two were quickly isolated off the front, with Leipheimer chasing a few bike lengths behind, all the way across the line.
It was Jamis-Sutter Home’s third straight win at the Gila’s Inner Loop road race. Last year (when the team was known as Colavita-Sutter Home) Sebastian Haedo won and in 2008 Tyler Wren won.
Winds are predicted to subside a bit — to 20 to 30 mph — for Friday’s 16.5-mile Tyrone time trial. Leipheimer said he would consult with team director Johan Bruyneel about what wheels to use. “If it’s a big crosswind you don’t want anything high profile, even if that would be faster … if it’s real bad we might not even use the rear disc.”
Mellow Johnny’s Lance Armstrong pitched in to protect Leipheimer, and said he had rarely raced in such stiff winds.
“Yesterday was a fairly traditional day with a break and the chase behind,” Armstrong told VeloNews. “Today the field exploded from the beginning, it was in pieces immediately, and from that point on it was J-Mac, Peterson and myself on the front setting tempo.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen wind like that in a race. I guess we were lucky, we had some time in the forest, so that was protected. After that we had a good tailwind. It was really just the last 40-50km that was headwind and crosswind,” he said.