Levi Leipheimer opened up a defense of his SRAM Tour of the Gila title the same way he took his first red leader’s jersey in the race a year ago — with a solo win on the mountain-top finish Mogollon stage.
In the women’s race, 2007 Gila winner Mara Abbot (Peanut Butter & Co-Twenty12) sprung away from the field on the final climb and opened a 2 1/2 minute lead over second place.
Leipheimer, racing for the ad hoc Mellow Johnny’s team with his RadioShack teammates Lance Armstrong and Jason McCartney, attacked a select group of about five riders with a mile to go on the steep winding ascent to the Mogollon ghost town.
Tom Danielson, racing for the ad hoc DZ Nuts team with his Garmin-Transitions teammates David Zabriskie and Tom Peterson, was second, passing a strong Cesar Grajales (OUCH-Bahati) in the final 200 meters. Fly V’s Phil Zajicek was fourth. The most watched man in the race, Armstrong, finished 22nd at 1:46 behind his teammate.
Early break, low winds
The miles of windswept rollers preceding the difficult climb to nearly 7,000 feet elevation means early breakaways are almost always doomed on the Mogollon stage.
Nevertheless, in the men’s race, attacks began as soon as the neutral zone ended outside Silver City, and with 5k a group of ten was off the front, trading pulls and expanding its lead rapidly. The group included two Trek-Livestrong riders and one Holowesko Partners rider. Since Trek-Livestrong is closely allied with the Mellow Johnny’s team, and the Holowesko team is associated with DZ Nuts, the six ProTour riders in the peloton were content to let the group go. Bissell, Fly V and Rubicon-Orbea also were represented, so chase duties, in the first half of the race, were left to UnitedHealthcare, Spidertech and Jamis-Sutter Home.
Frank Pipp (Bissell)
Darren Rolfe ( Fly V)
Walker Savidge (Holowesko)
Jason Allen (Rubicon-ORBEA)
Jonathan Garcia (Team Rio Grande)
Alex Dowsett (Trek-Livestrong)
Ben King (Trek-Livestrong)
Andrew Dahlheim (Metro Volkswagen)
Victor Riquelme (Trisports Cycling)
Marsh Cooper (Trek Red Truck)
Carson Miller (unattached)
Forecast strong winds materialized as medium-strength breezes that were sometimes tailwinds, and not a major issue. The break quickly established a large gap that grew to more than 9 minutes as the race began two mid-race loops through the towns of Gila and Cliff.
With considerable climbing talent and GC ambition in the field, the breakaway would likely have to reach the bottom of the 6.7-mile Mogollon climb with a gap of at least three minutes for any of its members to dream of a stage win. However, soon after the loops (which included two passes through a feedzone), the peloton got down to business.
Mellow Johnny’s McCartney began taking some monster pulls, as did some of the DZ Nuts and Holowesko riders. Although race radios were banned, the break got frequent updates on the gap from the official time board moto. And the news was not good, as the gap tumbled to five, three and two minutes, and then to just 1:20 as the race hit Pleasanton, 14 miles from the finish.
Dowsett, the British U23 time trial champion, snagged the sprints jersey by winning one of the intermediate sprints and coming second in the other. As the break hit the first steep climbing out of Glenwood, it quickly lost half its riders. Before the very steepest climbing the course crosses a wind-swept plateau, Whitewater Mesa. Here, Dowsett, who does not have a climber’s build, bravely attacked the remnants of the break, putting 12 seconds on them.
Looking down on the mesa from mid-way up the narrowing finish climb, the results of the increased pace in the main field were evident: as Dowsett pulled away from the break, a group of about 25, including most of the favorites, was visibly traveling faster toward them. Behind the 25, riders in ones and twos chased. The starting field of 177 was nearly decimated before the leaders even crossed the mesa.
Zabriskie put in an attack, and Jamis Sutter Home’s Luis Amaran countered and got a gap, but was soon reeled in as the pack caught in past the last of the breakaway remnants. With a mile to go, the group was whittled down to a half-dozen, who were testing each other with attacks. Just after the 1 mile marker, Leipheimer countered a move by Grajales and began pulling away, while Danielson kept a steady pace.
Besides the steepness, all of the top riders were acutely aware of the altitude.
“It was just really painful. There’s nothing like altitude,” Leipheimer told VeloNews. “By the time we got to the last k, it was every man for himself, just go the speed you can go. It was harder than last year because last year I had a little gap and I could back off a little bit. Here I continually had to push and push all the way to the finish just to maintain what gap I had and get the stage win.”
Danielson also was feeling the effects. “I tried to ride my own speed, because it’s important at altitude to save your bullets, and (Leipheimer) started to come back, which was good the see,” he said. Grajales, who was unfamiliar with the climb, did not time his attack as well and Danielson was able to roll by him in the last 200 meters.
The time gaps between the top 20 were considerably smaller than last year, when Leipheimer crossed the line 49 seconds ahead of Peter Stetina. This year the top ten riders were all within 50 seconds of Leipheimer.
“(Mogollon) is a real short climb; it’s a good indication on who is going well, but it’s not the race,” Danielson said. “I think the time trial and the final stage is the key. Today it’s important to not lose too much time and stay close.”
Among the riders who stayed close were fourth-placed Zajicek and fifth-placed Andrew Talensky (California Giant/Specialized), who now leads the young rider competition. Three-time Gila overall winner Burke Swindlehurst, Zabriskie and yes, Armstrong, all were close enough to remain in contention, as well.
Top Ten Men
- 1. Levi Leipheimer Team Mellow Johnny’s in 3:48:18
- 2. Tom Danielson Dz Nuts at 0:00:10
- 3. Cesar Grajales Ouch-Bahati Foundation Pro at 0:00:16
- 4. Phillip Zajicek Fly V Australia at 0:00:16
- 5. Andrew Talansky U25 at 0:00:38
- 6. David Zabriskie Dz Nuts at 0:00:41
- 7. Luis Amaran Jamis Sutter Home P/b Colavita at 0:00:41
- 8. Alex Hagman Ouch-Bahati Foundation Pro at 0:00:41
- 9. Chris Baldwin Unitedhealthcare Professional at 0:00:47
- 10. Jai Crawford Fly V Australia at 0:00:50
Women’s race: Samplonius’ long ride
In the women’s race Anne Samplonius (Vera Bradley Foundation) attacked soon after the feed zone and set out on a solo break, winding up a nearly 9-minute lead at one point. Much as in the men’s race, however, after the halfway point the peloton began the chase, with Peanut Butter & Co. putting four riders on the front, hoping to deliver Abbott to the base of the climb with no one ahead of her.
“We knew that Mara Abbott could outclimb anyone here, but we wanted to make her work for it and force her team to chase,” said Samplonius. “I was hoping some others would come with me, but I guess they thought it was too early.”
And, much like the men’s break a little later in the day, Samplonius was finally reeled in on the first ramps of the Mogollon climb (For her efforts, Samplonius took the first points jersey). Just before the catch, a crash took down several riders, including Just before the final climb began, a crash occurred, which took down a large group of riders, including Colavita’s Carmen Small and TIBCO’s Meredith Miller and Amanda Miller. After the crash Peanut Butter’s Catherine Carroll and Alisha Welsh drove the group into the climb before Abbott sprung away.
Abbott quickly opened a huge gap and Cheatley, Alison Powers (Vera Bradley), Mattis and Colavita’s Andrea Dvorak traded blows behind. Mattis fell back on the early steeps but found her rhythm late in the climb and caught and passed Powers and Welsh to take third.
While Mattis called Abbott’s ride “brilliant” she said no one is conceding the race this early. This Gila boasts its strongest field ever, and three or four teams have leaders capable of challenging for the win.
“There are a lot of teams with depth here,” Mattis said. “It’s going to be four more days of great racing.”
Top Ten Women
- 1. Mara Abbott in 3:24:55. Peanut Butter & Co.
- 2. Catherine Cheatley Colavita/baci P/b Cooking in 3:27:22.
- 3. Katheryn Mattis Webcor Builders in 3:27:54.
- 4. Alisha Welsh Peanut Butter & in 3:28:19.
- 5. Alison Powers Team Vera Bradley Foundation in 3:28:23.
- 6. Robin Farina Team Vera Bradley Foundation in 3:28:31.
- 7. Erinne Willock Webcor Builders in 3:28:37.
- 8. Meredith Miller Team Tibco in 3:28:46.
- 9. Andrea Dvorak Colavita/baci P/b Cooking in 3:28:52.
- 10. Kathryn Donovan Specialized D4w/bicycle Haus in 3:28:54