Darren Lill (Fly V Australia) won the final stage of the SRAM Tour of the Gila on Sunday, after attacking his breakaway companions 16 miles from the finish and riding alone to finish six seconds ahead of a chase group.
Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) came in a few seconds later, securing his second overall win at the New Mexican stage race.
Tom Danielson (DZ Nuts) held on to his second-place overall at the race, which served as a Tour of California training week for a handful of top riders.
Lill said he had doubts about going in the day’s big move, having felt less than stellar in the early going at the Gila.
“The first few days here at Gila I was just feeling a little bit tired,” he said. “But I didn’t let it get me down. I just knew that I’d had a bad day, and that today’s stage was going to be more of a decider, and more suited to me, with a whole bunch of climbs rather than just one 20-minute effort at the end of a fairly easy day.
“I wasn’t 100 percent sure about going in the move or not today. It was one of those things where you’re not sure if it’s going to work out or not, and a lot depends on the composition of the guys in the break. On the first few rollers of the stage I saw a fairly strong move forming, and managed to ride across with a few guys. I was happy to see Burke Swindlehurst there and a number of other strong guys, and I knew that if we had cohesion, we had a chance.”
Danielson, meanwhile, showed he is in top form ahead of California with a blistering attack that briefly shed Lance Armstrong (Mellow Johnny’s) from the lead chase group on the climb from the Gila Cliff Dwellings, leaving Leipheimer without a teammate on the tough climb.
“I really wanted to be aggressive if I was going to have a shot of winning the race,” said Danielson. “I needed to isolate Levi, maybe with another guy who was high on GC. My goal was to have the team make the race hard. Then I went on the climb, but it was a lot of headwind, and it was difficult to drop the other guys I was with.
“So it was me, Levi, (Phil) Zajicek and (Rory) Sutherland. Those guys decided that it wasn’t a good move for them, but that was what I needed, I needed those guys with me so we could all start attacking Levi once we were over the climb. I asked them if they would participate, and they said yeah, but once we were over the climb they all said ‘No, I can’t.’
“It would have been good. All of us had teammates in the breakaway, and that was the goal, to get across to the breakaway. We got within a minute and a half out of the Gila Monster; we would have caught them on the next climb. We had a good gap on the guys behind, and Levi was isolated without Lance. Zajicek had Lill, and Sutherland had some guys as well.
“It would have been a good move to go across to that and hit Levi there. I can’t say I didn’t try. I tried.”
With Lill up the road, Zajicek said, “I couldn’t ride. It’s too bad, I was feeling good, I would have liked to have driven it, but with Lill up the road it was perfect for us. So I just sat on them. There was a big re-grouping. Lance rode really well, until about 5km to go, and then Levi took over. But at that point the break was going to stay away, and Lill was solo, so I knew it was perfect for us.”
It was the second year that a Fly V rider has won the mountainous final stage, called the Gila Monster. The team scored another honor when Zajicek moved onto the podium into third place by outsprinting the chase group and taking a handful of seconds from Dave Zabriskie (DZ Nuts), who had held that position.
(Editor’s Note: The most recent complete results released to the press still show Zabriskie in third, but two officials at the finish line told VeloNews that the results would be revised to show Zajicek in third. Also, Team Bissell’s Robert Britton protested the stage results and a team member told VeloNews that the results are being revised to show Britton was second on the stage, ahead of UnitedHealthcare’s Max Jenkins. We will post the revised official results when available.)
Armstrong, who rejoined the elite chase group after Danielson’s attack, impressed many by powering the pursuit for about 20km, pulling Leipheimer closer to Lill and the remnants of the breakaway.
“I was trying to get Levi alone and drop Lance,” Zabriskie said. “We tried to attack, attack, attack, and win the race, but it didn’t work out. Lance was very good today, I have to say that.”
Leipheimer also praised his teammate for the hard work he did during the finale.
“I really wish I could have been aggressive, but I know the smart thing to do is play it conservative and wait for Lance to come back,” said Leipheimer. “He came back, he rode the downhill, and he was really good on the last climb, nobody attacked. He pulled the last 15 miles, which was rolling.
“We thought the time gap was two minutes, which was no problem, but then all of a sudden Johan said Lill had 3:28, and we were concerned. So Lance did his last pull and with five miles to go I took over and decided I needed to make sure the time gap wasn’t that close. As I’m pulling they came up with the board and it said two minutes flat, I don’t know, I just went for it, because you never know if the time gaps are right or not.”
The effort took its toll, said RadioShack boss Johan Bruyneel. But it was expected, and good training, he added.
“We knew it was going to be hard on us,” said Bruyneel. “We had hoped some other teams would not have been represented and would have to work with us, but that wasn’t the case. So it was up to us to control and set the pace.
“We had planned that Jason had to do the beginning of the stage, and we hoped he could get over that first big climb, but there were some attacks, and from early on it was Lance and Levi by themselves. From then on it was Lance that had to control the stage, and that was very difficult, for one rider to control a whole bunch and a breakaway of more than 10 riders.
“But ultimately it was okay. Lance did a good job, he worked a lot. The intention was to come here and do a lot of hard work, and that’s what he did. We’re definitely leaving on a positive note. First of all because we won the race. Secondly, because our development team won two stages, that’s a good thing. And lastly, because Lance did a lot of good work. He basically finished cross-eyed at the end, which is a good thing. That was the purpose of coming here. So we’re going home with a good feeling.”
In the women’s race Cath Cheatley (Colavita-Baci) joined race leader Mara Abbott (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) off the front on the Sapillo. The two worked together over the final up-and-down miles and Cheatley took the win nine seconds ahead of Abbott.
Abbott won her second Gila overall (her first was in 2007) on the strength of climbing on the first and last stage. Stage 3 time trial winner Alison Powers (Vera Bradley Foundation) was third on the stage, 1:41 behind Cheatley, and retained her second place on the overall standings.
Last year, Powers also was second, behind Kristin Armstrong, now Abbott’s team director.
1. Darren Lill (Fly V Australia)
2. Max Jenkins (UnitedHealthcare)
3. Robert Britton (Bissell)
4. Caleb Fairly (Holowesko Partners)
5. Burke Swindlehurst
6. Jesse Sergent (Trek-Livestrong)
7. Phil Zajicek (Fly V)
1. Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s)
2. Tom Danielson (DZ Nuts)
3. Phi Zajicek (Fly V)
4. Dave Zabriskie (DZ Nuts)
Men’s Sprint competition: Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong)
Men’s U26: Andrew Talansky (California Giant-Specialized)
1. Cath Cheatley (Colavita-Baci)
2. Mara Abbott (Peanut Butter & Co-Twenty12) at :08
3. Alison Powers (Vera Bradley Foundation) at 1:41
4. Carla Swart (Vera Bradley Foundation) at 2:00
5. Andrea Dvorak (Colavita-Baci) at 2:00
2. Powers at 2:40
3. Cheatley at 3:11
4. Dvorak at 5:00
5. Errine Willock (Webcor) at 5:08