Taylor Phinney made it two in a row for his Trek-Livestrong squad on Saturday by winning the SRAM Tour of the Gila criterium, outsprinting Ivan Dominguez (Jamis-Sutter Home) and the rest of the field on the final straight. The win fulfilled a goal Phinney hoped to achieve a year ago, when he was derailed by a last-lap crash in this crit.
Fly V’s Charles Dionne was third.
(Read the women’s report)
Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) had “a very smooth” ride to protect his Gila overall lead — and his Tour of California and Tour de France hopes. Leipheimer’s teammates Lance Armstrong and Jason McCartney, along with Dominguez’s Jamis-Sutter Home squad, worked the front for much of the day, smothering almost all forays and chasing down the one breakaway that briefly established a significant gap.
There were no changes to the top of the general classification and Leipheimer will carry a 59-second lead over Dave Zabriskie (DZ Nuts) into Sunday’s concluding Gila Monster stage.
Phinney, 19, not only scored the stage win but took over the green sprints competition leader’s jersey. His teammate Jesse Sergent won Friday’s time trial, 14 seconds ahead of Leipheimer.
Jamis and Mellow Johnny’s at the controls
The race began with some aggression from the Bissell team, who put Andy Jacques-Maynes off in a break for a lap or so before his brother Ben also joined a small group that got a gap.
Holowesko’s Danny Summerhill also was active in the opening laps, joining several small breaks and snagging some primes.
But Armstrong, McCartney and Trek-Livestrong kept the pace strong on the four-corner course, which includes a roller-coaster back straight with two bumpy little climbs.
Mid-race, Jamis joined the front with four or five riders to chase down the day’s most significant break, which included Roman Kilun (UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis), Marsh Cooper (Trek-Red Truck Racing), Peter Salon (Holowesko Partners), and Jake Rytlewski (Kenda-Geargrinder).
The foursome built a maximum lead of about 20 seconds midway through the 40-lap, 43-mile race, but the Jamis/Mellow Johnny’s crew brought them back with eight laps to go.
The last laps included a flurry of activity as Trek-Livestrong began to make a strong presence at the front and UnitedHealthcare, Fly V and Jamis all tried to position their sprinters. Phinney joined a break of five with teammate Julian Kyer, and then briefly attacked off the front of that break, but couldn’t cobble together a group that would work with him.
UnitedHealthcare’s Brad White took a flyer with three to go, and Zabriskie powered off with two to go.
Zabriskie’s attack was the first of the day that posed a direct threat to Leipheimer’s GC position, and Leipheimer said he toyed with the idea of joining his rival off the front.
“I was thinking about going with him because I thought it would be fun,” Leipheimer told VeloNews. “But I could see the sprinters’ teams were lining up. They were going fast and I didn’t feel like it,” he said with a chuckle.
Jamis took control of the front and brought back Zabriskie, as Trek-Livestrong fought to bring Phinney to the front on the final lap.
Trek-Livestrong’s Alex Dowsett delivered Phinney to third position at the top of one of the backside hills. Phinney stayed there, behind Jamis’ Luis Amaran and Dominguez, through the last two corners, coming through the fast, tight left turn and onto the finish straight still in third.
The last straight to the line is short, but on Sunday a headwind favored a late jump. When Amaran pulled off, Dominguez opened his sprint and Phinney followed up the line, coming around him with about 50 meters left, winning by half a wheel.
Fly V had fought to position Dionne near the front, but couldn’t quite pull it off, said the team’s Ben Day.
“We had a bit of a game plan there,” Day said. “We were forced to show our hand a little earlier than we wanted to coming into the finish, and we came up a little short. We rode strongly; we had the bunch lined out, no one was coming over us, and if we had one more guy at the front riding strongly I think it would have made a big difference. There were so many attacks at the end we had to cover. The guys got a bit swamped coming up the top of the hill … Those Livestrong guys are riding pretty aggressively this weekend; they’re riding well.”
Dominguez said he hasn’t done enough racing so far this season and doesn’t have his sprinter’s legs under him yet.
“I knew as soon as we turned I was in trouble, but I had to go. It’s a long sprint, but I prefer to be passed by one or two guys than wait and get passed by everybody. (Phinney) is riding really good, riding really strong,” Dominguez said.
“I knew to win the race I had to do something very stupid, because I don’t have the legs. I saw him that he had my wheel, but I do not want to do any crazy moves and crash him in a race like that, so I just kept my line and he passed me. He’s riding great,” he said.
A smooth ride
Unlike last year, when Leipheimer was involved with a crash on the last lap and wound up finishing the Gila crit on teammate Chris Horner’s bike, he enjoyed a trouble-free day Sunday.
“It was very smooth, I don’t think it could go any better. There were no crashes that I saw. The main goal was obviously to get through the stage unscathed,” Leipheimer said.
“Lance and Jason were awesome. I mean, they know how to do this, they can do it with their eyes closed. They know exactly what speed to ride and controlled it perfectly.”
McCartney gave credit to Jamis.
“I think we wanted to chill back, and hoped the sprinters’ teams would do more. You saw Jamis came up and they helped us right away. Zabriskie was frisky; he was in a move right away and then again with two to go, but no one was going anywhere in a race for the sprinters,” McCartney said.
Phinney, the two-time world individual pursuit champion, has won major time trials (the junior world championships), major track titles and major road races (including the Paris-Roubaix Espoirs last year). But Sunday was his first professional criterium win, and came in ahead of one of the most feared domestic sprinters, Dominguez, along with a handful of other NRC heavies.
After the race he said he still wasn’t sure he considered himself a sprinter, but his goal remains to win major European road races as a pro.
“I never really thought of myself as a crit racer. I’ve had some success on the road in Europe and that’s really where I want to go,” he said.
Coming off an injury that kept him off the bike for two weeks, Phinney said his Gila performance bodes well for his next major objective: a repeat win at the Espoirs Paris-Roubaix.
As for the Gila Monster, Phinney has no personal goals on the mountainous final stage.
“Tomorrow is for training and helping my team. And maybe for riding up the last hill with my Ipod on,” he said.
-Neal Rogers contributed to this report
Top Ten Stage
1. Taylor Phinney Trek Livestrong in 1:31:20.
2. Ivan Dominguez Jamis Sutter Home P/b Colavita at 0:00:00
3. Charles Dionne Fly V Australia at 0:00:00
4. Nick Walker Holowesko Partners Cycling Team at 0:00:00
5. Patrick Bevin Rubicon-Orbea at 0:00:00
6. David Tanner Fly V Australia at 0:00:00
7. Rory Sutherland Unitedhealthcare Professional at 0:00:00
8. Danny Summerhill Holowesko Partners Cycling Team at 0:00:00
9. Cody O’reilly Bissell Pro Cycling at 0:00:00
10. Jeremy Vennell Bissell Pro Cycling at 0:00:00
Top Ten GC
1. Levi Leipheimer Team Mellow Johnny’s in 9:18:59
2. Tom Danielson Dz Nuts at 0:00:59
3. David Zabriskie Dz Nuts at 0:01:04
4. Phillip Zajicek Fly V Australia at 0:01:14
5. Luis Amaran Jamis Sutter Home P/b Colavita at 0:02:02
6. Andrew Talansky U25 at 0:02:22
7. Cesar Grajales Ouch-Bahati Foundation Pro at 0:02:59
8. Chris Baldwin Unitedhealthcare Professional at 0:03:17
9. Corey Collier Ouch-Bahati Foundation Pro at 0:03:19
10. Rory Sutherland Unitedhealthcare Professional at 0:03:20