MOGOLLON, New Mexico (VN) — Francisco Mancebo (Realcyclist.com) powered to a solo win in the first stage of the SRAM Tour of the Gila Wednesday, taking an early overall lead in the mountainous Southwestern stage race. Tyler Wren (Jamis-Sutterhome) was second and young Joe Dombrowski (Trek-Livestrong) was third.
In the women’s race, defending champion Mara Abbott (Diadora) won by much as she did last year, with a solo attack on the steep and narrow finishing climb near the ghost town of Mogollon. Abbott, who also won the Gila in 2007, dropped Flavia Oliveira (Pactimo) in the final kilometer. Oliveira’s teammate, Canadian Olympian Clara Hughes, was third in her comeback to road racing.
2006 and 2009 Gila winner Kristin Armstrong (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) finished well off the pace after suffering from food poisoning.
Abbott’s late-arriving team gets the job done
All the members of Abbott’s Italian-based Diadora-Pasta Zara, except Abbott, arrived in Silver City at 1 a.m. Wednesday from Europe. Despite their travel weariness, their lack of acclimatization to the altitude and their unfamiliarity with the course, the team delivered Abbott to the base of the climb safe and well positioned.
“It was gorgeous,” Abbott said. “I was in awe of them even before I knew how the race finished up.”
The 117 kilometer race was marked by a long solo break by Kristin Sanders (Colavita), who rode alone off the front for about 30 miles. Peanut Butter and Diadora led the chase that reeled Sanders in well before the critical right turn onto the base of the finish climb.
A group of about a dozen women broke free on the early slopes of the climb. One of Abbott’s teammates made the first major attacked, which was countered by Abbott and Oliveira, who quickly opened a large gap on the one-lane road. With about a mile left, Abbott jumped again and took the win by about 25 seconds.
The surprise of the day was Hughes’ third-place. The Canadian, best known for her track cycling and speed skating, is in her first road race since 2003. She is returning to the road with an eye toward the Olympic road time trial in 2012. With her evident good form and time trial talent, along with her strong-climbing teammate, Oliveira, Hughes could pose the biggest threat to Abbott’s desire for a third Gila overall title.
Mancebo continues assault on U.S. stage racing
The Mogollon stage winner has won the Gila overall title in the last three editions of the race. Mancebo already won the Redlands Bicycle Classic this year, and his show of power on Mogollon positions him well to continue the pattern here. But more than a few threats remain.
Second-placed Tyler Wren on Wednesday showed impressive form heading into stage 2 — the same stage he won in 2008. And third placed Dombroski admits that even he does not know his limits.
“I was a Cat. 4 last year, this is all new to me,” the Pennsylvanian climber said. His Trek-Livestrong squad has a new look this year, with the departures of Taylor Phinney and Jesse Sergent, both of whom won stages at the Gila last year. Despite their absence, the development squad still has a wide array of talent at the Gila, and under Axel Merckx’ leadership, the team is eager to make its mark later this week.
Another wild card could by Tom Zirbel, who is returning to competition here after serving a doping suspension. Riding for Bissell in 2008, Zirbel won the Gila’s stage 3 time trial and took the overall lead. He held the lead into the difficult Gila Monster final stage, where he lost contact with eventual overall winner Gregorio Ladino and then crashed out of the race on a descent.
The race continues Thursday with the Inner Loop Road Race, a hilly 80-mile affair. Last year the race was marked by stiff winds that shattered the women’s field. This year the forecasts call for gusts to 25 mph, considerably less than last year.
- 1. MANCEBO Francisco, Realcyclist.com Cycling Team, in 03:59:22
- 2. WREN Tyler, Jamis Sutter Home P/b Colavita, at 00:14.00
- 3. DOMBROWSKI Joesph, Trek-Livestrong, at 00:35.00
- 4. HOWES Alexander, Chipotle Development Team, at 00:40.00
- 5. BENNETT George, Trek-Livestrong, at 00:40.00
- 1. Mara Abbott, Diadora-Pasta Zara Team, in 4:11:40.
- 2. F Oliveira (parks), Pactimo Cycling Team, at 0:00:19
- 3. Clara Hughes, Pactimo Cycling Team, at 0:00:50
- 4. Andrea Dvorak, Colavita/forno D’asolo, at 0:01:22
- 5. Nicole Evans, Mapmyride, at 0:01:37