PINOS ALTOS, New Mexico (VN) — Francisco “Paco” Mancebo and Clara Hughes each put on impressive displays of power while locking up overall victories Sunday at the SRAM Tour of the Gila.
Mancebo (Realcyclist.com) took his second stage win of the five-day race, this time charging alone for the hilly final nine miles of the mountainous Gila Monster stage to pad the overall lead he had held since stage 1. The 35-year-old shared the final overall podium with two teenagers: Trek-Livestrong’s Dale Parker and Chipotle Development Team’s Lachlan Morton (who was second in Sunday’s stage).
In the women’s race, Hughes, with just two teammates, gambled by allowing a seven-woman breakaway to gain more than 10 minutes in the mid-part of the race. The break’s best-placed rider, Emily Kachorek (Primal-MapMyRide), started the day six minutes behind Hughes on GC.
Hughes planned to use the final 20 miles of the race to close the gap to the break — and withstand any attacks by second-placed Mara Abbott.
Abbott’s Diadora team also was betting on the final 20 miles, which contain a confusing array of steep climbs, narrow twisty descents, false flats and leg-kicking rollers. Diadora took the front of the peloton and began chasing just a few miles before the start of this final section, quickly closing the break’s advantage to seven minutes.
Hughes’ bet paid off best. Diadora drove into the steep switchbacks through the pines to open the final leg. Abbott attacked and was joined by Colavita’s Andrea Dvorak, but the pair never got more than 20 seconds ahead of the determined Hughes, who caught up when the grade eased and eventually dropped Abbott on a descent in the final miles. She came within seconds of catching Kachorek to easily preserve her GC position.
A few minutes earlier, breakaway member Kathryn Donovan (Missing Link Coaching Systems) had finished the stage alone for a brilliant first NRC win.
Donovan had attacked her break-mates at roughly the same place that Abbott had attacked, and soloed nearly 20 miles. The ride moved the Californian up to third on the final GC, with Abbott holding onto second. Dvorak, who finished with Hughes, moved up to fourth on GC and also won the Queen of the Mountains prize.
Mancebo and the young guns
Attacks came from the start in the 106-mile men’s race, but Mancebo’s squad, with some help from Colavita, kept the peloton largely intact. A breakaway of about a dozen riders rolled off in the Mimbres Valley, but Realcyclist’s Cole House, still smarting from a frustrating sprint in Saturday’s criterium, drove the chase for miles and the break’s lead rarely exceeded 45 seconds.
The break was largely absorbed on the first serious climb and the fireworks began popping at the base of the day’s toughest hill, the category 1 climb on the way back from the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
Matt Cooke (Team Exergy) and Chris Baldwin (Bissell) hit out near the bottom, soon joined by Mancebo and Trek-Livestrong’s George Bennett. The four quickly opened a huge gap. Two-thirds of the way up, Cooke exploded dramatically and quickly dropped away from the other three.
Baldwin, the 2006 Gila overall champion, was the next to come unglued, losing contact partway up the next climb, which tops out at Wild Horse Mesa.
That left Mancebo with Bennett, a 21-year-old New Zealander, who struggled to stay with the Spaniard. Mancebo gapped Bennett several times but appeared to wait for him, perhaps hoping for some help in the rolling finale.
But with nine miles to go, Mancebo finally pulled away for good and began a charge for the line. Team director Gord Fraser later said Mancebo was trying to build a cushion to allow for a late emergency, like a flat tire or mechanical. But Mancebo just appeared to be enjoying the opportunity to open up his legs, and he ripped the uphills, descents and turns so fast that photo motorcycles had a hard time keeping up.
Mancebo pulled into the finish in Pinos Altos nearly 20 minutes sooner than officials had projected, taking the crowd and race announcers by surprise.
Behind him, an elite chase group had formed, composed almost entirely of U25 riders from Trek-Livestrong and Chipotle, along with Cooke, Baldwin and Exergy’s Andres Diaz. The group’s young members know each other well; many of them live and train together in Boulder, Colorado. Chipotle’s Morton said the final miles reminded him of local races in his native Australia, where he and Parker have been longtime friends and rivals.
The gang caught and dropped Bennett with about five miles to go, and in the final kilometer Chipotle’s Alex Howes led out Morton for second place on the stage. Trek-Livestrong’s Joe Dombroski finished third.
Neither Ben Day, who started the day in second, or Luis Amaran, who started in third, made it into the elite chase group. Parker finished with the group to leapfrog Day and Amaran into second overall (and best young rider). Morton moved up from fifth to third.