- An abandoned suitcase found not far from the announcers’ stage delayed the start of the men's race. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
- Kiel Reijnen rides that big blue train right into the station at the 2013 Tour of the Gila. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
- Optum cranking it up for the sprint. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
- Lauren Hill celebrates her crit victory. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com
SILVER CITY, N.M. (VN) — Lauren Hall and Kiel Reijnen won their bunch sprints in Saturday’s Downtown Silver City criterium.
Hall’s victory gave Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies its second stage victory of this year’s Tour of the Gila after Janel Holcomb’s emotional stage 2 victory at Fort Bayard.
“Hell yeah! It was phenomenal,” said Hall. “All I had to do was see the wind for 10 meters today. And Joelle, man, she’s amazing. That was all I had to do.”
Canadian Joelle Noumainville (Optum) crossed the line second, after leading out Hall. The easygoing Canadian said she found the challenging up-and-down Silver City course a relief after Friday’s windy time trial.
“It was cool. It wasn’t hard, not today. Yesterday, the time trial was hard. I hate it. I hate every second of it! Sometimes, I like the time trial, but the wind was so strong. I didn’t have a good one, and I was really disappointed, ” said Noumainville. “The crit, [it was] not a bit deal, no stress.”
A disappointed Shelley Olds (Tibco-To The Top) finished third. Though she took over the lead in the points classification, thanks to her efforts in the intermediate sprints, Olds wanted the stage victory most of all.
“I just mistimed the sprint, you know, a mistake that I’m really disappointed in making,” said Olds. “As a team, we’re not happy with the way we rode today. When the team doesn’t ride good, you’re not happy if you win or lose. So, you know, we have some things to talk about. In general, I’m disappointed.”
A steady headwind on the climb kept the breakaways in check despite the determined efforts of NOW and Novartis to get something going. A four-rider break escaped around halfway through, but it didn’t last. With four laps to go, it was all back together, the sprint inevitable.
Mara Abbott (Exergy Twenty16) successfully defended her race lead for another day. Abbott leads Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis) by 1:09 ahead of the Gila Monster stage on Sunday.
“It’s one of those epic kinds of stages where everyone’s trying to play games before the climb, but it really comes down to the climb,” said ExergyTwenty16 director Mike Engelman. “I think between the way Kristin and Mara are riding, it’s pretty hard to ride away from both of them. I’m sure teams will be aggressive and put people up the road. It’s part of the game!”
Stop and go
The start of the men’s race was delayed when Silver City police asked riders, spectators and race officials to clear the start area after an abandoned suitcase was found not far from the announcers’ stage. The police soon gave the all clear, and it was game on for the men’s field.
UnitedHealthcare delivered its sprinters perfectly to take both first and second on the stage. Reijnen out-sprinted teammate Luke Keough for the stage victory, with Optum’s Eric Young, a former national criterium champion, taking third.
“It was incredible,” said Reijnen, who celebrated his first criterium victory in three seasons. “We had so much depth coming across that final downhill, by the time I started my sprint I already had a gap. So definitely, it was all team effort.”
A two-rider breakaway including Jelly Belly’s Riccardo van der Velde and Bissell’s Julian Kyer stayed away for much of the race. Kyer said after the race that he did not start the stage intending to go in the break. Once he found himself up the road, he just kept rolling with it.
“The optimistic monkey that doesn’t think logically in my head, that part of me, definitely was optimistic,” said Kyer after the race. “You always think, maybe I can win today! Realistically, no. I knew they wanted a sprint.”
Though Jamis-Hagens Berman has a talented sprinter in J.J. Haedo, they decided to let the breakaway go on Saturday. The team is fully committed to defending Janier Acevedo’s race lead. With both Kyer and van der Velde well down on the general classification, Jamis was content to let them ride.
“You know, Jamis played their cards. Julian and Riccardo [are] both strong riders, we knew they could hold it, if they had the option,” said Reijnen. “Jamis wasn’t too worried about it if they stayed out there. So that forced us to have to chase if we wanted the stage win. They played the right tactical card, and forced us to go earlier than we wanted to.”
Once UnitedHealthcare put its riders on the front the breakaway’s days were numbered. At three laps to go, it was all back together. Not only had UnitedHealthcare brought back the break, but its entire team was still on the front for the sprint.
“We really had the depth today, we took it at 15 to go, and we still had the strength at three to go to have a full team,” said Reijnen. “All those guys, they took their last pull, then they tucked back in and took another one.”
In the final lap, Optum came up alongside the blue train of UnitedHealthcare. Despite some hard riding from time trial specialist Tom Zirbel, it was all UnitedHealthcare in the final burst to the finish.
Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) remains the race leader by four seconds ahead of Chris Baldwin (Bissell). With the top 10 riders in the overall sitting within 1:30 of the race lead, Sunday’s Gila Monster stage should be a showdown.