SILVER CITY, N.M. (VN) — Mara Abbott (Exergy Twenty16) and Philip Deignan (UnitedHealthcare) became the 2013 overall winners of Silver City’s Tour of the Gila after a long day of racing in the mountainous terrain around Silver City on Sunday.
Though Abbott led the women’s race since the race’s opening stage, Deignan climbed up from third to take the victory on the final day. In both races, the fearsome Gila Monster stage delivered unpredictable racing with the outcome only coming clear in the final meters of each race.
Abbott said all week that she was restless with anticipation for the mountainous Gila Monster, the finale to Silver City’s Tour of the Gila. It’s her favorite race, and on Sunday, the Exergy Twenty16 rider showed why, winning the stage and the overall. Abbott attacked on the Gila Monster, and survived by mere meters to win the stage and secure her overall victory.
An early breakaway escaped in the Nimbres Valley and included Robin Farina (NOW and Novartis), Joelle Noumainville (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), and Rushleigh Buchanon (Tibco-To The Top). Despite the presence of Buchanon in the break, Tibco continued to attack the field in the hope of sending more riders across to the move. The result was a hard-charge across the flats.
On the Gila Monster climb, Abbott attacked on the steep lower slopes of the climb and rode away from the field.
“We let Mara go, because Mara is Mara,” said Optum’s Janel Holcomb after the stage.
It looked like Abbott might have everything her way, but the others were not done yet. Former Giro Donne winner Claudia Häusler (Tibco-To The Top) took off in pursuit of Abbott, while behind a chase group formed that included classification riders such as Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis), Kristin McGrath (Exergy Twenty16), and Holcomb. Climber Andrea Dvorak (Exergy Twenty16) was in the chase group, though she did not contribute.
The chase group rode steadily and soon caught the early breakaway riders. Farina and Noumainville quickly went to the front of the chase to work for Powers and Holcomb, respectively. The gaps began to close, but still, Abbott remained out in front, followed by Häusler.
On the rolling terrain following the Gila Monster, Powers attacked the chase. She started the day second overall behind Abbott, and is not a rider who likes to sit in.
“I was excited to get up the climb with two teammates, Robin [Farina] and Kathryn [Donovan]. That gave me enough recovery to make that move,” she said. “I wanted to try after the climb. Usually no one races that section of the course. I wanted to race. Claudia was still out there, which was extra incentive to go for it.”
Holcomb, who has steadily ridden into form during this Tour of the Gila, followed Powers, and the two worked smoothly together.
“I love descending and Alison loves descending!” said Holcomb. For Holcomb, it was a chance to move up the general classification, especially because McGrath, who started the day in third, did not make the move.
Powers and Holcomb soon swept up Häusler and the chase continued until the final climb to the line — a solid 500-meter grind. Häusler jumped clear and came within meters of catching Abbott at the line. But she could not quite get there, and finished second.
“It was a slow-motion drag-race to the finish,” said NOW and Novartis director Kurt Stockton. “The changing terrain, the turns, the tactics, it evened things out a little bit. It wasn’t just one climb like the Mogollon.”
Holcomb crossed the line third, while Powers was fourth.
“We could see Mara. It was brutal,” said Holcomb. Powers ably defended her second place in the general classification. Thanks to her hard-riding with Powers, Holcomb moved up to third overall.
“I am so happy. Yesterday after the crit, i was really grumpy. Like, what is wrong with me?” said Holcomb. “I am super super psyched. It was a fabulous way to cap off a great week of racing.”
Attacks burn all Jamis’ matches
In the men’s race, it took 50 kilometers to establish a breakaway. Though moves tried to go up the road, nothing was allowed to stay away, thanks to the presence of dangerous general-classification riders and the determination of every team to get a rider into the day’s breakaway. Every time a team missed the move, it came back, and the constant infighting made for fast, hard-fought racing.
“[Janier] Acevedo is an extremely talented rider, and he showed that on day one. And if you let him come to the bottom of the climb with fresh legs, he’s going to win,” said UnitedHealthcare director Mike Tamayo. “He’s one of the best climbers, he showed that on day one. I think the whole race knew that if we wanted to race to win, we had to race hard.”
After around 50km of racing, a breakaway finally stuck after BMC Development’s Sylvan Diller attacked solo. Two groups of riders bridged across to Diller to form a group of 15 riders at the front. The group included GC riders Lawson Craddock (Bontrager), Ben Day (UnitedHealthcare), and Tom Zirbel (Optum). For a time, Craddock was the race leader on the road.
The constant attacks burned up Acevedo’s team early, and one by one, the black-jerseyed riders dropped back through the cars, blown by the effort of trying to keep the dynamic race under control. The team sent Luis Amaran with the breakaway in the hope that he would prove able to help Acevedo later in the race.
“There was a lot of teams putting on pressure. It was hard for us to control. We lost two guys at the beginning of the race,” said Jamis-Hagens Berman director Sebastian Alexander. “Everybody in the team did 100 percent.”
On the Anderson Vista climb, the race began to split up, and soon the breakaway’s day was over. On the flat road to the Cliff Dwelling National Monument visitor center, UnitedHealthcare’s Johnny Clarke went up the road with Dio Smith (Predator). At the turnaround, the two riders still rode a minute ahead of a the field, which by then included around 30 riders.
Onto the Gila Monster, the race quickly blew apart and the field dwindled to fewer than 10. Bissell’s Chris Baldwin, who started the day in second overall, lost contact and never made it back to the front group. Clarke, meanwhile, remained up the road until near the summit, while behind him, the 10-rider selection split and reformed.
Deignan crossed the summit first and steadily built up an advantage that at its maximum reached 45 seconds. Francisco Mancebo (5-hour Energy-Kenda) did much of the work of the chase as the race approached the race’s final steep climb out of Sapillo Creek
Mancebo, who started the day in ninth overall, hoped to move up in the overall and dreamed of stage victory.
“I ride for GC, but I was ninth, I lost lots of time in the time trialing,” said Mancebo. “I wanted to try to on the hard climb, but there was too many people there.”
Across the rolling terrain of Wild Horse Mesa, the race came back together, at least, what was left of it. With 20km to go, Gaimon attacked. For a time, Gaimon held the virtual race lead, and looked to be well and clear. But soon, a three-rider chase formed behind him driven hard by Mancebo and Deignan. With the stage win in mind, Cooke mostly sat on.
It came down to the final meters, and in sight of the line, Gaimon saw his pursuers overtake him and his hopes of overall victory evaporate in the desert sun.
“I had that gap, I thought I had it, too. Mancebo must have just gone crazy behind me. There’s not a lot you can do against that dude. But I gave it everything,” said a tired, and obviously disappointed Gaimon. “It’s fun having a team here. The first time I did this race, I drove here by myself from Georgia. It’s really cool to do this with an awesome team behind me and Omer [Kem] in the car.”
Despite his hard efforts in the chase, Mancebo had the legs on the final steep jump to the finish to out-sprint his chase companions. When Cooke attacked, Mancebo quickly followed and overtook the Champion Systems rider on the line. Cooke survived to finish second.
“It was too hard today, with no breakaway. For me, it was better, everybody was dead in the climbs. I was strong. Maybe I can’t attack like the other guys, but I am strong, I can go, go, go,” said Mancebo. “No hard attacks, but strong. It was hard, it was a good day for me. It was too fast!”
Deignan finished third on the stage, but more importantly, for the Irish rider and his team, he took home the red jersey of Tour of the Gila winner. Sunday’s overall win is Deignan’s first major race victory since he won a stage at the 2009 Vuelta a España.
“A stage race, I’ve never won a stage race as a pro. Probably the last big stage race I won was in 2004, the Ronde de l’Izoard [as an U23]. I got a couple of wins as a pro in 2005, and I won a stage of the Vuelta in 2009,” said Deignan. “It’s been so long since I won a race, I feel like I’ve forgotten how to win a race. So this week was brilliant for that, getting the confidence on, before the Tour of California.”
Thanks to his good climbing legs on Sunday, Gaimon moved up to second overall, while Mancebo climbed up from ninth to finish third overall.