The men face 100 miles and over 9,000 feet of climbing. It’s said to be the toughest stage in the US with the riders facing climbs taking them over 7,000 feet in elevation. The course features two cat 3, two cat 2, and one cat 1 climb. It’s a brutal final day of racing and after 5 days of tough racing, you either have it or you don’t. and with the The women face 68.9 miles and over 5000 feet of climbing. Their course will be the reverse of stage two climbing the steep and narrow cat 2 Sapillo climb and ending with the short but steep cat 3 climb to Pinos Altos. The stage finish is in the town of Pinos Altos ending in front of the historic Buckhorn saloon. It’s a classic southwestern scene, a throwback to days long ago. The contrast of modern cycling seems to fit, it’s the Gila, and theres no better finish.
The men’s race began with a long neutral, but once the flag dropped, as has been the case all week, the attacks began right away. With a GC being tight, the teams seemed quite eager to set their tactics up early on this stage. Three riders managed a small gap with the group quickly forming off the front of the peloton. The two groups reorganized to contain 15 riders. Tom Zirbel of Optum was on the front of this group driving it hard and the gap quickly grew to 30 seconds. With this large of a group working well together chances were that this was the move of the day.
The group contained Jeff Louder of United HealthCare, three riders from 5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda Racing – Jeff Hornbeck, Taylor Shelden, and Chad Beyer, three rider from Hincapie Sportswear – Joseph Schmalz, Tyler Magner, Joseph Lewis, Jamis -Hagens Berman rider Luis Amaran, two riders from Optum – Tom Zirbel, and will Routley, two riders from Jelly Belly – Luis DeVila, a Serghei Tvetcov, two riders from Team SmartStop – Cameron Cogburn, Michael Torckler, and one rider from Marc Pro Strava, Gonzalez Rolando.
Indeed, with all the teams represented, this was the move of the day. The riders descended down to the Mimbres valley at 50+mph and once in the valley there was a steady rotation but when Zirbel came to the front he strung the group out with long pulls, and with Routley sitting on, they were in a good position. The gap extended to and remained around 2-2:30 through the valley. United HelathCare seemed content with that time gap. As the break hit the Cat 2 climb up to Anderson Vista they had 2:30, by the top it was down to 55 seconds. The descent down to the turn around is fast and very technical which favored the break and their gap extended back out to 1:20.
As the break began the Cat one climb it was Louder, who was dropped fairly quickly, Hornbeck and Beyer of 5Hour, Schmalz of Hincapie, Amaran of Jamis, Tvetcov of Jelly Belly, Routley of Optum, and Torckler of SmartStop. From behind Brenes, Jarmillo, and Cooke from Jamis, Kirk Carlson of Jelly Belly, Rob Britton, Flavia DeLuna of SmartStop, and Carter Jones of Optum broke from the peloton and caught the break at the top of the climb.
Jamis was also playing out some good tactics today. They remained patient and waited for the climbs to begin to then get to work. Unfortunately for them, Jones had caught this train and was able to rely on a relatively rested Routley. Ben Day had succumbed to The Monster and was not going to be able to keep his jersey.
The lead group descended to start the Sapillo where Optum director, Jonas Carney, had this to say, “I think this is one of our best days. We rode really strong and our tactics played out perfectly. Zirbel was on the front for 100 k just killing it for this result. Routley was super strong and then Carter as able to finish it off … It was a great day for us.”
The race came down to a sprint with Jaramillo taking the win followed by Britton and Routley. GC went to Jones with Greg Brenes of Jamis, and Rob Briton of SmartStep rounding out the podium. It was an aggressive day of racing from Optum, and it paid off with the win. Next Optum is off to The Tour of California after perfect preparation from The Gila.
A with the men, the women began aggressively with attacks from the gun. The only chance the riders had to dismantle Abbott was to get up the road early and isolate her from the very strong and dedicated United team,
United had to work hard to control the race and it remained together until they dropped down to the Mimbres valley. Alison Tetrick of Twenty16 Pro Cycling made a attack which prompted Emmermanof Rally Sport, Fischer of DNA Cycling, Sanders of FCS/Zngine, Vargas of the Columbian National Team,Kiesanowski of TIBCO, Laws of United, and Johnson of SCCA/Starbucks to join and make e decisive attack of the day. The break worked well together and steadily built a gap of 1:25. Twenty16 controlled the pace of the peloton, working for their teammate, Tetrick who was in the break.
As the race hit the Sapillo, the break continued to ride hard but behind the fireworks were beginning. Abbott of United, Oliviera of FCS/Zngine, Mickey of Twenty16, and Wilborne of TIBCO joined the break and continued on with Laws. Abbot to attacked near the summit of the Cat 2 climb of the Sapillo and continued solo. Once free, Abbott rode strongly opening up a gap of 2:45 with Oliviera and Mickey working to chase but today they were not going to catch the inspired Abbott.
Abbott crossed the line to take her fourth consecutive win. She enjoyed her win as she crossed the line alone. Oliviera took second from best young rider Mickey. Abbott put on a fine riding display today and the race was animated by a field that didn’t want to sit back for the inevitable. The results may not reflect it, but women’s cycling is consistently growing in every aspect, and they put on a great show this week.