Today was another great day in the office for the Land Rover-ORBEA team at the Tour of the Gila. Sunny, warm, not a cloud in the sky and 22-year old Mike Northey claimed fifth place in the bunch sprint finale of stage 2 of the Tour of the Gila.
The 80-mile Inner Loop Road Race course started off with a bonus sprint within the first 10 miles only to be quickly followed by two cat3 climbs with a maximum altitude of 7473 feet continuing with the dangerous Sapillo descent down to the valley, rolling terrain across the continental divide to the final climb before the descent to the finish.
The plan for the development team was simple, go on the offense and team manager “on the bike” Evan Elken gave the marching orders to his seven young riders.
“So what did Evan do – well send the young gun up the road of course!” said team co-owner Norrene Godfrey.
Elken gave 20-year old Roman van Uden the nod in the first mile and that was all it took. New Zealander van Uden took off the front with two other riders drilling it and the trio, working well together, increased their gap to a minute and a half to the field before crossing the bonus sprint where van Uden took second. The lead steadily grew to two minutes and forty seconds providing a nice cushion to van Uden to get over the day’s first two climbs.
“As David and I drove behind in the caravan, guys where popping off right and left and we saw a few Land Rover-ORBEA riders suffering.” said Norrene who co-directs (and co-owns) the team with her husband David.
With a fierce tempo being set by the Mellow Johnny’s/Astana duo of Lance Armstrong and Chris Horner at the front of the peloton, riders were concerned about making the time cut which was set at 20% of the winner’s time for Thursday’s road race.
Two riders, Logan Hunn and Josh Bartlett lost contact with the main bunch but were able to join small groups to keep moving forwards and make the time cut.
The rest of the squad, Carson Miller, Northey, and Elken made it over the two climbs with some effort but in good shape. However the cars behind the peloton has some trouble.
“If you remember the old Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder ‘rubbin’ is racin’ then you have a good picture of the caravan trying to follow the riders down a steep serpentine descent.” described Norrene.
After 25 miles of being in the wind, the van Uden break was reabsorbed and after a few attacks, a new four-rider break escaped the field which included Floyd Landis (OUCH). The quartet drove the pace and managed to get a gap of over four minutes and then it was “Mellow Johnny” time as Lance and Horner went to the front to bring the break back, which they did.
New game plan as the field prepared for a bunch sprint finish for the day, which played well for the Land Rover-ORBEA team who still had their top three fastest guys in the field.
“David called up to Evan and told him to get the guys organised to Mike and Roman to the front and SPRINT.” said Norrene.
And that’s exactly what Elken did. He put Miller on point to pull Northey up to sit on van Ulden’s wheel. Once his job done, Miller chilled and finished safely with the field. And then it was game on for the sprinting crew of the Land Rover-ORBEA team.
“Evan rode front position, Roman was Mike’s wingman. Riders where swinging around and things where getting messy, a couple of times Mike lost Roman’s wheel but Roman went back for Mike. Then it was full gas to the finish, Roman driving it in the wind, next Evan and finally Mike crossed the line in 5th place.” said Norrene.
Great showing and a confidence builder for the new UCI Continental team in its second National Racing Calendar (NRC) race of the year.
“Way to go Land Rover-ORBEA! This is a big placing for us, Mike and more importantly, the guys are coming together as a team!” said a happy Norrene.
While the boys are recuperating and resting, the work is not over for the Godfrey couple.
“So now that the racing is done for the day, it’s back to cleaning bottles, washing bikes, cooking dinner, washing Land Rovers and getting time trial bikes dialed in for the Friday’s individual time trial. Ah the life of a small pro team.” smiled Norrene.