Under-23 riders Roman van Uden (Land Rover-ORBEA) and Carla Swart (Lip Smacker) outkicked their respective fields to win the sprint at the Silver City Downtown Criterium on Saturday, the second to last stage at the SRAM Tour of the Gila.
The mission of both GC leaders, Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo TestTeam) and Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny/Astana) and all GC contenders, was to stay safe in the fast and furious conditions of a crit. Almost but not quite, as 63 of the combined 65 laps were safe but the last two laps of the 40-lap men’s race was marred with crashes.
Leipheimer avoided the crash of his friend and training partner Scott Nydam (BMC) but he rolled a tire and needed a bike change with two laps to go. After a quick bike swap, Leipheimer was able to finish the race on his teammate Chris Horner‘s bike and was awarded the same time as the winner. So no changes to the GC going into the final stage, the Gila Monster.
A big field, strong winds and tricky corners made it difficult for the men’s race around the 1.04-mile course with 80 feet of climbing per lap. Following their typically aggressive game plan, the Land Rover-ORBEA team’s plan was to be active, get in some moves and stay at the front while 20-year old van Uden stayed safely in the pack.
“Sitting in the pack wasn’t too hard, it was a quite a blustery day which made it harder to get off the front, although a few got away for awhile but were all brought back. I wasn’t feeling enthusiastic for much of the race so I stayed in the pack. ” said van Uden.
Attacks fused and were brought back and the riders started preparing for the sprint finish, leadout trains forming and then the final two laps.
“The wind and some of the corners made it tricky to hold position and get a leadout going.” said van Uden.
“Going into the final few corners I was on Lance’s wheel and as we were just pulling in an escapee, Lance was beginning to surge like he was going to attack,” Nydam said in the team report. “At that moment I was thinking ‘sweet! Lance is about to attack and I’ll be right on his wheel!’ But Lance had to make a strange manoeuvre to get around the guys who were caught at the same moment I was accelerating and just washed out.” According to team report, Nydam suffered only minor cuts.
With 300 meters to go, Alex Candelario (Kelly Benefit Strategies) crashed in a turn with his former teammate Keven Lacombe (Planet Energy) on his wheel. Both men went down.
After the two crashes, it was every man for himself in the mad dash to the finish.
“I got into a good position, guys were riding pretty fast at the front, crashes took out Levi and a few other guys and I snuck through, so we had gaps forming behind. A rider shot through the front trying to get away a bit with half mile to go and then sat up and I snuck around him outside on the very last corner, he sort of opened a gap and it gave me enough room to take the win.” commented van Uden.
The New Zealander van Uden took the win in front of quickly closing Sebastian Haedo (Colavita-Sutter Home). In third spot was Alex Howes (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin) with his second podium of the race.
Leader Armstrong laid the hammer down in the first 2 laps to keep the speeds high in the women’s 25-lap criterium. A few attempts were made for breakaways but the wind was so strong that it was tough to stay away, and Armstrong, time and time again, set a high tempo and chased down any break attempts.
A rider managed to get away with two laps to go but was reeled back for the finale. In the end, Swart who is still in college, out kicked everyone for the win. Gina Grain (Webcor) was second making it 4 podiums in 4 stages for her team, and Cath Cheatley (Colavita-Sutter Home) was third.
The final stage is the queen stage or in this case the monster stage – the Gila Monster road race, a 105.7-mile point-to-point road race with 9131 feet of climbing and 8252 feet of descending (71.8 mile with 5610 feet of climbing and 4714 feet of descending for the women). The men will tackle five categorized climbs including the 7-mile long, 1600 foot Copperas Vista climb of the Gila Cliff Dwelling to turn around and come back down on a dangerous descent with steep grade and blind corners.
The battle will be on for the final stage but Leipheimer leads GC with a 2:39 cushion over Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesk Partners-Garmin) and 2:51 over Chris Baldwin (Rock Racing). The battle will be on for the final stage but with such a strong lead, it will be difficult to unseat Leipheimer. Other riders to watch in the top ten include Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) and 4-time tamer of the monster Burke Swindlehurst (BISSELL). The OUCH team will also come out with all guns blazing as they protested Rory Sutherland’s TT result saying that his time was actually one-minute faster. The protest was denied.
In the women’s race, Armstrong has an even bigger cushion with a lead of 3:22 over Alison Powers (Team Type 1) and 3:33 over Katheryn Mattis (Webcor). The battle will be on for the podium spots between Powers, Mattis and Leah Goldstein (Value Act) who currently sits in fourth place. Also watch climber Tiffany Cromwell (Colavita-Sutter Home) who will probably go for the stage win.
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