What a stage to finish off the SRAM Tour of the Gila. Stage 5 is aptly named the Gila Monster, with 105.7-mile (170 km) and over 9000 feet of climbing with treacherous descents and two major climbs inside the last 30 miles (50 k), it was always going to be a case of last man standing wins.
After that long stage and a murderous tempo set by Chris Horner for his Mellow Johnny teammates, Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) outkicked Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong to claim victory and hoist himself to third place overall. Armstrong and Leipheimer crossed the finish line together for second and third place on stage respectively.
“Beating Armstrong and Leipheimer when they were giving it everything for the stage win is really special and to finish on the podium with them is a highlight in my career.” said Zajicek.
With 50 k remaining on the Cat 1 climb, Horner forced the pace such that there were only 6 left in contention over the top. It was a case of hang on if you can as Armstrong, Horner and Leipheimer inflicted as much pain as they could muster on the bunch. and Zajicek jumped on the back of the train.
“The last part of the final climb is severe as you come into the finish it really kicks up. Levi was turning the screws, I was on Armstrong’s wheel with Beyer (BMC) on Leipheimer’s wheel. When Beyer lost contact, Lance must have been under some pressure and yelled at Leipheimer to go! I attacked straight away and was lucky enough to have timed it so that I immediately got away.” said Zajicek.
And with that, Leipheimer won the overall with Armstrong moving up to the second spot.
Tough day for multiple riders today with serious crashes as both Scott Nydam (BMC) and Cam Evans (OUCH) were airlifted to the hospital.
“He hit his head pretty hard and has a haematoma that they are keeping an eye on. He also broke his other collarbone into a million pieces, so that will be what they will have to focus on in the next several days,” BMC Directeur Sportif Mike Sayers commented in the team report. Nydam will be expected to stay in the hospital until Wednesday.
According to team information via twitter, Evans suffered from a mild concussion and no broken bones.
The details. About a dozen riders that included Nydam, Brad White (OUCH), Ben Jaques-Maynes and Paul Mach of BISSELL, Dan Bowman and Neil Shirley of Kelly Benefit Strategies, Chris Jones (Team Type 1), François Parisien (Planet Energy) and Nick Frey (Ciclismo) made it into the early break. Nydam crashed out in the first 20k of the race on some of the big rollers on the way out going through the valley, and the break hesitated but continued on.
The Trek-Livestrong team came to the front of the field on the back of the first major climb of the race and set a fairly mellow pace. (As a side-note, I asked the question prior to the start of the race is the Trek-Livestrong team would be working for the Mellow Johnny trio – and the answer is yes.)
Most of the field was intact as they went over the very first climb that drops down into the Cliff Dwellings, and then the Horner-hurricane hit after the turnaround.
“Horner went straight to the front and just ramped it up to bleeding from the ears pace and there was only a handful of us, I can’t even include myself, I actually got dropped from that group.” said Burke Swindlehurst (BISSELL). Along with Swindlehurst, that select group included Armstrong, Leipheimer, Zajicek, Chris Baldwin (Rock Racing) and Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin).
“I kind of clawed my way back. Midway, near the feedzone, there’s a flatter section in that climb and I just settled into a tempo knowing the climb as well as I do and just tried to limit my losses and saw an opportunity on the flatter sections to just punch it as hard as I could to get back up to those guys.” explained Swindlehurst who rejoined the group as Baldwin and Stetina were dropped. Chad Beyer (BMC) also made his way to the group who then picked up White from the original break as they crested Cima Pantani.
“We made the descent to the approach to the final Pinos Altos climb and still Horner was on the front again just driving it like a madman again, he was a serious motor today.” continued Swindlehurst. And that point, White was dropped from the group and Swindlehurst yoyoed off the back, getting dropped on the climbs and making his was back on the descents.
“I was cramping like mad. I think my teeth even cramped today, ” laughed Swindlehurst. “if I had a muscle, it cramped.”
Finally, Swindlehurst got dropped from the group with 2 kilometer to go and rode himself in at his own tempo finishing sixth on the stage and fourth overall. Beyer came in fourth and Horner was fifth on the stage.
The Bissell team won the overall classification by placing three riders in the top 20, Swindlerhurst in fourth, Tom Zirbel in seventh and Paul Mach in sixteenth.
Armstrong from start to finish.
Riding without a team, Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo TestTeam) continued to dominate, took matters into her own hands to solo to the win of the final stage earlier today. Crossing the finish line over one minute later were Cath Cheatley (Colavita-Sutter Home) and Alison Powers (Team Type 1) for second and third on the stage.
Armstrong grabbed the red leader’s jersey on the first day and aptly defended it throughout the 5 days, set a new course record on the time trial during that period, and won the overall classification. Powers finished second overall and Katheryn Mattis (Webcor) was third.
The break of the day formed early, at approximately mile 15, and had all the major teams represented. Included in the break were Nicole Evans (Value Act), Rebecca Much (Webcor), Rachel Heal (Colavita- Sutter Home) and Amanda Miller (Lip Smacker). The field was content to let them go, and the gap grew to over four minutes through the valley. The gap narrowed to about three minutes at the base of the climb, where Armstrong launched a powerful attack that no one else could match, and she was off.
Back in the field, Robin Farina (Value Act) began to set a strong tempo on the climb and riders were dropped including Powers who began to lose contact with the small group. But with only a small gap, she was able to chase back on before the first descent. Along the mesa and the modest descent, several riders caught back on and the group now included Chrissy Ruiter, Leah Goldstein, Farina of Value Act, Mattis and Amy Dombroski of Webcor, Cheatley and Tiffany Cromwell of Colavita-Sutter Home and Anne Samplonius of Lip Smacker.
Meanwhile up the road, Armstrong was gaining time on the break, which had dwindled to only VAC’s Evans and Colavita’s Heal.
When Armstrong caught the duo, it was only Evans that could hold her wheel, but only for so long. “She started to up the tempo a bit more, and I just couldn’t stay with her,” stated Evans. “I didn’t want to blow; so I decided to ride at my own pace and try to stay away.”
Evans continued on solo, but the group behind was slowly gaining time on her as Powers and the Colavita riders drove the pace down the descent. Evans gave it all she had with 1K to go, but with 300 meters to go, the charging group came upon her, with Cheatley winning the sprint and taking the 6 second bonus.
The Value Act team won the overal team classification.
“I am so proud of these girls. They rode an amazing race,” said Value Act Director Lisa Hunt.” We have so much depth on this team. To have three riders in the top 5 and five riders in the top 20 is fantastic!”