Carmen Small (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies) put in a late surge on the final tough climb to finish second at stage 1 of the SRAM Tour of the Gila. Her teammate Jade Wilcoxson, who spent most of the day in the break, took the first two sprint points to claim the green sprint jersey and then held on for third on the stage.
The one rider that Small could not catch was Kristin Armstrong (Exergy Twenty12), who was also in the break and then attacked on the climb to win with over two minutes.
“I knew that Kristin was going good. It was lucky for her to get in the break today, luckily we had Jade in there so we didn’t have to do a lot of work. We were able to sit in and Tibco had to do a lot of work today. We tried to use that to our advantage. We had faith in Jade, she’s strong, she’s smart, she’s going well and we have the sprinter’s jersey so it was good tactics for us today.” Small told podiuminsight after the stage.
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All attacks were neutralized early until the first sprint point, 20 miles into the 73.1 miles (117.6km) stage from Silver City to Mogollon.
“I went for the sprint, and then I was sitting up waiting for the peloton to come back up. Then Kristin comes buzzing by, I was sitting on somebody else’s wheel and I was like ‘go, go, go, that’s Kristin, this is the move’. Luckily, I had enough, I was pretty spent from the sprint, luckily I had enough to get on the wheel and then took the free ride to the bottom of the hill and hope for the best.” Wilcoxson.
With Armstrong and a teammate in the seven-rider break, Wilcoxson along with the other riders sat on behind the pair of teammates who drove the pace. She attacked once to get the top points in the second sprint.
Meanwhile in the field, Small and her teammates stayed at the front while Tibco, who missed the move, chased for mile after mile.
“Tibco was pulling hard. They’d missed it. Once it got over 2 minutes, we put in a few of our girls in the rotation.” Small said.
One by one, riders fell off the break until there were three, Wilcoxson, Armstrong and Alison Powers (NOW and Novartis for MS). The trio was still together at the bottom of the climb and then Armstrong took off.
“As soon as it ramped off, of course Kristin took off and I was like ‘well, here we go’ (laughs) And so then I just sat on Alison and try to be smart because I know she’s really strong climber. I just tried to watch her and then like a miracle, Carmen came around, and it was like ‘oh sweet’. ” Wilcoxson chuckled. “So then I just kept sitting on Alison and we rode it to the 100 meter mark and sprinted around her.”
The field had simply exploded on the climb. “Anna (Baresnfeld) drilled it over that flat section which saved us.” explained Small who was riding with teammate Janel Holcomb.
“Once we hit the climb, Janel was in front of me and she was setting a pretty good pace and I looked back and there was only a few of us. She sat up, got a little separation and I just went hard and then someone yelled at me when I was coming up the climb, a guy coming down, ‘you’re fourth’ and I was like ‘seriously?’ Then I could see the SRAM car and the NOW car just right up there, and I was like ‘oh that’s Alison’ so in my mind I was like ‘okay, 2 k, I can catch that’ and then Jade was with Alison, I didn’t realize that.”
Small passed the duo. “Definitely I was a lot fresher than they were, they’d been in the break all day. Just tried to cut the losses to Kristin, just went as hard as I could to the top.”
The racing continues on Thursday with the 77.9 miles (125.4km) Inner loop road race which typically ends in a sprint finish. The stage also includes two intermediate sprint points as well as sprint points awarded at the finish.
When asked if she plans to defend the green sprint jersey, Wilcoxson laughed and said “I’m planning on doing what Rachel tells me to do.”
Team director sportif Rachel Heal simply replied, with a smile, “I reckon.”