The men’s peloton was still fairly intact as they made the right turn onto the climb to the finish line at the ghost town of Mogollon for stage 1 of the SRAM Tour of the Gila. But it didn’t take long for the fireworks to explode, detonated by winds and UnitedHealthcare. A select group of six riders escaped to tackle the final steep pitch to the finish and then one rider detached himself to cross the line solo. Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) took the win ahead of Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager- Livestrong) and Chad Beyer (Competitive Cyclist).
“It’s not like it’s a pure climb.” Sutherland told podiuminsight. He was talking about the final ascent with included a flat windy mesa, opened to winds. “Sometimes, across the flat in the wind, I’m a bit bigger and maybe a bit stronger and don’t use as much energy maybe. I rode my own tempo on the climb instead of going with attacks which works for me. The guys were great, as always. We’ve been through so much this year in Europe together. So many more downs than ups, you create a pretty good bond with each other.”
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The group dwindled down to three rider with two and a half kilometers to race. “I thought Marc (de Maar) was on and I looked behind, he’d just been gapped. He probably isn’t as well acclimated as I am right now, he’s on some really good form. When there was three of us, it kind of made me back it off a little bit, we don’t want to gaps between us to be too big so we can use it the next few days.” Sutherland explained.
With him were Beyer, Sebastian Salas (Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies). “After that, I put on some more pressure and see what happened and it was just me and Chad Beyer at the end. He pulled a turn, and I was like well it’s a kilometer and a half to go, I’m going to force it and see how strong he really is. Luckily he drifted away.”
Sutherland had time to zip up and post his victory as he crossed the line. “It’s kind of nice to do it by yourself, there’s no one in front of you, there’s no one behind you. It’s a little weird, in Europe there’s tons of fans, and motorbikes but it’s Gila and it still makes it pretty special as well.”
Before the explosion on the climb, it was a fairly uneventful ride for most of the 94.1 miles (151.4km) stage where two riders went off on a break with Competitive Cyclist controlling the front.
“It was a steady race. Competitive Cyclist did a good job, they have (Francisco) Mancebo the defending champion who seems to be on form. We threw a guy in there for a little while, we saw that the group was coming back and we decided to stick together, try our own thing.”
The Australian stated that he was happy and excited to be racing back in the United States after a stint in Europe. “We’re really excited to be racing at a race that SRAM, one of our sponsors, has kept alive as well and we can do it for them as well. It’s good for a vote of confidence to actually get something for the hard work that’s been going in.”
He added with a laugh, “My wife is probably going to be happy because she’s been through hell with me being a pain in the butt for the last few months, not succeeding. She’s stayed there, supported me going ‘come on, hurry up, you’re got to do something soon, otherwise I’m done with it’.”
Sutherland holds a 12-second lead on Dombrowski and 14 seconds on Beyer. There is still a lot of racing including the time trial and the Queen Stage, the Gila Monster on the final day.
Sutherland said that the team is “definitely” going to defend the red leader’s jersey. “We’ll take it day by day, see how the health goes. I’m still looking at the big picture, a week and a half from now, the big one.” He was of course talking about the Amgen Tour of California.
Racing continues on Thursday with the 79.1 miles (127.3km) Inner Loop road race which typically ends in a sprint finish.