For the second year in a row, the young riders of the Bontrager-Livestrong team (Trek-Livestrong in 2011) left their mark on the SRAM Tour of the Gila. The under-23 squad’s final tally is one stage win, two second-places, the best young rider jersey, third overall on GC and the team classification.
The riders on the squad were quick to point out that their results proved that they belonged at the Amgen Tour of California.
“Our team has been giving some criticism all year for getting into California, people weren’t really sure if our team was ready for it being such a big race. I think here we came out and showed every stage that we’re competitive, fought for the young rider with Joe and today the stage and I think we showed that we’re ready for California and that we deserve a spot on the start.” Ian Boswell told podiuminsight after the stage.
Many were surprised and aspersions were cast when the squad got the nod to race at California as one of only four US-registered UCI Continental teams.
“I think that the only thing I said to the riders that the only way you can prove that you deserve it is to do it on the bike and I think they did more than their share.” said Bontrager-Livestrong DS Axel Merckx.
Boswell and his teammate Lawson Craddock came together to the finish line of the Queen Stage, holding hands for a second before celebrating their victory as Craddock crossed the line first. The hand-holding was “just like LeMond and Hinault” according to Boswell. Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault joined hands at the famous battle on l’Alpe D’Huez at the 1986 Tour de France.
It is no fluke that the team does so well at Gila, one of the team’s main goal. “I think it’s one of the hardest races in North America. It’s a good test for our team and one of our sponsors is the title sponsor of the race too so it’s really important for us to do well here. So, it’s been a race that suits the riders that I have in my team, that I’ve had in the past in my team, time trialists, climbers, that turn out to be overall riders and sprinters with Taylor Phinney in the past. It’s been interesting last few few years.” added Merckx.
Taming the monster. Boswell and Craddock made their way into the early break on the final day with its five categorized climbs. The two settled in while the gap was driven up, all the way to over five minutes by the strong pace-making of Thomas Rabou and Max Jenkins (Competitive Cyclist) and Paul Mach (Kenda/5-Hr Energy).
It was time for plan B when the break exploded on the third climb of the day, the category 1 monster. Thinking of the overall GC, Chad Beyer (Competitive Cyclist) made his move.
“Competitive Cyclist did a real good job of making the big move, before the stage our goal was to have Dombrowski come across but the gap was so big at that point that Chad went, he was going for the overall and Lawson went with him.” Boswell explained.
Craddock added, “It was absolutely brutal. On that cat 1 climb coming back, the break blew to pieces. Beyer attacked and I went with him, stayed with him and kind of worked a little bit with him. I had a teammate behind so I wasn’t going to do a lot of work.”
Boswell stayed in the remnants of the break, waiting and then pounce to bridge up to the duo on the final climb, the category 3.
“We just put our heads down all the way to the finish. We were trying to get the biggest gap as possible but time was closing first. Going on the last k[ilometer], Boswell attacked, I knew that Beyer was suffering so I put my head down, went as hard as I could and got up to Bos, we went across 1-2, it’s incredible, we all rode great all week and it’s great to end it off with a win. This is incredible.” Craddock said.
The team wasn’t done. Teammate Joe Dombrowski was riding with GC leader Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) and defending champion Francisco Mancebo (Competitive Cyclist) in the field.
“Coming down the descent off the Gila Monster, we were going real slow, (Marc) de Maar (UnitedHealthcare) was on the front and everybody was kind of just piddling around. Then going up the next climb, Mancebo attacked multiple times and I followed, we got a gap on Rory and I pulled with him but then Mancebo got dropped, so I was kind of in no-man’s land but we weren’t getting any information, any time checks. So we weren’t really sure what to do and I kind of sat up a little bit and Rory and Mancebo came back and then Rory just got on the front and brought the gap down.”
Dombrowski finished seventh on the stage, and took home the white best young rider jersey. On his second time at the Gila race, Dombrowski proved that he was a climber to be reckoned with, closing down a 30-second in the finale of the first stage to finish second behing Sutherland.
One wonders what would have happened if Dombrowski had been positioned at the front when the climb started on the first stage.
When asked if he would attack on Mt Baldy or Big Bear climbs in California, Dombrowski replied “We’ll see, we’ll try.”
“We give the answer on the bike and that’s the best answer.” concluded Merckx. “I think we are going to be there, we’re going to be there to learn, we’ve proven here that we deserve our spot after all the bad comments that we’ve had in the past few weeks and months.”