Attacks fused to try and unseat the leader’s jerseys in stage 2, the Inner Loop Road Race, of both the men’s and women’s at the Tour of the Gila but in the end, both Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo TestTeam) and Levi Leipheimer (Astana) survived all attacks to stay on top of the leaderboard going into tomorrow’s time trial, a specialty for both of these riders.
After catching the remnants of the break in the final kilometer to the finish line of the 80-mile stage, the reduced field prepared for a sprint which was won by Sebastian Haedo (Colavita/Sutter Home) over Alex Howes (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin). Rory Sutherland (OUCH) came in third. Leader Leiphemer came in safely with the front group of 88 riders with his wingman Lance Armstrong to keep his leader’s jersey.
It didn’t take long before the first break of the day was off and a threesome made up of Keven Lacombe (Planet Energy), Ben King (Trek Livestrong) and Roman van Uden (Land Rover-ORBEA) were off and the peloton was happy to give them some leash with 2 cat3 climbs at the start of the stage. The threesome managed to get a gap of over a minute before the fireworks started happening in the field. Floyd Landis (Ouch) launched the first big salvo, and moves and counter-moves decreased the gap and two more riders bridged up to the break. But it was all for naught, as the break was caught just before the dangerous 3-mile Sapillo Descent, a very technical 1000+ feet drop into the valley.
Four riders, Landis, Shawn Milne (Team Type 1), Caleb Fairly (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin) and Luis Amaran (Colavita-Sutter Home) took advantage of the tricky descent to escape the field. A counter attack of three riders, Ben Jacques-Maynes (BISSELL), Bradley White (OUCH) and JR Grabinger (Fly V Australia) attempted to bridge across to join the four leaders and Mellow Johnny’s/Astana duo of Armstrong and Chris Horner along with help from the BMC team set tempo at the front of the field.
That was the story for the next 38 miles. The quartet worked hard and got a gap of 4 to 5 minutes (depends who you read), two of the riders in the chase group worked while White got a free with his teammate in the front break. The BMC trio made the decision to assist Astana with the tempo to protect their GC hopes, and added Chad Beyer to the rotation. With 25 kilometer to go, Planet Energy and Kelly Benefit Strategies added riders in the rotation to help catch the breaks and bring a field sprint. The chasing trio, which had dangled in no-man’s land the whole time, was caught with 15 km to go. With 5 km remaining in the stage and the break down to three riders, Milne put in an attack that Landis marked. As Landis and Milne turned right focusing on the final kilometer, the peloton was at their heels, teams lined up for the sprint and the mad dash to the finish was on.
With three stages to go, Leipheimer leads the GC with 49 seconds over Stetina and 1 minute over 2006 winner Baldwin. In the final tally, two minutes separate 13 riders on GC, which include three-time winner Burke Swindlehurst (BISSELL) in fifth place, Sutherland in seventh, Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) in thirteenth and the 3 BMC riders, Scott Nydam, Florian Stadler and Beyer.
Tomorrow brings the Tyrone Individual Time Trial where riders face two climbs in an out and back 16.2 mile course and 1000 feet of climbing. The course consists of all ascent or descent with very little flat ground and gearing is very important. (see map).
“You have to be able to climb really well and coming back, often the limiting factor is what kind of gearing you have on your bike. You’ll spin out a 55×11 coming back.” said Swindlehurst about the timetrial.
Last year, BISSELL’s Tom Zirbel set the fastest time of 34’26” to win the TT and grab the leader’s jersey and will be hoping to again blaze away, but all eyes will be on Leipheimer who will want to increase his lead before the Gila Monster stage on Sunday.
The women’s 77.9-mile stage also came down to a bunch sprint won by Canadian Gina Grain (Webcor-Builders) ahead of Kiwi Cath Cheatley (Colavita/Sutter Home). Leader Armstrong took third spot on the stage and slightly increased her lead in GC to 40 seconds over Katheryn Mattis (Webcor-Builders).
A 15-rider break escaped the field at the top of the first climb. In this group were all the major GC contenders, including Armstrong, Webcor’s Katheryn Mattis and her teammate Alexis Rhodes, Colavita-Sutter Home’s Tiffany Cromwell and Andrea Dvorak and ValueAct’s Leah Goldstein, Chrissy Ruiter and Robin Farina. But Webcor was not happy with the combination and did not work in the break.
The chase was on in the dwindling field led Webcor and a few smatterings of riders. Finally, about halfway through the stage, the break was caught and immediately Nicole Evans (ValueAct) launched a valiant solo attack with 25 miles to go. Her gap grew to 2:30 over the field with just 10 miles to go. Webcor, who had their top sprinter, Grain, began to chase, along with Colavita-Sutter Home and Armstrong.
Evans was caught with 1 mile to go, and Ruiter attacked again, with Sanders countering her effort. “Nicole put in an amazing ride, and I thought she was going to get the win,” commented ValueAct director Lisa Hunt. When the field was approaching her, I told them to begin attacking. We were hoping to get one of the girls away for the victory. But Webcor was hungry for that win!”
The mad chaos for the final sprint was on and Armstrong told the Webcor team that she would help them in the sprint. Nowhere safer that at the front for the leader.
“Sure enough, going into the right hand turn at 1 mile to go, Kristin was there, WEBCOR was up there manning near the front, and I jumped on Kristin’s wheel. She went into TT mode, and, in the cross winds anybody who wasn’t in the top five was going to suffer! I tucked in behind her and launched my sprint at about 200m to go on a slightly uphill grade. It was a bit early but the time was then. I kicked it really hard and made a pretty good gap coming across the finish line with time to think about the victory salut!” wrote Grain.
Still less than two minutes separate the top 10 on GC which also include last year’s winner Leah Goldstein (ValueAct), Alison Powers (Team Type 1), Anne Samplonius (Lip Smacker) and climber Tiffany Cromwell (Colavita-Sutter Home). But as a former Word Time Trial Champion, Armstrong will be looking to increase her lead in tomorrow’s time trial.
The first rider in the men’s race is expected to leave the start gate at 9am and the first woman at 10:15am.