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Leipheimer wins first Gila stage, Kristin Armstrong wins womens.

By Steve Frothingham

2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: Leipheimer on the climb.

2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: Leipheimer on the climb.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Did they come to race or train?

The “Mellow Johnny’s” team — AKA Astana’s Levi Leipheimer, Lance Armstrong and Chris Horner — just couldn’t resist going for the win Wednesday at the SRAM Tour of the Gila. Leipheimer sprang from a disintegrating pack on the finish climb, taking a clear win ahead of young phenom Peter Stetina (Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin) and recently-rehired Chris Baldwin (Rock Racing).

Leipheimer said he had some doubts about whether the team should go for the win so early in the five-day race.

2009 SRAM Tour of the Gila

Stage 1: Silver City to Mogollon
Men: 94.1 miles (151.5km)
Stage winner: Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) in 3:36:02
Stage winner’s average speed: 26.1 mph (# kph)
Team GC leader: Colavita-Sutter Homes
Women: 73.1 miles (117.7km)
Stage winner: Kristin Armstrong in 3:40:42
Stage winner’s average speed: 1 9.8mph (# kph)
Team GC leader: ValueAct Capital
Up next: Stage 2
Thursday’s Fort Bayard Inner Loop includes three Category 3 climbs, finishing with a rolling run into a fast sprint at Fort Bayard. Men do 80 miles (128.8km), women do 77.9 miles (125.4km)

“I said to Lance coming up here, ‘maybe it would be better that we try and let somebody else win, ‘” Leipheimer said at the finish. “And he said something that made a lot of sense, he said, ‘you know what, you are a winner, go win the race and we’ll figure it out.’ So we’ll figure it out.”

It took a few miles longer than usual for the stage’s traditional early break to form, as riders from Kelly Benefit Strategies, Bissell, OUCH-Maxxis and Trek-Livestrong were prominent at the front in the early miles. About 30 miles in, Kelly’s pre-race favorite Andrew Bajadali crashed and left the race with a shoulder injury.

Twenty miles later, the break du jour formed, containing 15 riders, with representatives from most of the major teams (Mellow Johnny’s was notably absent, but Trek-Livestrong was in there, with young Sam Bewley).

The group built a maximum lead of over three minutes, but as the pack approached the base of the Mogollon climb, the Mellow Johnny’s team and a few of the other teams that were not in the break began to narrow the gap to just barely a minute as the 15 hit the first slopes of the Mogollon.

2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: (l to r) Grabinger, Evans and Beyer attack the lower slopes of Mogollon.

2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: (l to r) Grabinger, Evans and Beyer attack the lower slopes of Mogollon.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

As the break headed across a windy mid-climb plateau, it was reduced to just four riders: Chad Beyer, Cam Evans (OUCH), Michael Grabinger (Fly V- Successful Living) and Daniel Vaillancourt (Colavita-Sutter Homes), with Team Type 1’s Moises Aldape hanging just off the four.

But while Beyer poured on the gas, the pack was closing to within 20 seconds on the plateau, and when the three-mile climb began in earnest, a lead group of seven riders led by Armstrong passed the remainder of the break. With Armstrong was Leipheimer, Florian Stalder, Rory Sutherland (OUCH), Baldwin, Matt Cooke (RideClean) and Stetina.

Armstrong pulled into the first mile of the climb, with Leipheimer on his wheel. With about two miles to go, as the road narrowed to a crumbly, barely paved slope, Leipheimer accelerated and quickly pulled away.

2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: Kristin Armstrong battled several strong teams by herself all day.

2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: Kristin Armstrong battled several strong teams by herself all day.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

“I tried to follow Levi’s move but it was just so fast,” Stetina said. Stetina faded back and rode with Cooke and Baldwin for most of the climb, then attacked Baldwin in the last 300 meters.

The other Armstrong

2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: The women's peloton.

2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: The women’s peloton.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

In the women’s race, Cervélo TestTeam’s Kristin Armstrong, riding without teammates, covered a flurry of attacks, but allowed a lead group of four to enter the final climb with about one minute’s lead.

The four were Webcor’s Gina Grain and Rebecca Much, Colavita’s Rachel Heal and Lip Smacker’s Hilary Billington.

The four were together at the base of the climb, where Armstrong began to lead the chase.

“When we got onto the rough road, we were all together, and I thought maybe I would get attacked,” Armstrong said. “I figured if I just set my own pace eventually I would have a smaller and smaller group and I just picked off the other gals.”

Much was the last rider who Armstrong caught and passed. She had pushed hard but faded in the final kilometers, finishing eighth at 1:21 and tipping over just past the finish line.

Defending Gila champion Leah Goldstein (ValueAct) was fifth. ValueAct team director Lisa Hunt noted that there are small time gaps between the top five riders and Goldstein or her teammates could challenge for the GC lead.

“Ideally we’d like to be in a break (on stage 2),” Hunt said. “We are going to make Kristin work for this if she wants it.”

Armstrong, who won the Gila in 2006, said she came this year primarily as preparation for the Tour de l’Aude in France next month.

Race Notes

  • BMC Racing Team’s Scott Nydam, Florian Stalder and Chad Beyer raced in Gila Bike & Hike team jerseys, with the BMC logos on their shorts covered with tape. Like the Mellow Johnny’s riders, per the UCI agreement, the three are technically riding as individuals, not as members of any team. The BMC riders expect to receive blank Assos kit soon that they will wear for the rest of the week.
  • The Fly V-Successful Living team is at the Gila in full force, despite recent reports of financial difficulties. Team director Henk Vogels said “It’s business as usual. We’re going to be racing the rest of the year with all our racers.” Vogels, who retired at the end of last season, won his last pro race at the Gila’s criterium last year, riding for Toyota-United.
  • 2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: Bruyneel and SRAM's David Zimberoff in the caravan.

    2009 Tour of the Gila, stage 1: Bruyneel and SRAM’s David Zimberoff in the caravan.

    Photo: Casey B. Gibson

  • Astana director Johan Bruyneel compared the late notice of entry at the Gila to last year, when the team got a week’s notice that it was invited to the Giro d’Italia. “First we have to get used to the thought of being here,” he said. Bruyneel said Armstrong seems to have recovered well from his broken collarbone, but needs a few more race miles. “I think he is more or less back to the same level as when he crashed. We didn’t see in Castilla y Leon how good that was, but I think he’s good enough to start the Giro.”
  • Armstrong said before the start he was a little nervous about his first race since his injury. “You know, even just getting back … I’ve been riding by myself for three years, goofing off, and then they throw you into Milan-San Remo and scare the shit out of you. So I’ve tried to take a little more risk on the bike, just to get used to that again. But I won’t be in the field sprints!”
  • Armstrong also said he had lost about 6 pounds since the Tour of California, and is within a kilo of his usual Tour racing weight of 74.5 or 75 kilos.
  • Chris Baldwin drove to the Gila from Colorado, expecting to race as an independent after being fired by Rock Racing last week. But on the drive he learned that he had been re-hired, and he suited up in Rock kit and finished third on stage 1.

Photo Gallery


Stage Results: | (Womens Results)

1. Levi Leipheiner Mellow Johnny’s in 3:36:02.
2. Peter Stetina Felt-Holowesko Partners- in 3:36:51. at 0:00:49
3. Christopher Baldwin Boulder in 3:37:02. at 0:01:00
4. Matt Cooke Rideclean in 3:37:14. at 0:01:12
5. Burke Swindlehurst Bissell Pro Cycling in 3:37:20. at 0:01:18
6. Florian Stalder Team B in 3:37:25. at 0:01:23
7. Rory Sutherland Ouch Pro Cycling Team P/b in 3:37:38. at 0:01:36
8. Lance Armstrong Mellow Johnny’s in 3:37:42. at 0:01:40
9. Scott Nydam Team B in 3:37:48. at 0:01:46
10. Chad Beyer Team B in 3:37:48. at 0:01:46
11. Tyler Wren Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:37:48. at 0:01:46
12. Matthew Busche Iscorp Cycling Team/nova in 3:37:54. at 0:01:52
13. Philip Zajicek Fly V Australia-Successful in 3:38:02. at 0:02:00
14. Francois Parisien Planet Energy Pro in 3:38:14. at 0:02:12
15. John Hunt California Giant-Specialized in 3:38:18. at 0:02:16
16. Alex Howes Felt-Holowesko Partners- in 3:38:30. at 0:02:28
17. Darren Lill Team Type 1 in 3:38:33. at 0:02:31
18. Benjamin Kneller Ciclismo Racing in 3:38:36. at 0:02:34
19. Michael Grabinger Fly V Australia-Successful in 3:38:43. at 0:02:41
20. Anthony Colby Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:38:43. at 0:02:41
21. Scott Tietzel Dlp Racing in 3:38:43. at 0:02:41
22. Ian Macgregor Team Type 1 in 3:38:43. at 0:02:41
23. Davide Frattini Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:38:43. at 0:02:41
24. Jesse Moore California Giant-Specialized in 3:38:43. at 0:02:41
25. Cameron Evans Ouch Pro Cycling Team P/b in 3:38:43. at 0:02:41
26. Tom Zirbel Bissell Pro Cycling in 3:38:49. at 0:02:47
27. Bjorn Selander Trek Livestrong in 3:38:57. at 0:02:55
28. John Eisinger Ciclismo Racing in 3:39:01. at 0:02:59
29. Ben Jacques-maynes Bissell Pro Cycling in 3:39:09. at 0:03:07
30. Andrew Talansky Amore & Vita-Mcdonald’s in 3:39:15. at 0:03:13
31. Valeriy Kobzarenko Team Type 1 in 3:39:18. at 0:03:16
32. Luis Amaran Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:39:24. at 0:03:22
33. David Glick Rideclean in 3:39:25. at 0:03:23
34. Corey Collier Team Rio Grande in 3:39:31. at 0:03:29
35. Chris Horner Mellow Johnny’s in 3:39:42. at 0:03:40
36. Paul Mach Bissell Pro Cycling in 3:39:44. at 0:03:42
37. Julian Kyer Trek Livestrong in 3:39:48. at 0:03:46
38. Tim Johnson Ouch Pro Cycling Team P/b in 3:39:50. at 0:03:48
39. Michael Olheiser Warp9bikes.com/tristar in 3:39:50. at 0:03:48
40. Bill Demong Incycle in 3:39:55. at 0:03:53
41. Dan Bowman Kelly Benefit Strategies in 3:39:58. at 0:03:56
42. Aaron Pool Lincoln Industries in 3:40:11. at 0:04:09
43. Vincent Owens Ten Speed Drive / Bh Bicycles in 3:40:15. at 0:04:13
44. Chris Jones Team Type1 in 3:40:21. at 0:04:19
45. Ian Tuttle Above Category Racing in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
46. Justin England California Giant-Specialized in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
47. Kris Lunning Above Category Racing in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
48. Ben King Fly V Australia-Successful in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
49. Chris Hong Bobs-Bicycles.com in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
50. Nick Fey Ciclismo Racing in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
51. Jonathan Mumford Kelly Benefit Strategies in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
52. Floyd Landis Ouch Pro Cycling Team P/b in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
53. Eric Slack Bobs-Bicycles.com in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
54. Flavio De Luna Aguascalientes in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26
55. Roman Kilun Ouch Pro Cycling Team P/b in 3:40:28. at 0:04:26

Womens Results: | (Mens Results)

1. Kristin Armstrong Cervelo Test Team in 3:40:42.
2. Katheryn Mattis Webcor Builders in 3:41:18. at 0:00:36
3. Alisha Welsh Pcim in 3:41:30. at 0:00:48
4. Cath Cheatley Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:41:34. at 0:00:52
5. Leah Goldstein Valueact Capital Cycling Team in 3:41:48. at 0:01:06
6. Robin Farina Valueact Capital Cycling Team in 3:41:49. at 0:01:07
7. Christina Ruiter Valueact Capital Cycling Team in 3:41:50. at 0:01:08
8. Rebecca Much Webcor Builders in 3:42:03. at 0:01:21
9. Alison Powers Team Type 1 in 3:42:05. at 0:01:23
10. Tiffany Cromwell Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:42:28. at 0:01:46
11. Anne Samplonius Team Lip Smacker in 3:42:37. at 0:01:55
12. Nicole Evans Valueact Capital Cycling Team in 3:42:55. at 0:02:13
13. Kelly Mcdonald Touchstone Climbing Racing in 3:43:07. at 0:02:25
14. Kristin Sanders Valueact Capital Cycling Team in 3:43:11. at 0:02:29
15. Andrea Dvorak Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:43:14. at 0:02:32
16. Marisa Asplund Dft P/b Treads in 3:43:29. at 0:02:47
17. Nikki Butterfield Webcor Builders in 3:43:35. at 0:02:53
18. Carla Swart Team Lip Smacker in 3:43:37. at 0:02:55
19. Nina Baum Cannondale Factory Racing in 3:43:53. at 0:03:11
20. Susannah Gordon Colobikelaw.com in 3:43:58. at 0:03:16
21. Sydney Brown Dft P/b Treads in 3:44:05. at 0:03:23
22. Heather Sborz Specialized D4w/bicycle Haus in 3:44:11. at 0:03:29
23. Chloe Forsman Luna Pro Team in 3:44:18. at 0:03:36
24. Gabriela Ferrat Metromint Cycling in 3:44:19. at 0:03:37
25. Terrie Clouse Colobikelaw.com in 3:44:19. at 0:03:37
26. Kelli Emmett Giant Bicycles in 3:44:22. at 0:03:40
27. Stacy Marple Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:44:30. at 0:03:48
28. Alexis Rhodes Webcor Builders in 3:44:37. at 0:03:55
29. Tracey Jacobs Gs Boulder in 3:45:11. at 0:04:29
30. Alison Littlefield Contender Bicycles in 3:45:19. at 0:04:37
31. Lisa Tumminello Colobikelaw.com in 3:45:38. at 0:04:56
32. Gwen Inglis Dft P/b Treads in 3:45:44. at 0:05:02
33. Amanda Miller Team Lip Smacker in 3:45:46. at 0:05:04
34. Ruth Clemence Touchstone in 3:45:52. at 0:05:10
35. Lauren Edwards Absolute Racing in 3:46:02. at 0:05:20
36. Sharon Allpress Valueact Capital Cycling Team in 3:46:03. at 0:05:21
37. Toni Bradshaw Team Lip Smacker in 3:46:03. at 0:05:21
38. Kathyrn Bertine Specialized D4w/bicycle Haus in 3:46:16. at 0:05:34
39. Rachel Heal Colavita Sutter Home P/b in 3:46:16. at 0:05:34
40. Megan Hottman Dft P/b Treads in 3:46:20. at 0:05:38
41. Molly Van Houweling Metromint Cycling in 3:46:30. at 0:05:48
42. Marilyn Mcdonald Specialized D4w/bicycle Haus in 3:46:52. at 0:06:10
43. Lindsey Bishop Colobikelaw.com in 3:46:55. at 0:06:13
44. Olivia Dillon Touchstone Climbing in 3:47:01. at 0:06:19
45. Cara Gillis Touchstone Climbing in 3:47:15. at 0:06:33
46. Trish Cohen Unattached in 3:47:18. at 0:06:36
47. Gina Grain Webcor Builders in 3:47:20. at 0:06:38
48. Hilary Billington Team Lip Smacker in 3:47:35. at 0:06:53
49. Amy Dombroski Webcor Builders in 3:48:12. at 0:07:30
50. Melanie Meyers Specialized D4w/bicycle Haus in 3:48:16. at 0:07:34
51. Ambre Levy Dft P/b Treads in 3:48:27. at 0:07:45
52. Catherine Dickson Metro Phx in 3:48:29. at 0:07:47
53. Daniela Gandara Ten Speed Drive in 3:48:43. at 0:08:01
54. Ashley Anderson Proman Hit Squad in 3:49:02. at 0:08:20
55. Anny Henry Metromint Cycling in 3:49:34. at 0:08:52

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