SILVER CITY, N.M. (VN) — Tom Zirbel (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) won a blustery stage 3 Tyrone time trial at Silver City’s Tour of the Gila on Friday. Later in the day, National Racing Calendar leader Alison Powers (NOW-Novartis for MS) won the women’s race.
It was an unusually cold day in Silver City. The wind whistled through the canyons out on course, though veterans of the Tour of the Gila said that they had definitely seen more difficult conditions in the past.
“Compared to what Silver City has thrown at us in this time trial, this was nothing,” said Exergy Twenty16‘s Mara Abbott, who successfully defended her race lead.
Blown nearly the width of the road in the crosswinds on the descents, Powers drew on her World Cup downhill skiing background and stopped the clock at 39:23. Powers, who has won the Tyrone time trial at Gila before, was counting on the stage to narrow Abbott’s race lead. Though she was happy to take the stage victory, Powers did not make up as much time on Abbott as she had hoped.
“I was super confident,” said Powers. “It’s windy and cold, and that’s exactly like where I live. But I really wanted to pull back more time, so I’m a little disappointed. Either I didn’t go fast enough, or Mara had a really good day. I really wanted to pull on that red jersey.”
Powers took every risk on the descents, but it was not enough to overtake Abbott. The Exergy rider has led this year’s Tour of the Gila since Wednesday’s opening stage. Powers moved up to third overall on Friday.
“I got a little nervous a couple of times,” said Powers. “You can’t force it; I think you just have to go with it. Just don’t hit the cones.”
Thursday’s solo winner, Janel Holcomb (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies), did a big ride to finish second, at 11 seconds. Holcomb was completely surprised by her ride after her long escape in Thursday’s Inside Loop road race. She kept her effort in check on the way to the turnaround, and it proved a smart choice.
“I knew I had to go easy on the way out, I just went out easier than I thought I should and easier than I ever have,” said Holcomb. “On the descents, it was get up to speed and just rail it. It’s fun.”
Kristin McGrath (Exergy) finished third, in 40:14, and held on to second place in the general classification. McGrath is climbing well, and benefited from the advice of her coach, double Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong, a former winner of the Gila time trial.
“I feel like each time trial I’ve done this year, it’s been a little bit better, a little bit better,” said McGrath. “I’ve been time trialing in Holland in the flats, and I’ve been really excited to go uphill.”
Zirbel knocks them down in the cold
In the men’s race, Zirbel rode the up-and-down course in a time of 34:45 to win by five seconds over Ben Day (UnitedHealthcare). Zirbel started the day as the favorite for the stage victory and lived up to expectations. The powerful Coloradan was unfazed by the windy conditions.
“I’m super happy,” Zirbel told Velonews. “I woke up this morning, and I thought that I wouldn’t be pleased unless I won, because I’m feeling good this week. I’m so proud to get a UCI win for the team.”
Second-placed Day was not surprised to see Zirbel on the top step of the podium. The wind did not concern the Aussie so much as the unusually cold temperatures. As he waited for the podium ceremony, Day shivered visibly.
“This is a great course for him, and he’s won here before,” said Day. “He was a little bit more able to keep his momentum on the downhill. It didn’t feel like a strong headwind. The one thing I’d say, it is bloody cold with this wind!”
Young Swiss rider Sylvan Diller (BMC Development) finished third, at 10 seconds. Diller is racing in the United States for the first time and initially found the transition from the cold weather in Europe to the desert heat in the opening stages to be a challenge. As Day shivered, Diller embraced the cold.
“It is my first race in America, and I really like to race here,” said Diller. “The landscape is great, I really enjoy it. It was a bit strange for our body to come here in the hot weather, but now it’s ok.”
Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) narrowly held onto his lead in the general classification ahead of a hard-charging Chris Baldwin (Bissell). Just four seconds separate the top two riders in men’s overall.
The Silver City’s Tour of the Gila continues Saturday with the Downtown Silver City Criterium.