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Abbott, Acevedo win stage 1 at Tour of the Gila

Former Giro Donne champion leaves the field behind on the final climb of the Mogollon stage

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SILVER CITY, N.M. (VN) — Mara Abbott (Exergy-Twenty16) and Janier Acevedo (Jamis-Hagens Berman) won the women’s and men’s tilts, respectively, on the first day of the Silver City’s Tour of the Gila on Wednesday.

Before this Tour of the Gila began, everyone knew that two-time winner Abbott would be the rider to watch when the road turned up. Sure enough, on the final climb of the race’s first day, Abbott went clear and won solo at the summit of the Mogollon climb.

She finished 1:58 ahead of second-placed teammate Kristin McGrath. Kathryn Donovan (NOW-Novartis for MS) finished third, with McGrath.

Abbott carries a solid advantage into Thursday’s stage 2 Inner Loop Road Race. The race’s second leg will cover 75 miles for the women, with the men facing a 76.2-mile route. The five-day event wraps on Sunday.

Acevedo aces Mogollon

High altitide and Colombian climbers go together and in the men’s race, Azevedo attacked on the final climb.

Bissell’s Phil Gaimon followed, but could not hang onto the flying Colombian.

Azevedo crossed the line solo in Mogollon to take the stage victory and red jersey of Gila race leader. Chris Baldwin (Bissell) was second, 12 seconds behind, while Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare) finished third, at 24 seconds.

The race to Mogollon

The opening stage of the Tour of the Gila is all about the final, nine-mile climb to Mogollon. The rugged road cuts into the side of the mountain and rises vertiginously from the valley floor. In both the men’s and women’s races today, the stage victory was decided on the climb’s steep upper slopes.

Acevedo logged his victory on the strength of a sharp attack after the Wild Horse Mesa plateau. Former Giro Donne champion Abbott, meanwhile, attacked in nearly the same spot to win the women’s race. Both riders crossed solo and will wear the red jersey of Tour of the Gila race leader on Thursday.

A breakaway never really established in the women’s race. Headwinds and strong riding from the Exergy team kept the race under tight control. Optum and NOW tried to break Exergy’s hold, but nothing survived the heat of the desert for long.

As the bunch came onto the final climb, Jade Wilcoxson (Optum) and McGrath attacked and gained a small gap over the field, which quickly dwindled to only 15 riders. But as they crossed the plateau to the final, steep gradients, the Exergy- and Tibco-led field swept up the escape.

That was Abbott’s cue, and she bounced away from the group as the road tilted up. Claudia Häusler (Tibco-To the Top) tried to go with her, but she could not match Abbott’s stiff tempo. The daylight opened up quickly between Abbott and the field, and she never looked back.

Abbott crossed the line with plenty of time to celebrate her stage victory and her red jersey.

“This race is really special, because there aren’t that many mountaintop finishes in America. This is a genuine mountaintop finish. You have to honor those kinds of stages, because you don’t get them very often,” said Abbot. “I get restless; I’ve been restless all week waiting for this.”

Behind Abbott, a four-rider chase group formed that included National Racing Calendar leader Alison Powers (NOW), McGrath, Donovan, and Häusler. Powers gave teammate Donovan the green light to attack for a stage result, and McGrath was quick to follow.

“Alison said at two kilometers to go that I could attack if I wanted to,” said Donovan. “Then it was just us two. I just went as hard as I could. Last year, I crashed on the plateau leading into it, so I didn’t have the best climb, so this year was a lot better. This is the best I’ve ever done on this stage.”

McGrath put one over on Donovan, however, and crossed the line second, 1:58 behind Abbott, while Donovan finished third, on the same time.

“I’m with Mara, we both love the climbs. That’s my first love for sure, and I was very excited for this stage. I’ve been racing in Europe, suffering in the flat, windy races, so it’s really nice to go uphill,” said McGrath. “It’s always awesome to share a podium with the teammate.”

McCartney goes attacking

In the men’s race, a four-rider breakaway went up the road and built up an advantage of 13 minutes. The big teams played poker, until Francisco Mancebo’s 5-Hour Energy-Kenda team took responsibility for the chase and reeled in the break. Jason McCartney (Bissell) was the last survivor from the escape and he was scooped up on the early slopes of the Mogollon climb.

Fresh off a trip to Colombia where he trained in the thin air of his home country’s mountains, Acevedo waited patiently until the road turned steep after the Wild Horse Mesa plateau. Then, he jumped. Bontrager’s Gavin Mannion said after the stage, “I’ve never seen someone attack that hard.”

Gaimon, who returned to racing today after a bad crash at the San Dimas Stage Race in March, went across to Acevedo, but couldn’t hold on.

“When Acevedo went, it was impressive, it was a now-or-nothing kind of thing. So I went, and I gave it a shot. I got up to him, and he saw me, and he had a little more gear than I did and I had a lot of stuff go wrong today,” said Gaimon. “It feels good, it’s nice to be in a bike race. It was good to have my legs back a little bit.”

With Gaimon dropped, Acevedo was well and gone. He survived to finish solo and take over the race lead.

“There wasn’t much strategy because I didn’t know the climb. I just waited until I felt good to attack,” said Acevedo through a translator at the finish. “I prefer this kind of climb; I feel more powerful on these short and steep climbs.”

Baldwin, meanwhile, attacked the remains of the field and came across the line second. The 2006 overall winner said that his Gila victory felt like a long time ago. He crossed the finish on the Mogollon Wednesday at just 12 seconds behind the flying Acevedo.

“It feels amazing. I had so much help from my team with guys protecting me all day and Phil sacrificing himself and just set me up for an attack. It’s been a long time,” said Baldwin. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy. It justifies the hard work and tells me that I still have a little tread on the tires.”

Euser was third, on same time with his teammate Philip Deignan. Euser and Deignan trail Acevedo by 24 seconds, so the men’s general classification remains tight. A smiling Euser said after the race that he was looking forward to the many climbs to come this week, but his finish on the Mogollon felt special.

“I love Mogollon,” said Euser. “It’s an iconic climb in the U.S. You grow up as a young climber in the U.S. dreaming of this climb and looking at it as one of those climbs that you really want to win.”