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Emily Marcolini tackles the Gila Monster, Lauren De Crescenzo secures the overall

‘Six years ago I couldn’t imagine this. I was at the rehab center learning how to walk and talk again,’ said De Crescenzo about her return to form.

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Emily Marcolini tackled the Gila Monster to win the queen stage of the 2022 Tour of the Gila capping off what many riders in the peloton joked as the North American Tour.

The tight turn around between the Redlands Bicycle Classic and the Tour of the Gila left a lot of tired, cramped legs racing to the finish in Pinos Altos, Sunday. Marcolini, racing for 3T/Q+M, finished just ahead of Austin Killips (Amy D Foundation) who climbed to second on the day. The red jersey of the overall race leader, Lauren de Crescenzo crossed not far behind for third, securing the overall GC win at the 35th Tour of the Gila.

Also read: Gallery: Redlands Bicycle Classic stage 5 Sunset Loop

“It means so much to me, winning the Gila,” De Crescenzo said. “Six years ago I couldn’t imagine this. I was at the rehab center learning how to walk and talk again. If someone would tell me, ‘don’t worry Lauren because in six years you’re going to win the Gila’ I would have said, ‘You’re crazy, I’m not a climber!’ Mentally, it’s huge coming back from that, to being able to win a race like this; a five-day stage race takes a lot out of you.”

De Crescenzo overcame a slew of bad luck that began in the first stage. A broken derailleur hanger forced her to lose two minutes on GC on the climb to Mogollon. She took revenge on the Inner Loop with a solo flyer to win nearly five minutes ahead of the field. Her two-minute lead was erased in the time trial after suffering a rear flat, followed by a crash in the crit on day four. She was left with a 14-second lead ahead of the Gila Monster stage, a day that often saw minutes gained or lost in past editions.

“After everything that my legs have gone through this week, they’re there,” she said speaking with VeloNews at the start. After crossing for the finish, she shared her winning strategy.

“I was just trying to defend GC today, just keeping her (Doebel-Hickok) close. My goal was to minimize my watts for the big climbs. I just kept thinking, ‘pretend this is Unbound, you have a long time!’ From the bottom of the climb, to up here is like an hour.”

Also read: Unbound Gravel champ Lauren De Crescenzo: ‘I’ve been through way harder stuff than that’

De Crescenzo had been in a front break of five riders after the start of the climb up Sapillo. Joined by the leader jerseys, Krista Doebel-Hickok (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) in the QOM jersey and behind her in second on GC, Maddy Ward (Instafund) in the green jersey and third on GC, followed by Austin Killips (Amy D Foundation) in fourth on GC, and Marcolini (3T/Q+M) sitting in the top ten.

Marcolini and Killips attacked soon after the second QOM, splitting the group, with De Crescenzo the only one who could follow, ahead of Doebel-Hickok. Ward would end up missing the podium in 4th.

“I came in with a little bit of an idea of how I wanted to race this. I knew I wanted to be there when the big moves went,” Marcolini said. Nothing went away on the first QOM, we were pretty chill until we got to the second QOM sprint. My teammates put me into a good position at the bottom of the climb. I just surfed TIBCO’s lead-out train and went on the climb.”

“I am super happy Gila is back. I have very fond memories of racing for Brodie Champman here last time for the overall win. It’s really cool to be back.”

Anet Barrera (DNA Pro Cycling) finished in the top ten on the stage, to bump her up to fifth overall, securing the best young rider’s jersey. Maddy Ward retained the green jersey in the points classification. After winning two stages, Krista Doebel-Hickok secured the QOM jersey and reached her goal for a UCI GC podium, ending second in the overall. EF Education-TIBCO-SVB was the winner in the team classification.