By Steve Medcroft, Special to VeloNews.com
Scott Moninger (Health Net /Maxxis) and Amber Neben (T-Mobile) sealed their Tour of the Gila victories on Sunday after the race’s toughest stage, the Gila Monster Road Race.
Moninger proved he was back to his old form after 106 miles, nearly 10,000 feet of climbing and relentless attacks from challengers, by winning the men’s event, while Neben kept close tabs on her nearest challengers – Christine Thorburn (Webcor Builders) and Brooke Ourada (Victory Brewing) – as teammate Kim Anderson went off to chase an early break, taking the final stage win for herself.
Moninger seals the deal
It was only 70 degrees Sunday afternoon as racers made their way over the Gila Monster’s tough climbs, but with the altitude and a total lack of cloud cover, riders complained that it felt much hotter.
The stage took the pack over a Category 4 and a Cat. 2 climb before delivering them to the bottom of a Cat. 1 climb over the Continental Divide that led out to New Mexico’s famous Gila Cliff Dwellings. Rising 2000 feet in three miles, the incline was the site of the first significant attack of the day.
“Davide Frattini attacked first,” Moninger said. “He put us all into difficulty.”
“It was hard,” Frattini said. “I was close in GC so I wanted to attack, attack and attack.”
“It took a few turns of the pedals to switch gears for climbing,” Moninger said about the chase. Frattini’s pressure split the front of the group. In the chase, Carl Swenson was able to jump ahead and crest the climb first and grab up the Cima Pantani climber’s prize. A small group riders then formed on the descent, including Swenson, Frattini, Moninger, Health Net teammate Mike Jones and two-time mountain bike world champion Roland Green (Canadian National Team).
Swenson dropped off the pace but the rest of the group stayed close together until the final two-mile uphill finish.
“Frattini attacked again,” Moninger said.
Jones and Green fell slightly back and Moninger countered and was able to sit on Frattini’s wheel.
“Scott was very, very strong,” Frattini said. “He had good form.”
“I basically got a free ride to the finish,” Moninger said. He was able to come around 500 meters before the line and put a stamp on his GC win, followed 0:13 seconds later by Jones. Frattini, his impetus lost, fell five seconds further back. The stage win was the cap on an impressive and dominating week of racing for Health Net. The team took four firsts, three seconds and two thirds. The control the team exhibited on every stage this week confirms the early season speculation that Health Net will be a factor throughout the season.
For Moninger, that season includes appearances at the Cascade Classic, Altoona, and the Estes Cycling Classic, after a stop at the USPRO Championships in Philadelphia.
Another win for T-Mobile
In the women’s 71.8-mile version of the Gila monster, which took the field over one Cat. 2 and two Cat. 4 climbs (for almost 5500 feet of climbing), GC leader Amber Neben and the T-Mobile team watched and waited for threatening moves.
But a major break by a GC threat was not to be. Instead, a pair of riders — Kate Maher (Basis) and Michelle Beltran (Red5Racing) — slipped off the front early in the stage. Neither woman posed much of a threat on the overall standings, but Beltran is a a strong rider who recently won a similar last-day stage in La Vuelta de Bisbee after a long break away.
Not one to take chances, Neben sent teammate Kim Anderson across to monitor the break. She was joined by five other riders, but Anderson — 11th overall, some six minutes down – was the best-placed rider in the group.
“It ended up being a group of about six (working to pull back Maher and Beltran),” Anderson said.
“We heard there was a chase coming,” said Maher. “We just kept it steady. Somehow I was alone for a while and then Kim caught on.”
“Kate attacked at the bottom of the last climb and I got up to her,” Anderson said. “We stayed together to about 500 meters.”
Anderson broke free. “I was cross-eyed the whole way,” she recalled after finishing 14 seconds ahead of Maher. The win was enough to pull her all the way to second in GC.
Like Health Net, T-Mobile, too, dominated the Tour, winning four of five stages, finishing second in two. In fact, the only T-Mobile rider to not take a win was U.S. National Mountain Bike Champion Sue Haywood.
“All we needed was one more stage in the race,” Neben said “Then Sue could have gotten a win too.”
“A stage on a bumpy dirt road,” quipped Haywood.
The women of T-Mobile head off in different directions after Gila, for training and solo racing efforts. “This was a great race,” Neben said. “The team worked really well together. The chemistry is good right now.” The team will come back together for the USPRO Championships in Philly.
After hearing about the discovery of Marco Pantani’s body in a hotel room in Rimini, Italy, Gila race promoter Jack Brennan wanted to pay tribute to a cyclist who, despite his personal demons, may be considered one of Italy’s most significant racers.He started by re-coloring the Gila leader’s jersey to match the Giro D’Italia’s Maglia Rosa. Knowing that his Gila Monster Road Race boasts one of American racing’s only Category 1 climbs, he renamed the peak the Cima Pantani and offered a $300 premium to the first Pro 1 racer to reach the summit in Sunday’s stage.Former U.S. Olympian in cross-country skiing and mountain biker Carl Swenson took the prize. Women Stage 5
1. Anderson, Kimberly (T-Mobile), 3:33:37
2. Maher, Kate (Basis), at 0:14
3. Hannos, Andrea (Team Rona), at 0:59
4. Beltran, Michelle (Red 5 Racing), at 1:04
5. Robbins, Kristen (Victory Brewing), at 1:04
6. Gonzalez-Ferrat, Gabriela (Velo Bella), at 1:08
7. McQuaid, Melanie (Ford Cycling), at 1:15
8. Gaggioli, Lynn (T-Mobile), at 3:25
9. Willock, Erinne (Team Rona), at 3:32
10. Ourada, Brooke (Victory Brewing), at 3:32Women Overall
1, Neben, Amber (T-Mobile), 07:54:40
2, Ourada, Brooke (Victory Brewing), at 01:52
3, Anderson, Kimberly (T-Mobile), at 02:45
4, Thorburn, Christine (Webcor Builders), at 02:48
5, Willock, Erinne (Team Rona), at 03:48
6, Gaggioli, Lynn (T-Mobile), at 04:25
7, Maher, Kate (Basis), at 04:46
8, Holden, Mari (T-Mobile), at 05:48
9, Hannos, Andrea (Team Rona), at 06:33
10, Seehafer, Kori (Genesis Scuba/FFCC), at 06:58Men Stage 5
1. Moninger, Scott (Health Net /Maxxis), 4:48:25
2. Jones, Mike (Health Net /Maxxis), at 0:13
3. Frattini, Davide (Team Monex), at 0:18
4. Green, Roland (Canadian National Team), at 0:21
5. Swenson, Carl, at 1:13
6. Decker, Carl (Broadmark Capital), at 1:35
7. Hunt, John (Village Peddler) at 1:35
8. Baker, Jonathan (Excel Sports) at 1:38
9. Lange, Michael (Sharper Image/Mathis), at 1:43
10. Henry, Jay (Specialized) at 1:45Men Overall
1. Moninger, Scott (Health Net /Maxxis), 14:13:54
2. Jones, Mike (Health Net /Maxxis), at 2:06
3. Frattini, Davide (Team Monex), at 3:00
4. Hunt, John (Village Peddler) at 4:42
5. Decker, Carl (Broadmark Capital) at 4:49
6. Baker, Jonathan (Excel Sports) at 6:10
7. Blickem, Ryan (Aida’s Bail Bonds) at 6:26
8. Lange, Michael (Sharper Image/Mathis), at 7:38
9. Green, Roland (Canadian National Team), at 8:00
10. Henry, Jay (Specialized), at 8:01