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Trek-Livestrong’s Lewis wins controversial Gila crit; Hughes powers to undisputed womens win

SILVER CITY, New Mexico (VN) — Trek-Livestrong may have lost some big names to the pros in the off season, but you'd never know it at the SRAM Tour of the Gila this week, where a new crop of developing riders stepped up to duplicate its 2010 wins.

2011 Tour of the Gila, stage 4
Hard to say who enjoyed the podium more, Joe Lewis or the podium girls. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

SILVER CITY, New Mexico (VN) — Trek-Livestrong may have lost some big names to the pros in the off season, but you’d never know it at the SRAM Tour of the Gila this week, where a new crop of developing riders stepped up to duplicate the squad’s 2010 wins here.

On Saturday New Zealander Joe Lewis took the win at the Downtown Silver City Criterium to repeat Taylor Phinney’s win last year. His win comes a day after teammate Dale Parker repeated Jesse Sergent’s Gila time trial victory of 2010.

Lewis’ win was controversial with some because the official lap counter, and then the race announcers, skipped lap 2, causing some riders to sprint for the win with one lap to go. Lewis was counting down the laps himself and knew when to sprint.

There was no question about the women’s criterium win, with Clara Hughes showing in her first bike race since 2003 that she can climb, time trial AND sprint.

Hughes (Pactimo) stayed quiet throughout the crit, learning the course and watching how the prime sprints played out. On the last lap she positioned herself to enter the final turn in second and then charged for the line, accelerating the whole way, shedding several late attempts to catch and pass her.

The overall standings were largely unaffected by the criterium. Francisco Mancebo (Realcyclist.com) remains in firm control of the men’s race heading into the grueling Gila Monster stage Sunday. Ben Day (Kenda-5-Hour Energy) and Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home), in second and third, respectively, will be looking to exploit any weakness in Mancebo or his team in the mountainous finale, but Mancebo has yet to be put under pressure here.

In the women’s race, Hughes padded her lead with the 10-second bonus for the stage win; she’ll start the finale with a 1:53 lead over defending Gila champion Mara Abbott. Hughes said she’d ‘fight to the end’ to hold her lead. The women’s final stage, while very tough, does not contain climbs as steep as the men’s route, and may not offer Abbott enough tough climbing to regain the time she needs to win what would be her third Gila title.

Two bell laps

While the men’s peloton was passing the start-finish line with two to go, an official flipped the lap board from 3 to 1. The official was in front of the board so few riders could see the change, but the race announcers could, and began telling the racers, “one to go! one to go!”

2011 SRAM Tour of the Gila, stage 4
Shawn Milne (center) and Cole House (right) contested the sprint, only to find out there was still one lap to go. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

Seconds later, everyone realized the mistake, but by then the peloton was on the far side of the course. Several teams began positioning their sprinters: Bissell was bringing up green jersey holder Frank Pipp, Jamis was setting up Alejandro Borrajo and Realcyclist.com was working for Cole House.

House had the best position out of the last corner, and looked destined for the ‘win.’ But he sat up in confusion 50 meters from the line when he heard announcers, once again, yelling “one to go!”

Not all the teams were confused, however. Lewis had been counting down the laps since five to go.

“They hid the board and there were bells and whistles going everywhere but in the end, everyone should have been watching the lap board,” Lewis said. “I think I got lucky that I didn’t get confused. Maybe I took advantage of that, but I came up with the win, so I’m pretty stoked.”

Lewis was sixth or seventh out of the last corner, and dodged Mancebo, who was bumping bars with V Australia’s Aaron Kemps. Kemps lost momentum but held on for third while Borrajo was a close second to Lewis.

Kemps said he, like Lewis, had been counting down the laps and knew not to sprint with one to go. V Australia director Henk Vogels had little sympathy for the teams that got confused. “I think the pros knew what was going on,” he said.

Realcyclist.com director Gord Fraser, however, was livid. “Everyone’s top sprinters sprinted for the finish at one to go and Cole won that sprint,” Fraser said. “I’m happy for the guy who won, but he should go buy a lottery ticket tonight because that was a mix-up of pretty big proportions. I’m really disappointed for my guys.”

Fraser noted that the situation would have been easily averted by race radios. “To not have race radios in this modern age of cycling is absolutely ridiculous. The powers to be in cycling should have their heads examined.”

Hughes’ huge sprint

A decade ago, Clara Hughes was a top lead-out rider for the Saturn team before she left cycling to focus on speedskating. In her return to cycling she showed she can do more than deliver teammates to the line.

2011 Tour of the Gila, stage 4
Lauren Tamayo (left) made a late charge after Hughes, but could not catch her before the line. Photo: Casey B. Gibson | www.cbgphoto.com

The Canadian kept near the front of the field all day, watching while riders sprinted for intermediate sprints.

“My coach said I could win if was third out of the last corner … I saw people winning from second. So I just had a lot of patience and I knew exactly where I could move up and make up spots. I had it pretty dialed in for the last lap.”

On the last lap she followed green jersey-holder Heather Logan-Sprenger (Colavita) to the front and then passed her just before the final turn. Irish national champion Olivia Dillon (Peanut Butter & Co.-Twenty12) was first through the turn, and Hughes didn’t hesitate in passing her, taking the lead with more than 300 meters of slightly uphill finish straight ahead of her.

“It was the longest sprint ever. It felt long because I never sprint, but I think it was really long,” Hughes said.

Several riders made their jumps later, and for a second it appeared that Hughes had gone too early. But no one could pass her.

“I was looking and I saw someone coming and I thought, ‘this was too long,’ but then I saw them kind of die and I just kept going.

“It’s just really weird to win — I’m not a sprinter, so it’s really bizarre, but really fun!”

The monster

Men will race 106 miles Sunday and climb 9,100 feet in the Gila Monster Road Race. A forest fire in the Gila Wilderness could force officials to shorten the course, but that appeared unlikely Saturday evening. The weather forecast is for a sunny, breezy 66 degrees.

Mancebo’s team might lack the depth of his rivals’, especially in the hills. At some points late in the hilly stage 2, Mancebo was nearly isolated (although he finished with several teammates, including House, who contested the field sprint). The team may be unable to contain a late solo attack by some of the many talented climbers in the field, such as Trek-Livestrong’s Joe Dombrowski, Bissell’s Chris Baldwin, Jamis’ Tyler Wren and Chipotle’s Alex Howes. But Mancebo looks as though he’s barely broken a sweat so far in this race, and should be able to match any moves by the riders closest to him on the GC, Kenda’s Ben Day and Jamis’ Luis Amaran.

Women race 72 miles Sunday on a course similar to the mens, but minus two major climbs on the out and back from the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. They will climb 5,600 feet.

Abbott may be wishing the women raced the men’s route, because she will need a lot of steep climbing to take back the time from Hughes. While the total altitude gained is impressive, the final climbs to Pinos Altos are rarely steep and may suit Hughes’ powerful technique more than Abbott’s lightweight climbing-specialist’s style.

Hughes said she was prepared for a battle.

“I’ll ride to my death tomorrow … I’ll give whatever I have, and if I don’t win that means someone was better than me,” Hughes said. “But I’m going to put up a fight for sure.”

Race notes

  • Hughes was enjoying the ‘Go Canada!’ cheers around the criterium course. The Gila women’s race is being dominated by Canadians this year. They include green jersey holder Heather Logan-Sprenger (who plays pro hockey in the winter), third-placed overall Rhae Shaw (Cycle U) and U26 leader Denise Ramsden (Team Juvedorm).
  • As noted yesterday, Joe Lewis’ racing style has been compared to Henk Vogels’, and Vogels had nothing but good things to say about Lewis on Saturday. “I’ve known Joe for a few years, he’s got a big future. I like his style, he’s aggressive. He had a crash the other day and got straight back up and it didn’t really rattle him. I like riders with a good attitude; nothing phases him, you know.”
  • Lewis’ stage win put him ahead in the green jersey competition. His teammate Dale Parker still holds the best young rider jersey and Mancebo leads the KOM competition. Bissell’s Frank Pipp had defended his green jersey ably in the criterium, grabbing several intermediate points to pad his lead. However his team was frustrated in the final sprint by the confusion over the lap count.
  • Among the spectators at the Gila this week is HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen. Van Garderen flew straight from Liege-Bastogne-Liege to Albuquerque to attend the Gila. He’s been training on some of the Gila courses (on his team bike that still has its L-B-L race number attached), and doing race support for his girlfriend Jessica Phillips. He plans to train in New Mexico for a few days after the Gila, then head to California for a pre-Tour of California team training camp.Van Garderen raced the Gila as a junior, in the category 2 race, in 2002.

Quick results
Women’s stage 4

  • 1. Clara Hughes, Pactimo Cycling Team, in 1:07:02
  • 2. Lauren Tamayo, Peanut Butter & Co.twenty12, at s.t.
  • 3. Patuzz Eleonora, Diadora-Pasta Zara Team, at s.t. U26
  • 4. Heather Logan-Sprenger, Colavita/forno D’asolo, at s.t.
  • 5. Modesta Vzesniauskaite, Colavita/forno D’asolo, at s.t.

Men’s stage 4

  • 1. Joseph Lewis, Trek-Livestrong, in 1:34:14 at s.t. U25
  • 2. Alejandr Borrajo, Jamis Sutter Home P/b Colavita, in 1:34:14 at s.t.
  • 3. Aaron Kemps, V Australia Pro Cycling, in 1:34:14 at s.t. U25
  • 4. Dan Summerhill, Chipotle Development Team, in 1:34:14 at s.t. U25
  • 5. Anibal Borrajo, Jamis Sutter Home P/b Colavita, in 1:34:14 at s.t.

Women’s GC

  • 1. Clara Hughes, in 9:47:43 Pactimo Cycling Team
  • 2. Mara Abbott, in 9:49:36 at 0:01:53 Diadora-Pasta Zara Team
  • 3. Rhae Shaw, in 9:50:51 at 0:03:08 CycleU
  • 4. Janel Holcomb, in 9:51:08 at 0:03:25 Colavita/Forno d\’Asolo
  • 5. Alison Starnes, in 9:52:00 at 0:04:17 Peanut Butter & Co.TWENTY12

Men’s GC

  • 1. Francisco Mancebo, in 9:19:44 Realcyclist.com Cycling Team
  • 2. Ben Day, in 9:20:59 at 0:01:15 Kenda/5-Hour Energy Pro Cycling p
  • 3. Luis Amaran, in 9:21:24 at 0:01:40 Jamis Sutter Home p/b Colavita
  • 4. Dale Parker, in 9:21:37 at 0:01:53 Trek-LIVESTRONG
  • 5. Lachlan Morton, in 9:21:47 at 0:02:03 Chipotle Development Team

Complete results