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Virtual Tour of the Gila: Tom Thrall and Jacqueline Godbe take overall wins at second stop of Echelon Racing League

The second stop on the Echelon Racing League pro series saw winners in both the men's and women's races go three for three.

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The Virtual Tour of the Gila — the second stop on the Echelon Racing League — is a wrap, with Tom Thrall (EVOQ.Bike) landing on top of the podium with three wins in the men’s event, and Jacqueline Godbe (xXx-Athletico) going three for three in the women’s race.

Godbe will be lining up at the UCI esports world championships on Wednesday, representing the United States.

VeloNews columnist Zach Nehr (Project Echelon) turned in a solid performance on the men’s side, finishing in second place overall, just 35.7 seconds behind after three stages.

The virtual stage race was contested on the RGT Cycling platform. It was raced over three stages and three days, recreating the real-world parcours of the Silver City Criterium, Mogollon Road Race, and Gila Monster Road Race.

Stage 1 – The Silver City Criterium was a 20-lap race on a rectangular course with four 90-degree turns. One climb followed by one decent turned this stage into a race of attrition. Pace changes and understanding the rules of game physics — when and how to attack — came into play. Nehr tried to use this knowledge to his advantage, attacking several times in the closing circuits of the men’s race. His final attack was brought back, and teammate Stephen Vogel tried to use this to his advantage but was caught just 25m from the line by Thomas Thrall (EVOQ.Bike).

In the women’s race, the first 15 minutes saw an average of 4.8w/kg from riders at the front, and by 10 laps gone, just half the field remained in the front group. Because of the consistently high pace, no breaks succeeded. By the final lap, just seven women remained in the lead. Godbe successfully brought back an attack at 1km by Alana O’Mara (Amy D. Foundation) and went on for the stage win.

Stage 2 – The Mogollon Road Race elevation profile looked mean, with simulated roads pitching in excess of 18 percent on the way to the finish. However, the deciding selections were made for both the men’s and women’s races on an ascent at 15km from the base of the final climb. In the men’s race, just 5 riders were at the front in the final 2km, with Stephen Guydish and Bruce Bird (both Team Draft), Zach Gregg and Zach Nehr (both Project Echelon), and the previous day’s winner Thrall remaining to decide placement. Thrall’s 10-second 10w/kg attack proved to be more than the others could match. Guydish and Nehr came across in second and third.

The women’s race similarity unfolded on the climb at the halfway point, with Godbe, Jennifer Real (Team Infinite), Eleanor Wiesman (Amy D. Foundation), and Cecile Lejeune (Canyon eSports) who escaped. Krista Doebel-Hickok (Rally Cycling) — who will be joining Godbe on Team USA for the “Zwift worlds” — lead a chase group which was just 250m back of the frontrunners, but just could not close the gap. At the flamme rouge, Wiesman and Godbe distanced Lejeune. The two lead women jostled for position, with Wiesman leading out Godbe, whose counter-attack propelled her into the second win in as many days.

Stage 3 – The Gila Monster Road Race parcours featured a lumpy run into the base of the Gila Monster climb, followed by a steady descent and then a long and steep drag to a summit finish. At 25km into the men’s race, the field was split in two — first into a lead bunch of 30 and then — with just 12 riders remaining together into the final kilometer. As in stage 1, Vogel was first to attack, with Nehr capitalizing on his teammate’s action. Patrick Walle (EVOQ.Bike) countered and looked like he was good for the stage win, but a patient and well-timed move from Thrall took his third win, and the overall, as he came through a fading Nehr. Hayden Warner (Above and Beyond Cancer) narrowly beat Walle to the line for 3rd.

Just as in the previous stage, the women looked to have been studying the route and how the men took advantage of the climb at the midway point. Meaghan Easler (Project Echelon) launched over the top of the climb and was followed by race-leader Godbe, Eleanor Wiesman and Alana O’Mara (both Amy D. Foundation). Reacting to this move were Doebel Hickok, Maddie Ward (Amy D. Foundation), Stefanie Sydlik (Velocity Vixen), and Cecile Lejeune (Canyon eSports), but the group of women on the front only extended their lead into the base of the final climb. Wiesman appeared to have suffered a power dropout on the climb and put in an impressive dig to try to get herself back on terms with the front. This move triggered Godbe to several times attack at the front, and she finally escaped. O’Mara lead the others back to Godbe, and launched a sprint on the GC leader, while Easter lined up third wheel. But Godbe was not to be denied her third win and found the legs to bring back O’Mara and drop Easter.

Photo: Virtual Tour of the Gila

2020 Virtual Tour of the Gila final general classification

Professional men’s race results

  1. Thomas Thrall (EVOQ.Bike p/b Enshore), 3:46:19.604
  2. Zach Nehr (Project Echelon Racing), at 00:35.7
  3. Hal Blackburn (Restart Racing), at 01:33.8

Professional women’s race results

  1. Jacqueline Godbe (XXX Racing -Athletico), 04:30:10.4
  2. Eleanor Wiseman (Amy D. Foundation), at 01:38.8
  3. Hal Blackburn (Amy D. Foundation), at 06:30.8