To say today’s stage, the first of 5 at Tour of the Gila, was easy, would not come close to doing the women’s peloton justice. Riders from United Health Care, Twenty16, Team TIBCO, DNA Cycling seemed to glide over the 73.1 miles of open road with precision and mastery. Rolling out from the heart of Silver City, the air was chilly but the sky was blue and the sun was shining. There was a light wind blowing, and as we prepared for the neutral rollout I was imagining what it would be like out on the open road, in the middle of the desert, many miles in.
I was tasked with sending updates to the twitter queen Clara Beard from the women’s race. No small feat for a 73 mile point to point through a National Forest, with limited cell service. I was handed a satellite phone, given a quick tutorial, a start list, 5 minutes to grab a convenience store coffee, 1 minute to use the port-o-let, and promptly shown to a race car.
“Ladies to the line” came the directive. I got in the car.
Starting with a neutral roll out, 66 women raced toward Mogollon, through canyons and over rolling hills in the Gila National Forest. Stage one was a point to point race, ending with a narrow, winding 6.7 mile climb to the finish.
Appropriate for day one of a multi-day stage race, the women stayed close for much of the race. At mile 26, after the first sprint, 3 women blew off the front. Lauren De Crescenzo of DNA Cycling, Sofia Arreola Navarro of TWENTY16, and Anna Grace of FCS Zngine worked together to put a 3 minute gap on the field. The 3 stayed out through most of the race, maintaining their lead until the peloton started the hunt with about 15 miles to go.
I watched with awe as we repeatedly pulled alongside the break to give them the time gap. “3 minutes 1o. 3 minutes 10″ Jeff, the race official in my car would offer up while hanging out of the sunroof as we pulled alongside.
“Thank you” came the response. Every time. Every single time they would say “thank you” I would frantically type in to the satellite phone. If they could push a 30 + mile, 3 woman break away and still say “thank you” I could make that damn phone work.
I was finding myself rooting for Lauren, Sofia, and Anna. They were my heros of the day. But I knew what was going on. The women in the peloton did too. There was a time when a tailwind joined the race on a nice descent, and I imagined these ladies holding their place.
Only 6 riders dropped, one due to a minor crash.
As the climb began, the peloton closed in.
Within a few short miles Mara Abbott of United Health Care charged to the front and away from the pack. After 4 wins on this very stage at Tour of the Gila and 3 overall GC wins, Abbott made her intensions clear. Climbing to victory, she took the win one minute in front of second place Flavia Oliveira of FCS Zngine.
“Our plan went pretty much perfectly. We tried to conserve and sit in. Lex and I got to rest a bit going in to the climb” said Abigail Mickey, finishing in third. “I feel good about tomorrow, it should be fun, my first time in a white jersey, it’s a new experience for me. And I’m so glad my parents were here to see it! Thanks Mom and Dad!” Mickey also took the white youngest rider jersey for day one.
And there you have day one of the Tour of the Gila, a beautiful stage race in Silver City, New Mexico. More photos coming soon as we prepare for stage 2. For up to date info follow @tourofthegila on twitter.
Top 3 on Stage 1
- Mara Abbott (UnitedHealthcare)
- Flavia Oliveira (FCS/Zngine)
- Abagail Mickey (TWENTY16)
Town of Silver City Leader’s Jersey: Mara Abbot (UnitedHealthcare)
PNM Sprinter Leader Jersey: Alison Tetrick (TWENTY16)
Freeport-McMoRan Queen of the Mountain Jersey: Flavia Oliveira (FCS/Zngine)
Southwest Bone & Joint Institute Best Young Rider: Abagail Mickey (TWENTY16)
By Sarai Snyder – Boulder, Colorado