Carter Jones and his Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies teammates took home the overall victory at the SRAM Tour of the Gila, battling the peloton on the notoriously difficult fifth stage, the Gila Monster Road Race. The team reclaimed the lead once and for all for Jones in the race’s queen stage.
“The guys rode a perfect race. Everyone did their job and every guy on the team played a crucial role in Carter’s victory,” said Performance Director Jonas Carney. “I was especially impressed with how the guys rode on the final sprint to the finish in the Gila Monster. They understood a complex race situation that saw some time bonuses available at the finish line. Those bonuses would have cost us the win. They adjusted the game plan flawlessly and ensured that didn’t happen. Things change so quickly on the road, and it’s great to see the team making important decisions like that on the fly.”
Jones took the win by just two seconds over runner-up Gregory Brenes (Jamis-Hagens Berman). It was a win the rising young star described as “the biggest of (his) short career”.
Teammates Will Routley and Tom Zirbel played a critical role in Jones’ win – the pair drove an early race breakaway that made it to the base of the treacherous final climb. Zirbel powered the breakaway, while Routley conserved energy and prepared to assist Jones on the final push.
“The plan was to be as aggressive as possible and put pressure on the other teams to respond, while Carter and Routley saved it for the final climbs,” said Carney. “Zirbel drove a large, dangerous breakaway for nearly 100 kilometers while Routley sat on. It helped to deplete the other teams resources and ensure that Routley would be there to help Carter in the end.”
The team’s savvy tactical play turned Jones’ 28 second deficit following stage four into a victory. While spectators may have seen the loss of his jersey in the criterium one day earlier as a slip up, Carney saw things differently.
“It was not our intention to ride a traditional defense in the criterium,” said Carney. “We didn’t want the guys to have to ride hard the day before the Gila Monster, as we know that’s where the race is won or lost. It was disappointing to lose the jersey, but ultimately it left us the horsepower we needed to win the overall on Sunday.”
The overall win capped a week of solid performances in New Mexico.
– The full 8-man roster surviving a horrific crash on the opening day of racing, involving nearly 75 athletes. Carter finished fifth on the stage, with Routley and Bjorn Selander close behind.
– Eric Young narrowly missed a win in stage two, finishing second in the field sprint.
– Stage three’s time trial proved decisive, with Zirbel and Routley finishing 2nd and 4th, respectively. It put Jones into the overall lead, and pushed Zirbel further up the standings.
– Stage four’s criterium saw Selander finish second from the breakaway, gaining significant time. It was a sign that Selander, who weathered an injury plagued 2013 season, is quickly returning to form.
– The team placed two riders, Jones and Routley, in the top ten overall, and finished second in the team classification.