The Orange & Black claimed a stellar win today with Carter Jones taking his first UCI stage race victory. GM Jake Erker reflects on stage 4’s criterium, and the race deciding 5th and final stage.
Yesterday’s stage 4 criterium saw Jones’ overall lead threatened as a breakaway was given too much leash and risked lapping the field. Once the threat was identified, it was too late and the 4 man break made contact with the back of the field. Luckily, Optum p/b KBS had Bjorn Selander in the move and he would go on the take 2nd on the stage. However Jones lost his overall lead to Ben Day of UHC. The good news, was that Jones remained in 2nd, just 24 seconds down and the team would not carry the burden of race leadership into the final stage, known as the Gila Monster.
With nearly 10,000 ft of climbing on the last stage and most of the vertical gain smashed into the final 50 miles, the aptly named Gila Monster is one of the most difficult stages on the American racing calendar. We jumped at the opportunity to apply pressure on the new race leader Day, and placed 2 riders into the early breakaway – Will Routley who was in 11th overall and TT specialist Tom Zirbel. Zirbel put in a huge effort to establish the breakaway, which would in turn place Will into a potential GC winning position. The breakaway built a dangerous lead and made it to the turn around in the Clif Dwellings with a decent gap, that only the best climbers in the race would be able to close.
Coming up the biggest climb of the day, a final group of 9 riders was established containing Routley and Jones from Optum p/b KBS and the biggest threats for the overall from Jamis and SmartStop. The group pulled away from the remnants of the field, which largely turned into individual riders and small groups battling over the monstrous climbs.
Routley assisted Jones into the finale helping to secure the overall win for Jones by just 2 seconds to Jamis’ Gregory Brenes and 4 seconds to SmartStop’s Rob Britton. This was perhaps the closest overall margin of victory in the long history of the Tour of the Gila. Routley also grabbed 3rd on the stage for his efforts as well as 7th Overall. The team finished 2nd in the team classification.
Congratulations to the team for a great week in New Mexico which included 1 Overall Win, 6 Podiums and 10 Top Tens!
The team comes together to celebrate after a hard-fought victory!