Racing concurrently, the men and women of Optum Pro Cycling each delivered a rider to the first podium of the Tour of the Gila atop a punishing climb through the Mogollon Mountains.
Guillaume Boivin finished second in the men’s race after riding in an 8-man breakaway for much of the stage, and eventually working to disintegrate the move on the Mogollon slope. Boivin, widely known for his ability as sprinter, left the rest of his breakaway companions behind and struggled to maintain a gap through the steepest part of the climb with the finish line quickly approaching. The Montreal native was eventually caught and passed by the surging Columbian rider Rafael Montiel, but held off his pursuers to finish second. The rest of the disintegrated peloton crossed the line at a variety of intervals off the winning pace, proof of the difficulty of the classic Gila opener.
The impressive effort by Boivin also put him into an unusual position – inside the orange King of the Mountains jersey for stage two’s Inner Loop Road Race. The team’s pure climbers and serious threats on the general classification, Mike Woods and Phil Gaimon, had strong finishes on Mogollon as well, finishing 5th and 7th. The result bodes well for the team heading into more difficult racing in the high desert mountains.
Although tactically a much different race, Jasmin Glassier experienced similar fortunes in the women’s race, riding her way to a podium finish after one of the first extended climbs for the women’s field of 2015. The task of the day for every team was to devise a plan to unseat Mara Abbott (Amy D Foundation) on her favorite terrain – a mountaintop finish. The team’s strategy was to do just that, and they animated the race early and often in an attempt to form a breakaway that could gain a meaningful gap on Abbott’s team. All six riders were aggressive throughout the race, and with the base of Mogollon quickly approaching, the entire team drove the pace in one last effort to leave Abbott behind. Glassier found herself alone on the climb, with Abbott, Flavia Oliveria, and Abby Mickey battling up the road as the slope steepened. Glasser stayed focused, and passed a fading Oliveria just meters from the finish to take third.
The race continues, and offers very little respite, in stage two’s Inner Loop Road Race. The roughly 75 mile circuit serves up nearly 6,000 feet of climbing.
We spoke with Glaesser, Boivin, and Performance Directors Jonas Carney and Patrick McCarty about the team’s double podium.
How did the team help set you up for a push on the final climb to the Mogollon summit?
The team was extremely aggressive throughout the stage, showing not only that we are one of the strongest teams out there, but that we are willing to race. I think this mentality helped us earn good positioning for the climb. We were all at the front of the race, and Leah Kirchmann and Annie Ewart drilled it into the bottom of the slope.
You seem to have great form this year – how are you feeling facing such a hot, climbing-centric week of racing?
I had a tough season last year so I am really happy to see my form come around. I didn’t have any expectations of being on the podium today as I don’t really see myself as a pure climber, but it’s certainly a great confidence boost going into the rest of the week. It’s exciting to be in a team environment that’s so supportive and encourages all of us to consistently perform at our best.
What was the plan for the stage today?
The plan was to gamble on getting our riders in a break that would get time for us in the general classification. We knew it would be tough to beat the world’s best climber, Mara Abbott on a hill like Mogollon, so we were out to get a head start. The ladies rode very strong and we came close a few times to achieving a break, but ultimately we didn’t get the commitment we needed from the other teams to make anything stick. After about 75% of the race covered we switched gears to put our best climbers in a good spot for the mountain top finish, and Jasmin capitalized on the opportunity.
Describe what built up to you attacking your breakaway companions on the final climb, and nearly making it.
It was a weird day overall with the brake getting a big gap really quick then let the gas off pedal for the second half of the stage. I guess no team was really happy with the riders they had up the road regarding GC. I felt pretty good and with the peloton closing in fast I knew I had to go early and just ride my pace up the climb. Got a sizeable gap from my breakaway companion right away and TT the last 8km. One Colobian who started the climb about 30-40secs behind caught and passed me with about 1,5km to go and I was able to hold the charging peloton for second.
This is undoubtedly a climbers race, and you are considered a sprinter. How is the fitness this week?
I was not too happy with my fitness in Joe Martin last week but kept faith in the process and that the legs were going to come around. I would not say I’m in peak form just yet, but it is going the right direction for sure. I am in no way a climber but when the form is good I can get over some hills and contest some reduced bunch sprints. There should be a couple races with such a scenario in the next couple months. Hopefully with the speed of JM and the climbs of Gila, the body will be firing on all cylinders and everything comes together for us in the next races.
What was the plan for the stage today?
Today our strategy was to take great care of Mike Woods and Phil Gaimon and set them up for the final climb, and the guys did an excellent job. However, the race was a bit strange today with a large break gaining over 14 minutes because several teams who were not represented refused to chase. It was a bit of a bluffing match out there. In the end it worked out well for us, as Guillaume came very close to winning the stage.
Great positioning with three riders the top ten – what does that add to the hunt for the overall this week?
It was great to have Guillaume on the podium today. He’s sitting in 2nd overall, but ultimately his focus this week will be on stage wins and helping the climbers for the overall win. There’s a lot of racing left, but Woods and Gaimon rode very strong today and we’re in great position moving forward with three guys in the top 7 overall.