BBH 1763

2024 Tour of the Gila Stage One Report

By: Rebecca Reza  April 25, 2024

Stephens Soars to Victory Atop Mogollon for Cynisca

Lauren Stephens crested the climb atop Mogollon to celebrate the first stage victory for Cynisca Cycling at the 2024 Tour of the Gila. Nadia Gontova finished just behind in second for DNA Pro Cycling, with last year’s stage winner, Marcela Prieto (Steve Tilford Foundation) in third. The victory marks Stephen’s second on the road this season since winning the Clasica de Almeria in Spain a month ago.

Stephens swapped roles coming into Gila this week after directing ROXO Racing team last year in Silver City, notably when Gontova was racing for the team.

“It was really exciting because I have done some training with her over the past year so I’d say we’re pretty good friends,” Stephens said. “I knew today that I didn’t want to lose time. My first goal was to stay with Nadia. I had seen how well she had done a couple weeks ago at Redlands.”

Gontova arrived in Silver City after earning the biggest palmare in her career thus far, winning the overall title at the Redlands Bicycle Classic earlier this month. The Canadian burst on to the pro scene after winning Oak Glen last season at Redlands. ROXO signed her shortly after, taking her to the Vuelta Colombia Femenina where she celebrated her first UCI stage victory.

“I’ve trained with her some and know how strong she is,” Stephens said. “I told myself that if I was feeling good I would attack in the last couple kilometers.”

Seventy-one riders took to the start today in Silver City as the pro women rolled out for the 71.2 mile trek ahead for the opening stage Wednesday. The field had stuck together until the first intermediate sprint, which was won by Tashkent Women’s Pro Cycling Team Margarita Misyurina. The team from Uzbekistan is racing their second year at Gila after their debut in 2023.

Competitive Edge Racing’s Galen Bolard took a solo flyer soon after, escaping the field to gained up to a four-minute gap before DNA Pro Cycling picked up the chase soon after the second and final intermediate sprint of the day. The wind was starting to pick up just slightly, as teams began to organize approaching the right turn onto NM highway 159, beginning the final climb to the finish.

An unfortunate cross of the wheels caused a good portion of the field to crash, with the top contenders and teams escaping most of the carnage staying close to the front. DNA continued to drive the pace before Cynisca Cycling took over, lead by 2X Redlands stage winner, Mara Roldan. The pace had obliterating what was left of the field, leaving less than 10 riders to fight for the win.

2023 Mogollon Stage Winner, Marcela Prieto, had made the split, along with Gontova who was sitting on Stephen’s wheel. As the group was approaching the final climb, Gontova launched a fierce attack. Stephens was quick to respond, jumping on her wheel, followed by Prieto. The tempo turned out to be too much for the Mexican climber, as she watched the duo slip away from her grasp.

“It was a hard day on the climb, after a short while I wasn’t able to keep that pace to the finish,” Prieto said. “I am happy with the result. Third place is not bad, I’m happy to give another try tomorrow. Hopefully I will improve a little but of course I will try until the final day.”

Further up the road, Stephens was happy to sit on Gontova’s wheel allowing her to do all the work in the final few kilometers. Despite her best efforts, Gontova was not able to shake Stephens off her wheel.

“I knew my best chance on this climb was to go pretty early. I know Lauren has a good kick,” Gontova said at the finish. “Maybe I was a little impatient but at that point, I knew my only hope was to keep the pace high and hope that I could crack her. She was really strong on the day and ended up having a really strong attack at the end. I just couldn’t follow and she rode away. “

As the two were nearing the one-kilometer to go mark, Stephens launched her final attack riding away from Gontova to celebrate her victory.

“Nadia attacked as soon as we started the last bit of the climb,” Stephens said. “I was able to stay with her. I knew I was accomplishing my first goal and it was just icing on the cake to be able to put a little bit of time into Nadia today.”

Stephens earned two jerseys for her victory today, the first red leader’s jersey and the first Queen of the Mountain jerseys for earning top points on the finish line. Nadia Gontova leads the Best Young Rider classification heading into stage 2.

Racing resumes on Thursday for the women, starting at 10:20 MDT after the men at Fort Bayard.

Photo: Velo Images

Paredes of Team Medellín Takes Stage 1 Win Ahead of Stites

Wilmar Paredes inched out Tyler Stites, crossing the finish at Mogollon to take victory in the Tour of the Gila opener. Paredes teammate, Walter Vargas, came in third to round the podium. The first stage took the pro men 92-miles from the heart of Silver City out to the ghost town of Mogollon.

Team Medellín were first to launch the attacks in the final kilometers that would earn them the victory.

“This is my first time racing Gila, I’m very happy and thankful for my team,” Paredes said. “I’m happy to have garnered this victory for them.”

A four-rider break managed to escape not long after the first intermediate sprint of the day, won by Nacho Prado of Canel’s-Java. The group consisted of David Gaona (Team Skyline), Alex Marr (Rio Grande), Nacho Prado (Canel’s) and Alexis Bouchard (EcoFlo). Marr would soon return to the field but his remaining breakaway companions would eventually gain up to a 13-minute gap.

“I was surprised that we gained so much time, but the teams in the field had different interests and so we took advantage of the opportunity,” Prado said. “We tried to gain a little more but it didn’t turn out.”

Prado would earn the top points in both intermediate sprints, garnering the first green points jersey. The former Mexican National Time Trial Champion held the jersey last year in the opening stages.

Back in the field, teams were getting anxious as the kilometers began to shrink before the finish. Several teams worked together to close the gap, including Team Echelon, CS Velo, and Team Medellín. As the main field made the right turn to face the climb ahead, the break began to shatter.

Following the plateau, the gap was down to two minutes with 6km to go. Alexis Bouchard (EcoFlo) was the lone leader desperately trying to hold on to his advantage. Prado had returned to the field, a job done earning points for the day, while David Gaona struggled to keep Bouchard’s tempo.

The EcoFlo rider was caught within four kilometers to go as the bright colors of Team Medellín were on the move. Heiner Parra (Canel’s-Java) and Tyler Stites (Project Echelon) were also in the mix, when Óscar Sevilla decided it was time.

Sevilla attacked gaining a slight advantage, when his teammate Walter Vargas countered. Riding to tempo, Paredes made his way up to Vargas position with Stites in tow. Stites had arrived in Silver City having won the overall classification at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.

Vargas would lose contact as Stites and Paredes went to battle nearly ending in a photo finish.

“On the climb there were quite a few Medellin guys with me which made it tough trying to mark all of

them,” Stites said between breaths at the finish. “Ended up setting my own pace. He got me there in the end, but I didn’t lose any time to him so overall a pretty good day.”

Paredes leads both the overall and KOM classifications going into day 2. Kieran Haug finished inside the top ten on the stage to wear the Best Young Riders jersey for CS Velo.

The men take to the start at Fort Bayard at 9 AM MDT.

Photo: Velo Image