Stites Tyrone ITT Velo Images

2024 Tour of the Gila Stage Three Report

By: Rebecca Reza  April 27, 2024

Stephens Increases Overall Lead, Stites Blasts Into Victory

Stephens Increases Overall Tour of the Gila Lead, Winning Tyrone Time Trial

Cynisca Cycling’s Lauren Stephens raced to victory in Tyrone for Stage 3 of the Tour of the Gila 2024. Having won on the same course in 2015, she improved her previous best time by 23 seconds. Her victory at the Tyrone Individual Time Trial also increased her lead on the General Classification by 2:01, ahead of Nadia Gontova on GC. The DNA Pro Cycling rider was fourth on the stage. Alia Shafi finished 51 seconds behind Stephens, clocking a time of 39:03; 23 seconds ahead of Cécile Lejeune, racing for the Steve Tilford Foundation, finishing with 33:26 in third.

“It was quite windy out there,” Stephens said after the finish. “It was a great ride; I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”

Emily Ehrlich had been the heavy favorite coming into the time trial, after winning the TT at the Redlands Bicycle Classic and two gold medals at the Pan American Track Championships. Speaking ahead of her

start, Ehrlich said, “I honestly feel it’s the best TT we have in the country. I’ve only done it once, obviously, but it’s my favorite. I really love it!”

Ehrlich started her TT strong, with her head down in the tight position she is accustomed to.

Unfortunately, the Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24 rider crashed coming down the descent of the Little Burro on the way out. She was then forced to abandon the race due to injury. The team later confirmed Ehrlich suffered a broken collarbone and possibly other fractures and is “absolutely covered in road rash.” Ehrlich had been expected to win the stage; with Stephens admitting that once she had seen that Ehrlich had crashed, she had backed off her speed.

“I hope Emily is okay,” Stephens added. “I saw her when I came over the top of the climb, which reminded me to focus on safety first.”

Ehrlich was also expected to be a top contender at the Olympic trials in two weeks’ time. She has managed to send a message to the race organization, stating she is in good spirits, and doesn’t want people to worry about her. “She will be okay,” her team reassured.

At the end of the day, the GC saw a shake-up in the standings under Stephens and Nadia Gontova, who continue to sit in the top two spots. Alia Shafi moved into the top ten on GC, following her second-place finish for Fount Cycling Guild. Her teammate, Eleanor Wiseman, also moved up to fourth from tenth place as she heads into Saturday’s crit. PAS/Steve Tilford Foundation Racing’s Marcela Prieto slid down to fifth after finishing nineteenth on the stage. Cynisca Cycling’s Ashley Frye finished fourth, moving her into a podium position in third ahead of Saturday.

The UCI women race 27 laps at the Downtown Criterium presented by the Town of Silver City on Saturday starting at 1:30 MDT.

Stites Blasts Into Victory, Taking the Overall Lead at Tour of the Gila

At Tour of the Gila on Friday, Project Echelon’s Tyler Stites blasted through the finish, seizing the win with a time of 33:07 at the Tyrone Individual Time Trial presented by Freeport McMoran. He came close to the course record of 32:59 that was set by Levi Leipheimer in 2009. The current Pan Am Time Trial Champion, Walter Vargas, was second for Team Medellín, clocking a time of 33:18. Jonas Walton rounded the podium in third, finishing in 33:45 and moving into the lead of the Best Young Rider Classification.

Stites’s win marks the second stage win for the team at Tour of the Gila 2024, after winning four out of five stages at Redlands earlier this month. Stites takes over the GC with his victory with two stages

remaining. Team Medellín’s Wilmar Paredes had a tough day, finishing in 36:33 and sliding down to fourth on GC.

“It’s a tough course, the main goal was to win the stage and take the red which I accomplished,” Stites said. “I’m really happy about that. I definitely had my eye on the course record but came up short; it was a tough day out there. I was chasing Walter, which was my minute-man, so that was a good carrot to be chasing. I had him in sight so I had a good day.”

The 16.15-mile Individual Time Trial out-and-back course in Tyrone featured 1,188 feet (362 meters) of climbing. Straight out of the start house, the road pitches up for a Category 4 Little Burro climb, rapidly shifts into a fast descent passing the Freeport-McMoran Tyrone mine, the end of which signals the turn around to head back to the finish. Five miles before the finish, the Little Burro greets the riders again, this time descending at a gradient of 6-7% before streaming down into the finishing shoot.

Owen Wright of CS Velo Racing sat in the hot seat for most of the day, starting within the first 20 riders out of the start house. Wright clocked in at 34:02, enough to finish fifth. His teammate, Joshua Lebo, crossed the finish with his CS Velo team cheering him on, becoming the first rider to clock in under 34 minutes with 33:59 and ending up fourth on the stage.

The hot seat began to change rapidly once the final ten riders were coming in to the finish. Disappointment showed through the smile Vargas displayed as he talked about his performance. He had won the stage last year, and was hoping to defend his win, but still gave respect to Stites as he outshone him in Tyrone.

“This was a pretty demanding time trial, and the wind here is strong,” Vargas said. “I felt good and had good legs but Tyler [Stites] is also in very good form. I knew that he had won another race before Gila here in the United States, so he’s going very strong.”

Despite his loss on Friday, Vargas and Team Medellín look ahead to the final two stages, ready to battle for the GC.

“I’m sitting second on GC with two demanding stages to go, including the final that is a very, very hard stage,” Vargas said. “We hope to give everything and make it a good race on Sunday. Tomorrow, we have the crit, which is a fast and explosive one, so we will give it our all in these last two days.”

Stites won the Downtown Silver City Criterium in 2022, and expects the team to contest the sprint on Saturday before the final showdown Sunday. Important time bonuses will be available at the finish Saturday for the top three finishers, earning ten, six and four seconds respectively.

The pro men take the stage at 3:10 p.m. after a full day of amateur racing and following the pro women.

Photo: Velo Images