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2024 Tour of the Gila Stage Two Report

By: Rebecca Reza  April 26, 2024

Twenty24 Fights the Wind, Project Echelon Continues Winning Season

Twenty24 Fights the Wind, Ushering Mejias to Victory at Fort Bayard

Marlies Mejias of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24 outsprinted her rivals to score the first major victory of the 2024 season on stage 2 at the Tour of the Gila. Mejias had won the sprint classification a little over a week ago at Redlands Bicycle Classic but was not able to take a stage victory despite her best efforts. She crossed the finish, emotional and celebrating with her team shortly after.

“It’s not my victory but the entire team, and the hard work that they did that afforded me this win,” Mejias said.

The day had begun with the first of two intermediate sprints a little over five miles into the race. Margarita Misyurina was leading the classification at the start of the day, winning the first intermediate sprint and securing the green jersey for another day.

The first of three Queen of the Mountain sprint lines were up next. Anet Barrera took the top points crossing the sprint line first for DNA Pro Cycling. She managed to escape the field descending down the Sapillo, taking the second QOM points of the day. The points earned would move her up to third place in the classification, after the General Classification leader Lauren Stephens and her teammate Nadia Gontova.

Unfortunately, there were several crashes during the descent down the mountain. Cynisca Cycling’s Mara Roldan crashed when her wheel slipped out from under her as she was taking a turn. Roldan ultimately did make the decision to abandon the race; mostly out of precaution for a possible concussion, her team said later. Sara Poidevin also crashed but was able to get back on the bike and catch up to the main field soon after. Barrera was absorbed shortly after making the turn into the valley.

Elizabeth Dixon was next to try her hand at a solo move. She attacked after winning the second intermediate sprint and was able to maintain a gap of 1:15 for the entirety of the second Queen of the Mountain, even against the strong headwinds present, getting caught with only 3km to the finish.

“It was worth a shot. I think we feel a lot better,” Dixon said. “We’re a team that likes to animate the race, throwing attacks. We’re happy about our performance today and ready for the rest of the week.”

The winds, already high during the Category 3 Queen of the Mountain climb, began to kick up as what was left of the peloton began making their way up to the Freeport-MacMoran’s Chino Mine on New Mexico Highway 152. The winds were averaging 20 m.p.h., swiftly pushing back against any move that tried to escape.

Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24 began organizing at the front, taking turns fighting the wind to position Marlies Mejias for the final sprint. Emily Ehrlich, Melissa Rollins, Sofia Arreola, and Emma Langley alternated as lead rider, fighting the wind to keep the pace high.

As the front group made the right turn heading back into Fort Bayard, Mejias bolted to the finish, outsprinting Yanina Kuskova (Tashkent Cycling) in second and the red leader's jersey, Lauren Stephens (Cynisca Cycling). Stephens still holds on to her overall lead, extending it to 46 seconds ahead of Nadia Gontova (DNA Pro Cycling).

“It was quite windy coming into the finish,” Stephens said. “We stayed safe all day for the most part. Unfortunately, we had Mara [Roldan] crash on the descent, which was tough on the team to lose her. Luckily, she’s okay, so she’ll be back soon.”

Stage 3 is set for the Tyrone Time Trial, one that Stephens has won before.

“I’m really looking forward to the time trial,” Stephens said. “It was nine years ago that I won the time trial, which shows you how long I’ve been doing this. I really hope to earn another stage win.”

Kristen Taylor will be the first rider for the pro women to roll out of the start house at 10:30 for Milton Women’s U23 Project.

Project Echelon Continues Winning Season, Scoring Victory on Stage 2

Scott McGill bolted to the line to win Stage 2 at the 2024 Tour of the Gila at Fort Bayard. The winds were battling the riders as the reduced bunch made the final turn into the finishing straight. McGill outsprinted the General Classification leader Wilmar Paredes (Team Medellín) in second and his teammate, Tyler Stites in third.

“We had to put a few guys on the front in there to bring back the breakaway, and then it was a little chaotic when we caught him,” McGill said. “It was super windy, everyone was getting blown across the road. There was a large crash that we avoided which was good. In the end, there were attacks, there were some gaps, and then I ended up off the front. The peloton caught us in the sprint, but I was able to get back in the slipstream and be able to sprint for the win.”

The pro men raced 76.2 miles, starting before the pro women Thursday morning at Fort Bayard. On the menu were the same intermediate sprint lines the women faced, along with three Category 2 King of the Mountain points available. The winds were forecasted to increase exponentially by the afternoon, with average speeds expected at 23 mph.

The first intermediate sprint was only 5.7 miles into the stage, but teams wasted no time attacking to get into position for the points. Stephen Schaeffer was first to launch an attack off the front of the field, which several riders countered–Ulises Castillo (Above & Beyond Cancer) was first to close the gap, soon followed by Team Medellín’s Fabio Duarte and others.

Schaeffer scored the top points at the line and took the opportunity to increase his gap on the field. He then went on to gain as much as a 1:45 minute gap as he descended the Sapillo solo, picking up KOM points along the way. The Landis/Trek rider managed to maintain his gap for close to 100km of the stage.

Back in the field, Team Medellín were controlling the peloton, taking care of red jersey leader Paredes. Robigzon Oyola and Fabio Duarte handled the majority of the pace work for the team, keeping Paredes safe at the front of the field and fresh for the days to come.

“The team worked really well taking care of Wilmar,” Oscar Sevilla said. “It was a hard day for the team but one that we are happy to have gotten through. I don’t want to say that we will win, but the way we work we can earn it with the strong riders that we have like Walter Vargas and Paredes who is leading. Stites is close, but we know how to lead and we are a winning team so we will fight to win.”

Paredes leads the GC by a mere six seconds ahead of the time trial on Friday. Tyler Stites is a TT specialist and currently in second on GC for Project Echelon. He has won Friday’s stage in the past and is also in top form after winning the Redlands Bicycle Classic.

“Today went well, we will see if we held on to the lead,” Paredes said after finishing. “Walter [Vargas] should have a good time trial, he’s the Pan American Time Trial Champion. We hope he does well and that we’re able to keep the leader’s jersey within the team.”

The pro men will start the Stage 3 Tyrone Individual Time Trial with the first rider rolling out on course at 9:15 a.m. MDT.

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