The final Gila Monster stage of the 2018 Tour of the Gila was as close to a perfect day for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling men and women, it’s hard to know where to begin. In the women’s race, Katie Hall successfully sealed her lead in the overall after finishing second in the stage to teammate, Diana Peñuela. Leah Thomas finished third, making it a clean sweep of the podium for UnitedHeathcare Pro Cycling.
Mannion and Peñuela take top honors on final stage
“For three years I worked hard to believe in my abilities as Rachel (Hedderman) and my colleagues trusted me,” Peñuela said. “Teamwork was always more important to me than my own results, but it was a very happy ending for all of us because we achieved all our goals.”
Gavin Mannion also climbed to his first win of the season, bumping him up into second overall, one place better than his third on GC in 2017. After winning the time trial earlier in the week, Serghei Tvetcov finished just off the GC podium in fourth.
The final stage of the Tour of the Gila was definitely the most difficult for both the men and women’s races, characterized by a 30 kilometer climb to the finish line in Pinos Altos.
Rally and Twenty20 went into the stage ready to throw down a real challenge for the UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling women’s squad. A group of eight riders went clear early in the race, containing two Rally riders and three Twenty20 riders with Chloe Dygert, the highest placed rider at three minutes. Lauren Hall initially was part of the break, but team director Rachel Hedderman called her back into the field to help chase.
Lizzie Banks, Lauren Hall and Peñuela rode hard to keep the gap in check. Once the race started nearing the final climb and the gap was in check, Peñuela rested while Banks and Lauren Hall continued setting the pace. On the climb, the break was caught and within a few kilometers, the front group whittled down to around 10 riders. Thomas and Peñuela took turns attacking while Katie Hall marked her nearest threat Sara Poidevin (Rally). With 15km to go, Peñuela got a small gap and never looked back. She soloed in for the win with Hall and Thomas taking second and third.
“This win feels really special”
“Today was one of the most impressive team performances I have seen,” Hedderman said. “The break had enough numbers and strength to put us under real pressure, but the girls rose to the occasion and showed huge strength and determination. Diana put in a truly incredible ride, stepping up to a new level and Katie absorbed the pressure of being the pre -race favorite, racing with a confidence that comes from trust in her team and her strength.”
“This win feels really special,” Hall said. “I love this race and I have been trying to win it for a couple of years now. I couldn’t have done it without this group of women and I am really grateful to them and awed by their strength and calm under fire. Rally brought a big fight today and I am proud of how my team responded to protect the overall GC.”
Team work, the key of success
On the men’s side, team director Seba Alexandre said the plan was to race aggressive and have everyone on the team in the mix except for Mannion. After 30 kilometers, Janier Acevedo and Jonny Clarke got in the move of 15 riders, but the break was never fully committed to it, so the gap never got more than two minutes.
Attacks flew out of the breakaway group, which Clarke and Acevedo covered, but by the time they hit the climb the mountain goats surfaced at the front.
“On the cat two climb, Gavin attacked and got away with four more riders including race leader Rob Britton,” Alexandre said. “Just before the top of the climb, Mannion and Britton took off and the duo made it to the line.”
When we asked Mannion about how the stage came together he said, “Today’s stage was a continuation of our team performance all week. My teammates were all active early on allowing me to relax. In the end it was simple, I just tried to stay relaxed on the early climbs. I waited until the last climb to make an attack and by the top it was down to just Rob Britton and myself. From there we just buried it to get some time on the chasers and in the end it came down a sprint which I was able to win”
Finishing fourth on the stage, Daniel Jaramillo also collected a good result after a hard week of racing.
The overall general classification battle for the men’s race continued until the last day, with Mannion continually hammering in attempts to close the time gap between himself and Britton.
Gavin Mannion said about the overall race, “the key for success this week was definitely team work. I was always out of the wind and in position for the crucial moments without spending any extra energy. We raced aggressively which put some pressure on other teams to chase and made my job easier. I was able to do a good time trial and ride well on the climbs which set me up for 2nd on GC.”
Both the men’s and women’s team picked up the win for team general classification, putting the cap on what was a fantastic week for both squads.