Austin Killips (Amy D Foundation) put an exclamation point on her overall race lead Sunday by winning Stage 5 Gila Monster and taking home the overall victory at Tour of the Gila. She also climbed her way into the queen of the mountains polka dot jersey.
DNA Pro Cycling’s Shayna Powless snatched back the green sprinter’s jersey from Rylee McMullen (InstaFund Racing), while Nadia Gontova (Roxo Racing) held on to the white best young rider jersey.
But it was all eyes on the overall race lead, in which only 10 seconds separated leader Killips from Emily Ehrlich (Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24) and Ehrlich’s third stage race win of the year. But Killips put the kibosh on any triple crown for TWENTY24.
“We really wanted to get into a break,” said Amy D Foundation team director Julie Kuliecza. “We thought that there was going to be something that would go right after the second sprint point, and we wanted a rider in that break so that when Austin and the other GC riders came up to it, Austin would have someone to help them and protect them, and it worked out perfectly.”
Killips is the first openly trans woman athlete to win Tour of the Gila.
The nearly 66-mile race with nearly 5,500 feet of elevation gain rolled out from downtown Silver City and led off with an attack from Emily Newsom (Roxo Racing), who gained a 20-second advantage and enticed eight other riders to go with her.
But the field pulled them all back together within the first three miles. DNA set up Powless to win the first bonus sprint, and she did the same for the second and final bonus sprint, catapulting her into the green jersey again.
DNA continued with offense as they attacked multiple times near mile 35 to set Powless up for success. But Roxo counter-attacked and sparked a breakaway of six riders: Newsom, Holly Breck (DNA Pro Cycling), Anna Hicks (Cynisca Pro Cycling), Quiñones (Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24), Leon Ordaz (PatoBike) and Cassie Nelson (Amy D Foundation).
Over the next six miles they built a one-minute and 45-second lead over the field. Several riders attempted to bridge but to no avail. By mile 45 the field brought the gap down to 55 seconds as Amy D Foundation and PatoBike worked the front of the main field to reel the escapees in.
Killips and Marcela Prieto Castañeda (PatoBike) and teammate Lorena Villamizar Varon, along with Anet Barrera (DNA Pro Cycling), Gontova and Ehrlich took off from the field, but Barrera and Villamizar Varon dropped from the chase, leaving four to pull back the break.
The four closed in inside one kilometer to the QOM summit, and Killips and Prieto Castañeda, who was sitting one minute and 17 seconds back from the overall lead, took first and second, respectively, with Nelson following. Killips did the same on the final QOM.
The trio dropped the other lead riders and held a minimum of 25 seconds on any chasers for the rest of the race. Ehrlich made an attempt to salvage her chances to overtake the lead but couldn’t close.
Killips railed a descent to fend off Ehrlich with 10 kilometers to go. But she still also had to worry about Prieto Castañeda who was right there with her, along with Killips’ teammate, Nelson.
At 400 meters to go, Killips jumped and accelerated away from Prieto Castañeda. Killips crossed the line toward victory with Prieto in second and Nelson in third.
Ehrlich said she tried as best she could to take the overall lead, but it just wasn’t enough.
“We just smashed the climb as hard as we could,” Ehrlich said. “We caught the group at the top, but it split into three more, and I just couldn’t keep up over the top, and they stayed away until the finish. I tried to get some seconds on the descent to the finish but I just couldn’t’ make it up.”
Prieto Castañeda, who had led for the first three stages of Tour of the Gila, said she was happy to take second on the stage and on the overall lead.
“I dedicate it to my team, my family, and I am very happy to have been able to climb onto the podium,” Prieto Castañeda said. “At the end, we caught up to a breakaway, and another girl from the same winning team joined us. We worked together, and in the end, I gave it my all. It took a lot of strength, but I feel very happy.”
Powless, who robbed her green jersey back from McMullen, said her team’s lead outs were key.
“Basically, our plan was to go into today feeling ready to get as many points as possible for those sprints and try and take back the sprint jersey which we successfully did today,” Powless said. “My teammates did a really incredible job making sure I had a nice lead out going in to the first and second sprint, then also being up there as well themselves to scoop up those extra sprint points, just to keep me a little safer in the run, and it ended up working out perfectly.”
Gontova said she was happy to wear the white best young rider jersey all five days.
“Today was a super tough day, and I hoped for more on the stage, but I think the heat really got to me on the big climb, and I gave it my all on the final 25k. I am happy to finish the race in the white jersey and grateful for all the work my Roxo teammates did to help me defend it all week.”