Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24’s sprint specialist Marlies Mejias Garcia lit up the finishing stretch into Fort Bayard Thursday at Stage 2 of Tour of the Gila after “surviving” each climb and turning on the afterburners.
The overall race leader, Marcela Prieto Castañeda (PatoBike) retained her red leader’s jersey, with Austin Killips (Amy D Foundation) still in a close second, robbing the polka dot queen of the mountains jersey.
“Well, we are happy for having won today’s stage,” the Cuban superstar Mejias said. “For me, it was a bit difficult because I had to survive each climb, but the idea was to reach the end and have Emily [Ehrlich] and Sofi [Arreola Navarro] help me in the end, and that’s how it went.”
Early attacks by DNA Pro Cycling, Amy D Foundation and 3T/Q+M Cycling began after the neutral rollout, and soon Ehrlich (Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24), Shayna Powless (DNA Pro Cycling) and Maeghan Easler (Roxo Racing), broke away, resulting in Powless taking first place points on the first bonus sprint with Easler and Ehrlich following.
After about five miles, the trio was reeled back in by the peloton, who began setting up for the first QOM points. PatoBike amassed at the front, but Killips was there to snag first place, with Prieto Castañeda in second, Carime Flores Márquez (PatoBike) in third and Nadia Gontova (Roxo Racing) in fourth.
The climb broke up the main group, and by the time they reached the descent, just under 30 riders remained at the front with PatoBike, DNA Cycling, Amy D Foundation, Cynisca Cycling, Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24, Tashkent City and Roxo Racing all present.
As the field approached the second QOM, PatoBike accelerated and caused a split in the field. Killips took first place points with Prieto Castañeda in second, Flores Márquez (PatoBike) in third and Caro Peñuela (DNA Pro Cycling) in fourth.
By mile 24 a lead group of 13 formed with Powless, Peñuela Martinez, Olga Zabelinskaya (Tashkent City), Anet Barrera (DNA Pro Cycling), Ashley Frye (Cynisca), Gontova, Easler, Mejias Garcia, Ehrlich, Florence Howden (Cardinal Classic Cycling), Prieto Castañeda, Lorena Villamizar Varon (PatoBike) and Killips. After the descent and by mile 32, the lead group changed hands with Jimena Tamez Escamilla (PatoBike) and Powless joining and others dropping off.
When a chase group containing Emily Newsom (Roxo Racing) reached the break, she attacked, building a 20-second lead by mile 40. Newsom took first place in the second bonus sprint, followed by Powless and Kaitlyn Rauwerda (DNA Pro Cycling). With Rylee McMullen (InstaFund Racing), donning the green jersey and sitting over five minutes back, Powless put herself in contention to take over the sprint competition.
Newsom stayed committed to the breakaway for over 20 miles and built a lead of 55 seconds but was caught by the main group through the final feed zone leading into the last QOM.
With 25 kilometers to go, the field came back together, and PatoBike and Amy D Foundation kept the pace high through the final QOM, where Killips secured the polka dot jersey by taking first, Prieto Castañeda second, Gontova third and Conyers fourth.
From there, the group of about 20 riders stayed together until the bunch sprint to the line. Easler came in second and Powless third on the stage, landing Powless enough points to take over green sprinter’s jersey. Gontova remained in the white best young rider’s jersey, 33 seconds down on the overall race lead.
Prieto Castañeda and her team said they fought hard today to keep the overall race lead and they believe it puts them in a good position for Friday’s time trial, though Killips is only eight seconds down on the overall race lead.
“We are very happy, and I am very grateful to all my teammates who, throughout the race, were supporting us, and the truth is that this is a key point to stay with the leader’s jersey,” Prieto Castañeda said.
Riders will look to improve on their times or cut the gap Friday in the Tyrone Time Trial, when they begin going off at 9:15 a.m. in a race against the clock.