Marcela Prieto Castañeda (PatoBike) dug deep for a come-from-behind victory over the top of the Mogollon Wednesday on Stage 1 at the 36th Tour of the Gila.
The Mexican GC contender dropped from Austin Killips (Amy D Foundation) in the final kilometer then mustered up the strength in the last 200 meters to push past Killips and onto the top step of the podium with an eight-second lead for the red jersey.
“I was feeling good, and we were fighting neck and neck to reach the finish line,” Prieto Castañeda said. “There came a moment when I pushed hard and managed to catch up with Austin, and then I kept giving it my all, maintaining a tough but steady pace. I managed to crown myself with this victory, which makes me feel very happy, emotional, and proud since I had never won a stage here in the Tour of [the] Gila.”
The peloton stuck together for the majority of the race until the first bonus sprint at mile 18 when Rylee McMullen (Instafund Pro Cycling) launched and Sarah Van Dam (DNA Pro Cycling) and Stephanie Halamek (Amy D Foundation) followed in second and third, respectively.
The three were sucked back into the field, which stuck together until the second bonus sprint at mile 36.5. McMullen, Van Dam and Halamek repeated, with McMullen securing the green sprinter’s jersey.
Jazmine Lavrgne (Primeau Vélo Racing) woke up the peloton at mile 43 when she attacked and stayed away in a solo break with a 25-second gap. Lauren Zoerner (Competitive Edge Racing) began to bridge with the peloton hot on her heels. Zoerner joined Lavrgne, but they were caught by mile 49.
Before the second feed, a minor crash at the back caused some concern, but riders seemingly were unscathed and continued racing.
Cynisca Cycling put in a few digs but weren’t able to create enough separation to stay away.
As the group amassed to take on the climb to Mogollon, teams began setting themselves up for victory near the front and lifting the pace.
Then a select group of 10 riders remained: Prieto, Anet Barrera Esparza (DNA Pro Cycling), Ashley Frye (Cynisca Cycling), Nadia Gontova (Roxo Racing), Maeghan Easler (Roxo Racing), Marlies Mejias Garcia (Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24), Emily Ehrlich (Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24), Laurel Quiñones (Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24), Caitlin Conyers (Amy D Foundation) and Austin Killips (Amy D Foundation).
With seven kilometers to go, the grupetto started to split apart with Killips and Prieto leading up the climb and Frye and Gontova chasing. But the chasers never closed the gap as Killips appeared to be riding away with the win.
But Prieto had other ideas, clawed her way back and crossed the line first with the upset. It was her first win at Tour of the Gila after competing five times before.
“I am very happy and grateful to my team for the work they did throughout the race,” said Prieto Castañeda, who also took the polka dot queen of the mountains jersey. “They were always at the front covering me, and I thank them very much. It was a very fought race, honestly. It was a tough climb from beginning to end, and we were fighting for the top positions to enter the last climb as close to the front as possible. The group tightened in front, and in the end, only Austin and I remained.”
Killips said she was happy with her performance despite missing the victory near the line.
“I was able to improve on my results from last year third to second,” Killips said. “I think I had a really strong climb. It’s really exciting to be riding with Amy D again with a little bit more experience under my belt and being able to help foster the environment and experience that I got to have last year for everyone. It was a hard race and a hard climb and I pedaled as hard as I could.”
After Killips, Gontova took third, with Frye in fourth and Barrera in fifth.
The white best young rider jersey went to Gontova.
“All the girls on the team rode really strong,” Gontova said. “They were all really great wheels to follow. I think we worked well together, and they helped me get up to the front coming into the climb. And then I was not feeling too strong at the start of the climb, but then I think I got into a good rhythm and was chipping away at the climb and ended up in third so I was pretty happy to get on the podium today.”
Tomorrow the teams will take on the 74.1-mile Stage 2 Inner Loop Road Race presented by Brian & Lynn Robinson/SW Bone & Joint Institute. They start out of Ft. Bayard at 10:20 a.m.
Stage 1 Results:
- Marcela Prieto Castañeda – PatoBike
- Austin Killips – Amy D Foundation
- Nadia Gontova – Roxo Racing
GC After Stage 1:
- Marcela Prieto Castañeda – PatoBike : 3:50:02
- Austin Killips – Amy D Foundation : 3:50:10
- Nadia Gontova – Roxo Racing : 3:50:35
U25 After Stage 1:
- Nadia Gontova – Roxo Racing : 3:50:35
- Ashley Frye – Cynisca Cycling 3:50:53
- Lilly Ujfalusi – Primeau Velo Racing Team 3:53:43
Sprinter’s Jersey After Stage 1:
- Rylee McMullen – InstaFund Pro Cycling : 10 pts
- Sarah Van Dam – DNA Pro Cycling 6 pts
- Stephanie Halamek – Amy D Foundation : 2 pts
QOM Standings After Stage 1:
- Marcela Prieto Castañeda – PatoBike : 15 pts
- Austin Killips – Amy D Foundation : 12 pts
- Nadia Gontova – Roxo Racing : 9 pts
Team Classification After Stage 1:
- Roxo Racing : 11:34:33
- DNA Pro Cycling : 11:36:11
- Amy D Foundation : 11:36:18