Óscar Sevilla (Team Medellín – EPM) climbed to victory Sunday on the Gila Monster Stage 5 Tour of the Gila while his breakaway companion Alex Hoehn took the overall red leader’s jersey and solidified a win for his Above and Beyond Cancer Cycling Team.
Heiner Parra Bustamante (Canel’s – ZEROUNO) ascended his way into the polka dot king of the mountains jersey while Cade Bickmore (Project Echelon Racing) and Caleb Classen (Team California) left with the green sprint leader’s jersey and the white best young rider jersey, respectively.
But it was 46-year-old Sevilla, a Spanish and Colombian climber and former best young rider in the Tour de France, and 25-year-old Hoehn, who hails from Kansas and contended for king of the mountains at the 2019 Tour of California, battling until the finale.
“I think we gave a show today, and all the people who followed the race were very entertained and excited,” Sevilla said. “In the end, I came with Alex, a great young, strong rider, and I fought until the end, but I could only win the stage, not the overall race. But I am very happy, I think the feeling is very good. Winning is a lot of happiness for me, and second place in the general classification is also very good. So we are very happy, the whole Medellín team, very grateful to the Tour of Gila, and we will come back next year.”
Hoehn said his team’s job was to keep his teammate, the overall race leader Torbjørn Røed (Above and Beyond Cancer), safe, but things shaped up differently.
“I was supposed to mark a couple riders, Sevilla being one of them, and once he went, I went with him, and that ended up being the break of the day,” Hoehn said. “The Medellín team worked really hard and they did really well, and then I pretty much just had to hang on Sevilla’s wheel and not lose any time on the finish in order to get the overall win. I just did some calculations and figured out we would be able to stay with the win. At the end of the day it was just an awesome bike race with one of the best riders in the world and I was just really stoked to be a part of it.”
The 100-mile race with nearly 10,000 feet of elevation gain rolled out from downtown Silver City, and attacks began from the second the whistle blew.
As the riders approached the first sprint point, a breakaway formed, and Brayan Sánchez (Team Medellín – EPM) took first place points. He did the same miles later on the second intermediate sprint, but the points gap was too much to close, and Bickmore retained the green jersey.
A group of nine formed a break right after the first sprint, about nine miles into the race, and by mile 20, they had a gap of two minutes and 10 seconds to the field and 20 seconds to a chase group. About 10 miles later, the chase caught the break, increasing the number of escapees to 19.
With three riders from Medellín and three from Canel’s the break, the overall race lead appeared to be in jeopardy for Røed, but Hoehn also was in the break keeping an eye on things.
As the 19 riders began the long ascent to the second king of the mountains point, many began to fall off and were sucked back into the field. A selection of Sevilla and his teammates Robigzon Oyola and Sánchez along with Hoehn, Parra Bustamante and Conn McDunphy (SoCalCycling.com) was made.
As the group grinded toward the KOM, Parra Bustamante dropped his five companions to score maximum points toward the polka dot jersey. Sevilla and Hoehn clawed their way back and left everyone else behind.
The three stuck together over the next KOM point where Parra Bustamante again put on a climbing clinic. But when he hit the descent, the smaller-stature rider, who had hidden behind tall McDunphy earlier, didn’t have anyone to pull him downhill. He lost time and separated from Sevilla and Hoehn.
Behind them, the field continued to lose time, going from two minutes to three to four. Because Hoehn was only one minute and three seconds back to the overall lead, he became the virtual race leader on the road, with his companion Sevilla only six seconds behind him for GC.
The two pressed on with time bonuses — 10 seconds for first place and six seconds for second place — to be had at the finish line as well. But even if the two came across the line together and if Sevilla won, he would still be four seconds behind Hoehn for the overall lead. He would have to put time into Hoehn.
But only one Category 3 climb to Pinos Altos remained, and it wasn’t enough to shake Hoehn. But Sevilla had enough pickup to cross the line first. Røed and the rest of the gang finished too late for an overall race win.
Parra Bustamante breathed a sigh of relief when he found out he won the king of the mountains jersey for the second consecutive year.
“Well, I am very happy to have once again taken the lead to be the mountain champion for another year,” Parra Bustamante said. “This is gratifying for me. We gave everything today. We went out with a positive mindset to get that jersey, to get this mountain title, as we are known for being very good climbers. We tried from the beginning to the end, gave it our all, and I want to thank the team, all my teammates. They motivated me, were always very attentive to me. I thank them for this mountain jersey, these points are for them and for the whole team.”
Bickmore said he was happy to keep the jersey after a tough day.
“I just had to finish the stage within the time cut because I had enough of a lead where nobody could get me with the points on the line today,” Bickmore said. “So pretty simple task but definitely difficult. So, really excited to keep the green jersey, keep it in the team for another year at Tour of the Gila. It was really good to follow up on Tyler [Stites’] win in the green jersey last year.”
Classen held on to the best young rider jersey for all five days and stepped up on the final podium of Tour of the Gila to put an exclamation point on his lead.
“I think I’m the only guy to wear a jersey for the whole race,” Classen said. “I was super nervous about it, honestly. I struggled really hard at this stage last year; I lost like 20 minutes, This is a huge relief, and it’s been a goal all year to win the white jersey here. I knew I could do it, and I couldn’t have done it without my team today. They were keeping me fed all day, getting me where I needed to be, positioned into the climbs. They were phenomenal, and thank you for Gila for putting on this race. It’s so much fun — best race in the country I think.”