Tyler Stites (Project Echelon Racing) and his team dominated the UCI Men’s Tour of the Gila Silver City Downtown Criterium Saturday, taking a victory and more sprint points and clawing his way closer to the overall race lead.
Stites now has a 14-point lead in the sprint competition and is 34 seconds away from the overall race lead after picking up time bonuses in the crit. His teammates, who time-trialed their way to top spots on Friday, moved to the front of the field in the crit and controlled the pace for nearly the entire race.
“I think we had a good plan today and followed it perfectly and executed that and accomplished it,” Stites said.
The 43.2-mile, 40-lap crit, began with Project Echelon moving onto the front of the field and making sure Stites picked up maximum sprint points and time on the first bonus sprint at 30 laps to go.
But Cyrus Monk (Meiyo CCN Pro Cycling) from Australia had other ideas. He launched a break with two other riders, then ended up flying solo before being joined by Landis/Trek’s Joey Bacala and Jovanni Stefani (Team California/HMS).
“It was never really the plan to try and get out there the whole race, but we knew we were going to be good in a criterium,” Monk said. “We do a lot of crits in Australia, so, we wanted to take it up to them, but we only have a small team with four riders, so we couldn’t control the race like they did, so we had to use our numbers a bit differently. We’ve struggled a bit this week with sickness and with the altitude so, it was good to get some results today.”
Monk gobbled up some primes and first-place sprint points before Stefani drifted off the train and back into the field. With just a few laps to go, Bacala and Monk also were reabsorbed, and Project Echelon Racing was back up at the control panel.
Stites launched and crossed the line first followed by Sam Volkers (Meiyo CCN Pro Cycling) from Australia and Stites’ teammate George Simpson in third.
“Yeah, it was actually the game plan going in all along,” said Stephen Vogel (Project Echelon Racing). We have a team meeting before every stage. We wanted to keep it smooth, easy for Tyler, pick up an intermediate there, and then go for the win.”
Stites, who won Redlands Bicycle Classic the previous week, has been working his way toward the overall lead at Tour of the Gila and hopes to make up 34 seconds and then some on Sunday in an attempt to beat Matteo Dal-Cin (Toronto Hustle), currently in first.
“Tomorrow will be really exciting,” said Isaiah Newkirk, Project Echelon Racing’s team director. “Tomorrow’s just a super tough course, the course kind of makes the race, so in a way, it’s kind of like holding in our cards and applying them to when it actually matters, which is the back half of the course. It’s just a freakin’ grueling race, but I think Tyler can do pretty darn well tomorrow.”
The final Stage 5 Gila Monster Road Race presented by SkyWest Media will be decisive. The 100.6-mile course gains 9,131 feet of climbing and the steepest climb tops out at an elevation of 7,493 feet with three opportunities to gain points in the king-of-the-mountains competition.
GC contenders will battle to the finish, looking to take the top step of the podium. In addition to Stites, Dal-Cin will have to deal with Toby Roed (Yoelo Test Team p/b 4MIND Project), who is one minute and three seconds back in third and will want to take back his red jersey, and Sam Gilletly (Landis/Trek), who is one minute and 28 seconds back. Gilletly would be the underdog story of the year for his Arizona-based team if he were to make it onto the podium or even win.
“Tomorrow I’m sure it’s going to be a little bit less straight forward than today,” Dal-Cin said. “[There will] be a lot more bombs being thrown, but I think that’s all right. Tyler brought back some time today, but tomorrow you can put minutes in, so anything can happen. There’s tons of guys still in the race. It’s definitely not a two-horse race by any means, so it’ll just be a hard day of slugging it out and hopefully the strongest guy comes out on top.”
1) Tyler Stites – Project Echelon Racing
2) Samuel Volkers – Meiyo CCN Pro Cycling
3) George Simpson – Project Echelon Racing
GC After Stage 4:
1) Matteo Dal-Cin – Toronto Hustle: 8:35:37
2) Tyler Stites – Project Echelon Racing: 8:36:11
3) Toby Roed – Yoeleo Test Team p/b 4MindProject: 8:36:40
U23 After Stage 4:
1) Xander White – CS Velo: 8:37:09
2) Caleb Classen – Team California/HMS: 8:39:40
3) Ethan Overson – Cinch RISE: 8:42:18
Sprinter Jersey After Stage 4:
1) Tyler Stites – Project Echelon Racing: 36 pts
2) Samuel Volkers – Meiyo CCN Pro Cycling: 22 pts
3) Nacho Prado Juarez – Canel’s Zerouno: 20 pts
KOM Standings After Stage 4:
1) Heiner Parra Bustamante – Canel’s Zerouno: 20 pts
2) Toby Roed – Yoeleo Test Team p/b 4MindProject: 15 pts
3) Matteo Dal-Cin – Toronto Hustle: 15 pts
Team Classification After Stage 4:
1) Project Echelon Racing: 25:54:27
2) CS Velo: 25:54:30
3) Toronto Hustle: 26:01:05