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2024 Tour of the Gila Stage Four Report

By: Rebecca Reza  April 28, 2024

Patrick Sprints to Victory, Bickmore Notches Project Echelon’s Third Victory

Patrick Sprints to Victory for Cynisca Cycling Tour of the Gila 2024

The U23 US National Crit Champion Chloe Patrick outsprinted the reduced peloton to win a third stage for Cynisca Cycling in Downtown Silver City. Marlies Mejias was second for Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24, followed by the overall GC leader and Patrick’s teammate, Lauren Stephens in third.

Patrick reveals what transpired as she came around the final turn into the sprint. “I was on Lauren’s wheel, she was just guiding me around the pack. She just has so many years of experience, I knew I could trust her. I just sat on the wheel, she took me where I needed to be, and then the last straight away I just opened it up and got her at the line.”

The pro women raced for 25 laps around the 1.08-mile circuit, including three intermediate sprint points, along with bonus seconds for the top three who crossed the line. The race began under overcast skies and cooler temperatures, a change from the traditional heat in years past.

65 women took to the line as the whistle blew to start the stage. Several breakaway attempts tried their hands including a move by Boneshaker’s Lorena Villamizar. She would earn bonus seconds that would move her up to fifth on GC ahead of Marcela Prieto. Ahead of the next intermediate sprint, Shayna Powless attacked with Jennifer Valente for Virginia’s Blue Ridge Twenty24. They would be absorbed a few laps later.

At one to go, teams battled for control of the front, to organize in preparation of the sprint. Rounding the final corner it was the stars and stripes who would post for victory.

Patrick was able to maintain her team’s significant lead in the GC classification going into tomorrow. “It’s incredible,” Chloe said proudly. “The team’s been doing so well, all week, and I’m excited I got my day today.” Chloe had only this to say about tomorrow’s plan for the team on Stage 5: “I mean, we’re gonna go 4 for 4, I hope.”

Marlies Mejias was able to make a statement briefly before the podium ceremony commenced. “There was very little separation with one lap to go. I believe we’re still looking for a result, though in the end I’m happy with this result. It compliments our effort as a team.”

Mejias currently sits only one point behind the current sprint leader, a gap that could easily be bridged on Sunday’s finale, enabling her to solidify the sprint leader’s jersey this year.

DNA Pro Cycling’s Nadia Gontova, this year’s Redlands GC Champion, was able to give some insights about how she’s feeling heading into the final day of racing. Known primarily for its brutal Category 2-3 ascent, this course offers unique advantages for Gontova, who is recognized for her ability as a climber.

“Definitely not my favorite stage, but I tried to stay safe and finish in the group, following a lot of my teammate’s wheels. I finished in the group, so I’m happy to make it through today, and I’m looking forward to getting back to some more climbing tomorrow.”

Cynisca Cycling’s Lauren Stephens faces the final stage with a gap of 2:12 ahead of Gontova on GC and close to five minutes ahead of her teammate, Ashley Frye. The pro women will start after the men take to the course, at 10:05 MDT before crowning the 2024 Tour of the Gila Champion.

Bickmore Notches Project Echelon’s Third Victory of Tour of the Gila 2024

Cade Bickmore celebrated his team’s third stage victory in as many days at the Downtown Criterium presented by the Town of Silver City Saturday. Project Echelon continued the winning momentum the team displayed a couple weeks ago in California. At stage 3 of the Tour of the Gila 2024, Luca Haines was second for Team California, with Brody McDonald in third for Aevolo Cycling.

Cade Bickmore took 2023’s green jersey on this same stage, and he addressed how pleased he was to have earned both for a second time on Saturday. “Yeah, it was great,” said Bickmore. “I think it’s sometimes harder to win a race the second time because everybody’s expecting it. But the team was great today, and the legs were good, so it was great to be able to repeat here.”

Following a full morning of amateur and kids races, the pro women took to the stage, followed by the pro men, who were the final stage of the day. The men raced for 40 laps on a 1.08-mile, four-corner course. The backside had an 80-foot climb before riders descended, rounding the third corner down Broadway, increasing their speed into the final corner onto Bullard St, down the straightaway to the finish.

A breakaway of six riders escaped shortly after the first intermediate sprint. The group consisted of Kaler Marshall (Expeditors), Allan Schroeder (CS Velo), Conn McDunphy (Team Skyline), Patrick Fletcher (Above & Beyond Cancer), Cormac McGeough (Canel’s-Java), and Gabriel Shipley (Aevolo Cycling). The group worked together, gaining up to a 35-second gap.

With five laps to go, the gap began to decrease. Conn McDunphy took over the work at the front of the group, lifting the pace that continued to split the group in two. Marshall, McDunphy, and Patrick each took pulls, rotating the work to hold the gap with three laps to go. Tyler Stites made his way to the front, sliding in behind his teammates that had been working to control the front of the field.

In the final two laps, the gap decreased to 11-seconds. Kellen Caldwell jumped in to help Project Echelon reduce the gap for Team California. The field caught them on the final lap as they made the turn on Broadway, fighting for position before making the sweeping turn onto Bullard and the final sprint to victory.

Several bonus seconds were available on each of the three intermediate sprints, with finish line bonus seconds available to the top three across the line. There was no change in the gap separating the overall GC leader, Tyler Stites, who currently holds a 30-second advantage ahead of second place Walter Vargas (Team Medellín).

Cade and team are up against what promises to be a tight finish tomorrow. “It’s gonna be really difficult. Walter’s right there at 30 seconds, and then I think four other of his teammates are at around 3 and a half minutes, which sounds like a lot; but on tomorrow’s stage, anything can happen. And that’s a lot of dangerous riders that we have to consider. So, it’s gonna be a tough one.”

The current King of the Mountain classification leader, Wilmar Paredes, said Team Medellín hopes to confront the Queen Stage on Sunday with a lot of force to make the race hard. “The idea is to attack, hoping to win the stage with one of my teammates.”

Team Medellín won the stage last season with Óscar Sevilla and in 2019 with Cristhian Montoya before the race was canceled during the pandemic. Canel’s-Java was the victor in 2022 with Eduardo Corte, the team now hoping to fight for the win with Heiner Parra, who finished second that year. Parra is in the running to win the King of the Mountain classification for the third year in a row, looking for four points to steal the classification from his compatriot, Paredes.

The Gila Monster will be an epic battle in many ways, but with the main showdown between Medellín and Project Echelon. Time will tell if Stites is able to hold his own and finish the job going up against the escarabajos of Colombia. The confidence the team has built these last few weeks of success will certainly help.

Bickmore was able to briefly discuss how he and the team felt going into the end of the race. “It’s incredible,” Cade said. “It’s a lot of momentum to have all those wins behind us, so tomorrow we just have to finish the job.” This year, the Tour of the Gila is especially important for the team. “It’s huge,” Bickmore said. “It’s the only UCI race left in the US for this year, unfortunately. But, that just makes it a bigger target for us. We really want to win at home. We haven’t ever won an overall at a UCI race, so bringing that home would be fantastic.”

Photo: Velo Images