Silver City, NM – With almost 5 weeks on the road, the H&R Block Pro Cycling Team wrapped up phase one of the racing calendar with the thirtieth edition of the Tour of the Gila. This world-class stage race has been a launching pad for many professional North American cyclists that have gone on to shine on the international stage. The boys were ready to compete against a star studded field as they took to the start. This edition of the race would see the peloton tackle 3 road stages, a technical criterium and a fast time trial. Strong winds, warm temperatures and high altitudes were just a few of the elements that the riders would have to face over the 5 race days.
Having the opportunity to acclimatize to the high altitude played a huge factor to the teams success. Spending a week and a half at altitude before the race began, aided the riders in not only getting used to the thin air but also familiarizing themselves with the tough courses. Stage one covered a distance of 160 kilometres with a daunting category one climb for the last 10 kilometres. A motivated peloton covered just over 100 kilometres over the first 2 hours as most teams were eager to be represented in the break. Bailey McKnight was able to escape the grasps of the peloton and position himself in the break of the day. The GC teams kept a short leash on the break but McKnight was able to out sprint his breakaway companions to claim maximum points on the second intermediate sprints. His 5 points in that competition would see him slot into second in the race for the green jersey. A shattered peloton worked their way up the final climb but the overall difficulty of the day proved to be the deciding factor. Knowing that the Tour of the Gila is rarely decided on the first day, the H&R Block Pro Cycling riders were eager for the coming days.
Stage two has often had the reputation of being a day for the sprinters. A tough series of climbs stood between the finish line and the riders at the 25 kilometres to go marker. As the break got reeled in at the base of the climb, the fireworks began and the peloton was strung out. A very select group of riders crested the summit that included H&R Block’s Jack Burke. Proving that he can climb with the best, Jack went on to finish with a select group of GC contenders and solidifying his intentions at taking a crack at the white jersey. McKnight also managed to position himself well early in the stage to take maximum points at the first intermediate sprint. With 10 points in the bag, he was the virtual sprint jersey leader on the road, but eventual stage winner, Travis McCabe, would claim back the jersey after a hectic stage.
The hilly 26 kilometre time trial would prove to cause some GC shake downs. Burke had yet another stellar ride, demonstrating that he is able to compete with the best young riders in the country.
Historic downtown Silver City hosted the evening criterium on Saturday. The course included a punchy riser and a speedy run into the line. Jelly Belly rode at the front all day to defend their GC lead but that didn’t prevent the H&R Block riders from continuously attacking the field. All members of the team were trying their hand at making the break but the Jelly Belly squad had a stranglehold on the peloton. Felix Cote Bouvette slotted himself near the front of the race with Travis Samuel and Bailey not far behind in the last few laps. Felix sprinted to a respectable 11th place with Bailey and Travis slotting in at 15th and 16th. With a solid presence in the closing lap, the team managed to finish third in the team competition on the stage.
Stage 5, also known as the Gila Monster, lived up to its name on Sunday. The course covered 160 kilometres with a leg numbing 3000 metres of climbing. With 60 kilometres left in the stage, the peloton shattered and only 70 riders remained. The GC contenders tested their legs and Burke was able to answer most of the attacks. A gutsy ride saw Jack slot into fourth in the U23 competition and move to 21st in the overall GC standings. Bailey’s sprint point tally totalled 11, to finish 5th in the sprinters category.
The team now heads back to their respective homes after this tough but competitive Phase 1 of the calendar. Stay tuned for updates as they prepare for the next phase and gear up for another series of tough races to come.
Report by Bailey McKnight
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