Conditions for the stage three Dan Potts Memorial Individual Time Trial were non-typical of Tour of the Gila’s past. Quiet winds barely pushed the American flag outside the Tyrone Post Office, site of the stage start.
Expectations were heavy on the men’s side with Tom Zirbel (Optum presented by Kelly Benefits Strategies) starting as the out-and-out favorite while predictions for the women’s race varied.
Starting in reverse overall standing order, the men’s field set off for the 16.15 mile time trial at 9:15 a.m. Near midway, impressive times were posted by Evan Huffman (Team SmartStop) in 34:38 and Brisbane, Australia’s Jordan Kerby (Drapac Cycling Team) in 34:21.
But when Zirbel stopped the clock in 33:50, his time would eventually prove race-winning.
“This morning I felt the sting in my legs typical of the third day in a stage race,” said Zirbel. “These were the calmest conditions I’ve ever seen on this course which made my strategy more about how to deal with the terrain and less about battling the elements.”
Kerby’s time secured third place while Huffman was later bested by his own teammate, Rob Britton (Team SmartStop), who finished in 34:15 for second place. Britton, still smarting from last year’s Gila time trial where he gave up time and ultimately the race win was beaming over today’s result: “Last year I made a few mistakes coming into the finish and it cost me a few places, and eventually the overall by seconds. This year I was dead set on improving on that. I did a lot of work on the time trial this year and it showed today,” said Britton.
In the women’s time trial, Lauren Stephens (Team Tibco-SVB) earned as decisive a victory as Zirbel, besting second place Brianna Walle (Optum) by 24 seconds and finishing in 38:35. Walle who quit her full time job prior to the 2015 racing season, has notched several top results already this year and came to Silver City a week early to acclimatize.
“This is my first time racing the Gila,” said Walle. “I came out a little early to acclimate and preview the course to get the feel of it.” Her preparation paid off and continues the streak of strong results from the Optum team at this year’s Tour of the Gila.
In third place was Allie Dragoo (Twenty16 Professional Cycling presented by Sho-Air), a young rider looking to take each day as it comes: “Today was a really hard race,” she said. “You never had time to zone out. I just tried to catch as many people as possible and race my own race.”
Stephens surprised few with her time trial win. She came to Tour of the Gila with an overall victory at the Joe Martin Stage Race less than a week removed. The Texan has all-around strengths but until today had raced quietly in the shadows of favorites like Mara Abbott (Amy D. Foundation).
“It was awesome. The time trial here last year here was a breakthrough in my career,” said Stephens. “I never thought I’d be in contention for this race, so it’s exciting to be where I am and see how far my team can take it.”
Abbot finished in fifth place, retaining her overall race lead while Stephens slots into second with Jasmin Glaesser (Optum) maintaining third place.
Optum rider Phil Gaimon moved up to third overall in the men’s race while Britton advances to second and perennial leader Rafael Montiel keeps the “Gila Monsters” Red Jersey.
Stage four is a 43.2 mile (men) and 27 mile (women) downtown criterium in Silver City.