Silver City, New Mexico - With a strong leadout from his teammates, Michael Rice of the Hagens Berman Axeon Cycling Team got his first win of the season on stage 4 at the Tour of the Gila. Christopher Blevins finished the 40-lap criterium 4 spots behind Rice in 5th place.
“It came down to the execution by the guys,” said sport director Jeff Louder. “In our meeting before the stage, we talked about doing exactly what they did, going late, hitting it hard. The fact that they had the strength and experience to pull it off is amazing.”
Saturday’s victory was the team’s second of the week at the 5-day New Mexico stage race. On Thursday, Blevins sprinted to victory at the end of stage 2.
Lucas Haedo (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) finished the stage in 2nd place, while Marc-Antoine Nadon (H&R Block Pro Cycling) was 3rd.
As Louder described it, Thomas Revard set it all into motion by putting in a really big move to pace his teammates. Ian Garrison followed Revard’s effort and was instrumental in keeping it fast for what seemed like forever to Louder.
“Ian put Blevins and Ricey in the exact right spot in the final two corners and the rest was down to Blevins,” he said. “He [Blevins] did an amazing leadout, and really, all Ricey had to do was stand up and keep going. It was a beautiful thing.”
Rice is coming into true form after racing in Europe during the beginning part of the season. On stage 2 at Circuit des Ardennes he finished just off the podium in 4th place. This week, the Aussie won the field sprint after Blevins claimed victory on stage 2.
“I’m very happy to come away with the win, but really, my team was unbelievable today,” said Rice. “Everybody executed their role perfectly into the final leadout and I have a lot to thank them for. It gives me a lot of confidence moving forward.”
Tomorrow’s final stage, the “Gila Monster Road Race,” includes 9,360 ft of climbing over the 100.6 mi course with an uphill finish to the Village of Piños Altos. Start time is 8:40 am MDT.
“We’ll look to improve in the GC where we can tomorrow, including keeping Bennett in the U23 jersey,” said Louder. “I think today was a great confidence builder; they all contributed and proved to themselves that they are strong enough. We’re optimistic for tomorrow and will see what we can do.”
(Header photo of Michael Rice by Casey B. Gibson.)