Christopher Blevins wasn’t happy with his performance on the opening stage of the Tour of the Gila. He was all smiles after Stage 2.
The 20-year-old cyclist from Durango was part of a breakaway that made it all the way to the finish line during the second stage of the 32nd Tour of the Gila road cycling stage race in New Mexico. It is an International Cycling Union (UCI) points event.
Blevins, riding for the Hagens Berman Axeon team, was strong in the sprints and had enough energy for one final kick on the long straightaway to the finish and got past Colombia’s Daniel Alexander Jaramillo to cross the finish line first. He conquered the 75-mile stage in 3 hours, 57 minutes, 12 seconds. Jaramillo finished second in the same time.
“The first day wasn’t great for me,” Blevins said in a phone interview with The Durango Herald. “The team kind of trusted me and put me in a great place for the (Mogollon) climb. I felt awesome at the start, then slowly faded and had nothing when I needed it. I was a bit bummed, but that gave us the freedom to go for the break today. It was really a great day for the break.”
A solid group of Durango talent finished third and fourth. Ireland’s Cormac McGeough, a 21-year-old Fort Lewis College cyclist who competes for the Jelly Belly team, was third, only two seconds back of Blevins and Jaramillo. Cullen Easter, a former Colorado Mesa University rider and brother of former Fort Lewis College cyclist Griffin Easter, finished fourth in the same time as McGeough. The brothers have spent a lot of time training in Durango with the new 303 Project team.
Blevins, Cullen Easter and McGeough all went in the break along with Jaramillo and fellow Colombian/UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling Team rider Janier Alexis Acevedo. Blevins admitted he wasn’t sure if the break would make it all the way to the finish line before the chase peloton closed the gap, but a change in winds helped the break hold off any challengers.
“It was a great group with three Durango guys and two Colombians,” Blevins said. “We got four minutes pretty quickly, and that’s a big gap. The biggest reason we were able to stay away is that normally there is a block headwind for the last 25 (kilometers) of the stage. Every year in the past it’s been that way. This year, there was a tailwind, and we were flying down the last half.”
Blevins said the break worked well together. With five kilometers to go in the race, his team director ordered him to sit in and get ready for the final sprint to the finish.
“I went back and Acevedo kept working,” Blevins said. “I was second wheel when Jaramillo jumped from the back. It was a long drag to the finish. I still had a kick at the end. I didn’t really think I had it until the very end.”
Blevins was strong in all the sprints Thursday. He was third and second in the bonus sprint stretches and, with the stage win to go with those results, he put on the green sprinter’s jersey.
“I started walking away from the podium because I didn’t consider the green jersey,” Blevins said. “It’s a great feeling to put that on. Hopefully I can go for it and keep it.”
Blevins finished 38th on the 92-mile opening stage in Silver City. Colombia’s Oscar Eduardo Sanchez of the Canels Specialized team won the stage in 3:32:41. Blevins finished 3:59 back.
Sanchez was seventh during Thursday’s second stage, 1:32 behind Blevins. Rally Cycling’s Robert Britton of Canada was second on the opening stage Wednesday, only seven seconds behind Sanchez, and Britton was eighth Thursday in the same time as Sanchez, as the two maintained position atop the GC standings. Britton is 11 seconds back of Sanchez, while Acevedo is third, 55 seconds back. Gavin Mannion of the UnitedHealthcare Pro team is the top American in the GC. He is fifth, 1:21 back.
Blevins is 15th in the GC, 2:25 back of Sanchez. McGeough is in 11th, 2:08 back. He opened with a 30th-place finish on Stage 1.
Blevins said he expects Britton to be on top after Friday’s individual time trial stage. It is a 16.15-mile course south of Silver City. Saturday’s fourth stage is a downtown criterium in Silver City, and Sunday’s closing stage is a true road race at 100.6 miles.
Blevins said his team doesn’t have big GC dreams with so many talented teams in the field, and instead they will target stage wins in the criterium and road stages.
“We have three of us in the top 15 or right in that range, but we’re not really within striking distance of the big guys,” he said. “After the time trial, Britton will probably be in the leader’s jersey. GC is not a huge priority for us. We’re more hunting for stage wins and the (criterium).”
Blevins, McGeough and Cullen Easter aren’t the only riders with Durango ties at the Gila.
Griffin Easter was 36th on the opening stage, 3:54 back of Sanchez’s winning time. After finishing 14th on Stage 2, 1:32 back of Blevins, he is 36th in the GC standings, 4:04 back of Sanchez. Cullen Easter is 46th in the GC, 5:39 back.
Road racing veteran Rolando Gonzalez, also with the 303 Project, was 92nd after the first stage, 8:51 back. He placed 69th on Stage 2, three minutes off of Blevins’ time. He is now 72nd in the GC, 10:29 back.
“I was joking with Griffin yesterday that it felt like a big Tuesday night world’s ride like we do in Durango,” Blevins said. “We had Rolando next to us, Cormac. I think we all got a bit lucky today being in the right place for the break together. But it shows once again how great Durango is in any discipline.”