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Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) returned for his first race in the U.S. of 2012 with a stage 1 win at the SRAM Tour of the Gila Wednesday. Beijing Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong of Exergy Twenty12 won the first stage of the women’s race, on the summit finish at Mogollon, New Mexico.
Sutherland topped Joe Dombrowski (Bontrager-Livestrong) and Chad Beyer (Competitive Cyclist) in the 94.1-mile opener, which started in Silver City and finished with the brutal, three-mile Mogollon climb, most of which was over 10-percent gradient, finishing at almost 6800 feet above sea level.
“This was a good win for us and we are very happy about the team’s performance,” said Sutherland. “As a team, we went into today not knowing exactly where we were, having just come back from Europe. This team has battled sickness, bad weather, injuries and a lot of hard racing in Europe, so getting the win today was nice, especially after all of the ups and downs we’ve experienced. We’ve done a lot of events together throughout the past few months and as a team we have endured a lot. I believe that has brought us closer together.”
Behind Armstrong, two riders from Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies, Carmen Small and Jade Wilcoxson, rounded out the top three, respectively. Alison Powers (NOW-Novartis for MS) was fourth, with Janel Holcomb (Optum) fifth.
Midway through the stage, Armstrong and her breakaway companions strayed off course. When the group found its way back onto the route, but behind the peloton, race officials neutralized the stage and allowed the group to re-gain its 1:15 advantage over the bunch. Armstrong attacked out of this group for the win, which was particularly meaningful given the Olympic champ’s disappointing Gila performance in 2011 after a stomach virus hit her at the beginning of the race.
“I am very happy to take the win for my team today; they rode very well,” said Armstrong. “Jackie Crowell was exceptional in the break and set me up nicely for the 10km Mogollon ascent.”
The five-day stage race continues tomorrow with the Inner Loop Road Race at Fort Bayard that tops out at over 7400 feet.