Zirbel and Armstrong master the Gila’s hilly TT

Pre-race favorites Kristin Armstrong and Tom Zirbel don't disappoint, winning the Tour of the Gila's stage 3 time trial.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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It came as no surprise that Tom Zirbel and Kristin Armstrong rode to victory in Friday’s 26km individual time trial at Tour of the Gila. The two TT specialists lived up to their respective billings as the best against the clock in the climber-friendly New Mexico race.

Rally’s Zirbel won stage 3 by a relatively narrow margin — 6.7 seconds ahead of Silber’s Alex Cataford. Axeon Hagens Berman’s 19-year-old phenom Nielson Powless collected his second third-place finish of the five-day race, 15 seconds behind.

“Jeff had said that pretty much 70 percent of the race was going to be won on the way out because of the headwind and that there was more to be gained on the way out than on the way back,” Powless said. “So I kept that in mind. I saved just a little bit for the way back and reminded myself that it was going to be a tailwind and quite a bit faster coming home.”

Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) kept his overall lead, 1:06 ahead of Cataford after finishing eighth in the TT. Rob Britton is not far behind in third, 1:10 down on Morton.

While Armstrong lived up to expectations with her victory, race leader Mara Abbott (Amy D. Foundation) may have exceeded hers, finishing merely 21 seconds behind the Twenty16 – Sho-Air captain. Tibco – SVB’s Lauren Stephens rounded out the podium in third, 44 seconds behind.

With that solid TT performance, Abbott kept her overall lead heading into Saturday’s criterium. Armstrong is 2:12 behind in second place, and Tibco – SVB’s Brianna Walle is third, 3:02 back.

In stage 4, the women will race 43.5km in Silver City, and the men will go for 69.5km on the race’s penultimate day.

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