Gardner said he had no idea he had won the red jersey when he crossed the finish line, and most assumed Matteo Dal-Cin (Toronto Hustle), who wasn’t far behind on the climb, had retained it.
“It turns out I only got it by four seconds,” Gardner said. “The team was riding strong all day and was able to fight at the end and hold onto the Canel’s team. They were riding strong too. [We] got the overall GC …, so I’m pretty hyped.”
Heiner Parra Bustamante from Colombia, the king-of-the-mountains leader, Efren Santos Moreno and Corte Cordero from Mexico, all on Canel’s ZEROUNO as well as Gardner and Toby Roed (Yoelo Test Team p/b 4MIND Project) from Norway, who was sitting third on GC, got away from the main field, showcasing their endurance, climbing abilities and strategy.
Attacks started flying from the gun in the 100.7-mile Stage 5 Gila Monster, which has four king-of-the-mountains climbs. A break of nine riders formed and although it broke up several times, several of its original members, none realistically in contention for the overall lead, stayed away for a total of about 75 miles.
Ethan Sittlington (Toronto Hustle) from Canada; Cyrus Monk (Meiyo CCN) from Australia; Nicholas Côté (Yoelo Test Team p/b 4MIND Project) from Canada; Brooks Wienke and Tobias Klein (Aevolo Cycling); Andrew Frank (Team California/HMS); Will Hardin and Ricky Arnopol (Project Echelon Racing); and Peter Behm (Rio Grande Elite Cycling Team) at one point had a six-minute-and-35-second lead on the main field.
But the group whittled down to three riders with about 30 miles to go – Monk, Klein and Hardin – after other riders in the break cracked, with one even getting off his bike and laying on the ground.
The peloton, which carried all of the jersey competitors, then amped it up, and the chase was on headed toward the final two climbs. Breakaway riders were swallowed up, and five riders went on the attack.