Narvaez takes final stage, Tvetcov second

Rally Cycling’s Evan Huffman took the biggest win of his career when he safely crossed the finish line after stage 5 from Silver City to Pinos Altos to seal his overall victory at the 31st Tour of the Gila. Jelly Belly Pro Cycling’s Sergei Tvetcov finished second to stage winner Jhonatan Narvaez (Axeon Hagens Berman), which bumped the Jelly Belly rider into second place on GC. TJ Eisenhart (Holowesko|Citadel) finished third overall.

“I was hurting a lot on the climbs, but we had a numbers advantage the whole day,” Huffman said. “At the top of the Gila Monster we had a group of four guys out of 10. I was sitting on wheels, following my teammates who were neutralizing attacks. It wasn’t an easy day but it would have been a lot harder without my teammates.

“Eisenhart put in a big attack on the Gila Monster. I didn’t have to accelerate because my team gradually got him back. Then on the Sapillo climb, Gavin Mannion attacked and Rob Britton rode him back nice and steady. The whole week was incredible. I feel really good heading into the Tour of California. I’m looking for a good result in the time trial and maybe GC.”

Stage winner Narvaez continued to show good form after winning the Circuito International in France.

“I’m very grateful to my team and sponsors,” said Narvaez, who was racing in the US for the first time at Gila. “It’s really been a complicated day. I was in the front with the group. I think Rally have shown how solid they are in how they dominated the race. I feel I was able to race intelligently and I was able to win.”

It was a grueling finale to an already tough week of racing for the UCI men. With 100.6 mi (161.9km) and 9,131ft (2,783m) of climbing, the Gila Monster RR once again lived up to its name as one of the hardest courses in North America.

The profile didn’t deter the riders from starting off the race in an aggressive fashion. Attacks flew off the front from the word, “go” but nothing got any traction until around 30 km into the stage, when a group of 15 including Eric Marcotte (Cylance), Travis McCabe (UHC), Ruben Companioni and Joe Lewis (Holowesko) slipped off the front.

Working well together, the large group gained a max of 2 minutes 15 seconds, but it started to fracture as the road turned upward. Efren Santos (Canel’s) and James Piccoli (PPB Racing) became the new leaders until a puncture forced Piccoli back into the peloton.

Because of the pace set by the Rally team, Santos was reeled in, and with less than 30km to go, the battle for survival began.

About 10 riders were left and Rally taking control. Eisenhart threw in an attack with 1.5km left, but Rally neutralized the Holowesko rider’s efforts. On the last few meters of the final climb, Narvaez capitalized on Rally and UHC tactics and finished on top.

Gavin Mannion (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) finished third on the day and was his team’s big hope for a win, but his team struggled to match Rally’s dominance.

“I was protected all day by my teammates,” Mannion said. “Coming out of the Cliff Dwellings is the toughest part of the race, I rode tempo. We tried to unseat some of the Rally guys, but they were just too strong. I’m happy with third. My team did all they could do and we look forward to the next race.”

After the stage, Rob Britton (Rally) finished in the lead of the KOM competition, McCabe won the sprint jersey and Narvaez’s efforts shot him to the top of the best young rider classification.