Luis Amaran (Jamis-Sutter Home p/b Colavita) captured his first victory of the season at stage two of the SRAM Tour of the Gila on Thursday in Silver City, New Mexico. The Cuban has been considered a serious threat amongst his competitors in the professional peloton during the past two season as a strong breakaway rider, however, this week he plans on showing off his GC ability at the well-attended five-stage race.
Amaran won the second stage’s Inner Loop at Fort Bayard by two seconds ahead of current race leader Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny’s) and a further five seconds over the main field. His win also granted him a 10-second time bonus that moved him into fifth place in the overall classification; a position he was able to defend in the stage three time trial on Friday.
In Fort Bayard, Leipheimer attacked just over one kilometre to go and was quickly followed by Amaran, who caught and passed him inside the final few hundred to take the stage win. The winning manoeuvre caught the race leader’s attention, Leipheimer labelling Amaran's performance "impressive".
"I think I can be with the podium riders but it will be difficult," Amaran told Cyclingnews. "I am strong now and I think I can make it. It is a really good feeling to have a rider like Levi notice the good form I have right now."
A podium finish will be a tough goal to achieve considering the six ProTour riders in attendance at the race. Race leader Leipheimer is joined by RadioShack teammates Lance Armstrong and Jason McCartney, who are racing for Mellow Johnny’s, and Garmin-Transitions riders Danielson, Dave Zabriskie and Tom Peterson racing for DZ Nuts.
The event kicked off on Wednesday with the Mogollon Road Race where Amaran first displayed his top-form by attacking a lead group of five riders, including Leipheimer, Tom Danielson and Cesar Grajales (Ouch-Bahati Foundation), Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) and Dave Zabriskie (DZ Nuts). He held a slim lead of approximately 10 seconds for several hundred metres but was caught by the small group with one-kilometre to the finish line and placed seventh.
"My main goal was the Tour of California and I trained seriously over the winter with that goal in mind," said Amaran, who's team was not invited to contest the eight-day race in May. "So I trained very hard over the winter to be in very good shape in the early season. Now that we are not doing that race, I want to do well here and at the Joe Martin Stage Race."
Amaran has also been a valuable member of the Jamis-Sutter Home p/b Cooking Light’s lead-out train. The squad, formerly called Colavita-Sutter Home, is currently the number one ranked team in the nation on the National Racing Calendar (NRC), based on its 2009 results.
The squad has traditionally been renowned for its sprint ability with Argentine talents like Alejandro Borrajo and Sebastian Haedo garnering the team wins at many of the NRC series’ criteriums, one-day races and stage races.
"We have had good GC guys, but for different reasons it hasn’t worked out for us in the past so we have always gone for stages and one day race wins," said the outfit’s Directeur Sportif Sebastian Alexandre. "Over the last two years Luis has been doing a lot of work for his teammates and we wanted to try to give him the opportunity in the GC. I’m happy to try to expand our team into trying for the overall. He wants to show that he can do it and we, as a team, want to show that he is capable of doing it. We want to show that we are not just a sprint team."
Amaran defected from his birth country of Cuba in 2005 when he travelled to Spain to compete in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon with the Cuban National Team. He continued to race for a Spanish-based team for the following two years before joining Colavita-Sutter Home in 2008. He is currently living in Albuquerque, New Mexico and attributed his strong performances at the Gila to his off-season training regime.
"I live in Albuquerque now because my girlfriend goes to school there," Amaran said. "But I went to Albuquerque before to train for the Gila race in the past. That is another thing that helped me – it's a great place for training."