Canadian Alex Cataford claimed his first podium finish in a UCI stage race, coming second to Lachlan Morton (Jelly Belly) at the Tour of the Gila on Sunday. The performance puts the 22-year-old multi-time national champion back on track after a 2014 crash with a car that left him seriously injured, and another incident this year that disrupted his racing schedule.
Cataford held his own in the mountain finish on the first stage, losing 1:48 to Morton and finishing seventh, but made up 41 seconds in the time trial two days later to climb into second place in the overall classification. He battled through a rough patch in the final Gila monster stage, after coming detached on a steep pitch on the first of two final climbs. He managed to drag himself back into the group with the race leader to keep his second place in the general classification.
"It's my break-out stage racing ride so far. I've never had a podium in a UCI stage race before," Cataford said. "I can't thank my teammates enough. I didn't have to do anything today. They were there for me all day."
In 2013, Cataford was on the fast track to professional cycling. With the U23 national time trial title in his hands and six junior titles in his palmarès, he signed with Amore & Vita for the 2014 season. But he was hit by a car while training and suffered a broken jaw and a serious concussion, and spent the entire year recuperating. It took two surgeries and months of eating through a straw, but he made it through. Now with a smile full of new teeth, he's with Gord Fraser's Silber team and has his future in pro cycling back.
"I knew I had a good chance for the overall at Tour of the Gila," Cataford said. "In training the week before was going really well, but this is my first time on the podium so I didn't have a reference. I knew I was going well for myself, but I wasn't sure if it was good enough - but I guess I proved that it was."
The result came after a crash in the San Dimas stage race that resulted in another concussion, so the team took the decision to keep him out of the races in April. He spent the month training in Tucson instead. But the lack of racing days wasn't a detriment.
Cataford is now looking forward to the other major races in the season for Silber - the Tour de Beauce, and perhaps another start in the Tour of Alberta. The result in the Tour of the Gila will be his launching pad.
"It gives you confidence going into the next races, that you've done it before so there's no reason you can't do it again. For bike racing, confidence is a big thing, so having that in the bank is a big help for the future."
For more on breakthrough riders at the Tour of the Gila...
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