Led by Chris Baldwin's third-place finish in Wednesday's Dan Potts Memorial Tyrone Time Trial, five Toyota-United riders placed in the top 25 on the opening stage of the 21st Tour of the Gila.
Baldwin finished one minute and 29 seconds behind Nathan O'Neill (Health Net), who won the 16.15-mile (26 km) race against the clock in 33 minutes and 13 seconds. Ben Jacques-Maynes (Priority Health Cycling Team) finished second, 1'15" behind O'Neill. Baldwin is the race's defending champion.
Stefano Barberi was Toyota-United's revelation of the opening day. Starting his second National Race Calendar stage race of the season, the Brazilian finished 10th, 2'14" behind.
The third-year pro, who makes his home in Boulder, Colorado, already has one win to his credit this season. He captured the Stazio Criterium in Boulder on March 25 and rode to a pair of runner-up finishes in challenging mountain road races in Colorado in mid-April.
"It's good to see him come out and have a good ride like that," Toyota-United Team Director Kirk Willett said.
Toyota-United's other riders all finished within four minutes of the winner; Burke Swindlehurst, 13th and 2'29" behind, Ivan Stevic, 17th at 2'48", Justin England, 23rd at 3'03" and Jose Manuel-Garcia, 38th at 3'49". In the team standings, Toyota-United is second behind Health Net.
Willett said the cancellation of the Tour of Utah – originally scheduled for a late June start – has bolstered the quality of competition in the 121-rider field.
"This is probably one of the deepest fields that have ever come here," Willett said. "O'Neill will be very well-supported by his team and he's been on form since the Tour de Georgia. But this race has so much climbing and wind that anything can happen. We're optimistic that our guys can climb well and go after stage wins, which would move them up the general classification."
Two Toyota-United riders who were pencilled in on the team's original eight-man roster for the race did not start Wednesday. New Zealander Heath Blackgrove continues to recover from a leg injury sustained in the Tour of California while American Chris Wherry was bothered by stomach problems earlier this week.
Thursday's stage is the 94.1-mile (152.3 km) Silver City to Mogollon Road Race, a race that finishes with a gruelling 2,100-foot climb.
"The last five kilometres are really steep all the way to the line," Willett said. "The course itself pretty much goes one direction (northwest). What we don't know is which way the wind will be blowing. The forecast is for it to be rather windy, so the race could be really wide open early."
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