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De Crescenzo wins Tour of the Gila six years after re-learning to walk

Lauren De Cresenzo (Cinch Rise) shows off the locally crafted pottery bowls that serve as winners trophies for the Tour of the Gila.
Lauren De Cresenzo (Cinch Rise) holds the winner's trophies for the 2022 Tour of the Gila (Image credit: SnowyMountain Photography)

At this time in 2016, Lauren De Crescenzo was in a rehabilitation centre learning how to walk and talk again after suffering a serious crash. Now, she is celebrating her first major road victory having climbed away from her rivals on the Tour of the Gila's final stage to Pinos Altos and cemented the overall win.

"It means so much to me winning the Gila. Six years ago I couldn’t imagine this. I was at the rehab center learning how to walk and talk again. If someone would tell me, ‘don’t worry Lauren because in 6 years you’re going to win the Gila’ I would have been like, ‘You’re crazy, I’m not a climber! I’m in a rehab center.' So mentally it’s huge coming back from that, to being able to win a race like this, a five-day stage race, it takes a lot out of you," De Crescenzo said.

Six years ago, the Cinch Rise racer crashed during the sprint at the San Dimas Stage Race when her handlebars caught the roadside fencing. She suffered a concussion and bleeding on her brain and was placed in an induced coma, and also fractured her T1 vertebra, occipital condyle and wrist.

Her family launched an online fundraiser to help offset her medical expenses, and after a lengthy recovery she returned to racing. Two years after her crash she landed on the podium of the Collegiate National Championships while racing for University of Colorado at Denver, and in 2019 won the Collegiate time trial title.

In the past two years, De Crescenzo, 31, has established herself as one of the top gravel racers in the country, having won Gravel Worlds and last year Unbound Gravel, and this season winning at Mid South Gravel, among other races.

Her journey to the overall victory in the Tour of the Gila, her first UCI win, came with its fair share of adversity, however. She had a mechanical at the base of the final climb on the opening stage and lost 2:48 to stage winner Krista Doebel-Hickok (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) and then made it all back, and more, with an audacious solo attack on stage 2.

However, she lost another 2:18 in the individual time trial, having another mechanical at the turnaround and went into the penultimate stage with just 14 seconds on Doebel-Hickok. On the final stage, however, she gained enough time on the tough uphill finish to win the Tour of the Gila by one minute.

"On the first really steep section, I was fifth wheel, I had a little bit of a gap but I was keeping them close. I knew I could close it on the descent, so I closed it there. There was the five of us (Krista, Emily Marcolini, Austin Killips, Marcela Prieto) two of them went, Austin and Emily Marcolini. They went but I was staying with Krista because I was just trying to defend GC today. I was just keeping her close.

"When we started hitting some of the rollers, I really like rollers, maybe more than the climbs. My goal was to minimize my watts for the big climbs. I just kept thinking, ‘pretend this is Unbound’ you have a long time! From the bottom of the climb, to up here is like an hour."

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Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A former elite-level road racer who dabbled in cyclo-cross and track, Laura has a passion for all three disciplines. When not working she likes to go camping and explore lesser traveled roads, paths and gravel tracks.