Krista Doebel-Hickok (EF Education-TIBCO-SVB) returned to home soil and captured the team’s first victory of 2022 of its inaugural season as a Women’s WorldTour squad, winning the opening day of the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico.
Riding in her ninth pro season, Doebel-Hickok rode away in the final kilometres of the first-category Mogollon climb on Wednesday for a hard-fought victory.
The victory comes a week after Doebel-Hickok landed a prestigious top-10 in La Flèche Wallonne. Although the other US WorldTeams - Human Powered Health and Trek-Segafredo - opted to skip the three-decade-old Tour of the Gila, a UCI 2.2-ranked event, Doebel-Hickok emphasised the importance of competing on home soil in one of just two UCI stage races in the US to have survived after the pandemic-related cancellations.
“Everyone talks about road racing having a tough time in the USA. We’re an American team. The least we can do is support the UCI events that are still here,” Doebel-Hickok said.
Based in Europe for the majority of the season, her EF Education-TIBCO-SVB team fielded four North American riders at the five-day stage race.
“The truth is I wanted to be over in Europe racing WorldTour races, but I am an American and I want to see racing continue here. To show up and take it seriously and be here to really perform was really hard from the jet-lag travelling from here to there, I was home for two days.
“In the end I owe it to our sponsors and our team, my teammates, my staff, my family, to give it everything I got. This team from the start has wanted to see me happy and then the performance follows."
Monday's 114-kilometre stage finished on a stair-stepped climb to the historic ghost town of Mogollon, named after the prehistoric people who inhabited the region. It was a special day for the team, but also for the American climber, who took the win on the eve of her 34th birthday.
“It’s my birthday tomorrow and it’s my dad’s birthday the next day. He’s so supportive. I thought of him a lot today. I know how happy my parents were when I got eighth at Flèche,” Doebel-Hickok said. “I knew that a stage win would make them really happy.”
Doebel-Hickok credited Emily Newsom, Sara Poidevin, and Emma Langley with positioning her for the assault on the final climb that led to the top step of the podium.
“We knew we had a lot of strong girls, and we truly believe we are the strongest team here and any one of us can win this race, and we didn’t care who, but we all knew this finish was for me,” Doebel-Hickok said.
“The girls positioned me perfectly. Poidevin left just enough room for me to be on her wheel so I was sheltered. She dragged me to the base of the climb completely selflessly.
“I literally passed Sara [Poidevin], and said, ‘are you empty?’ and she said, ‘yeah,’ and I said, ‘OK.’ Then I knew I had to go and not look back even though I looked back a lot.”
She wanted to avoid a déjà vu situation from the Mogollon climb from two years ago, when she was riding stage 1 solo but was passed with 500 metres to go by two riders. She did hang on at the end of the week for fourth overall.
The American rider began her pro career in 2014 with Team TIBCO, which operated for the past 15 years as a UCI Continental programme. After racing the last six years on other US-based UCI teams, she returns to her roots.
Last year, she crashed out of the Giro d’Italia Donne riding for Rally Cycling, but was eager for her debut on the Women’s WorldTour, as well as including US races on her calendar.
She revealed the pressure she was under to get a result despite suffering from jet lag and how her family's support helped.
“My dad sent me a message last night, I told him I’m feeling like shit and everybody expects me to win this. He said, it doesn’t matter what everybody expects, I know you’ll give it your very best.”
Doebel-Hickok will wear the race leader’s jersey Thursday for the Tour of the Gila’s Inner Loop Road Race, a 120.7km stage 2 on the same course used for the pro men event.
Rebecca Reza contributed to this report for Cyclingnews.
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