The Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies team scored dual victories in the second stage of the Tour of the Gila, with Eric Young taking out the bunch sprint on the men's side, and Annie Ewart claiming the women's stage from a two-rider breakaway. Both Young and Ewart also claimed the green sprinters' jerseys.
Ewart's victory came with a heavy dose of drama, and she crossed the line with her right hip torn to shreds and a large bandage on her elbow, the after-effects of a high-speed crash on the day's tricky descent. After picking herself up off the ground from her crash, Ewart got patched up by the medics and then caught back to the field, only to find Olivia Dillon (Visit Dallas) had escaped and the field was not responding. In her adrenaline-fuelled state, the only option was to bridge across. Her team director, former pro Pat McCarty, thought she was nuts.
"When [Pat] first came up to me in the break, the first thing he said was, 'are you crazy?'," Eward told Cyclingnews. "I probably was. But he's an awesome director. I love racing for him and this team. It's always a team effort. The goal was to win the stage and to protect Jasmin [Glaesser] for the overall. I think she can win this race. I just went, and it ended up working out. I'm really happy. It's great that Optum men and women got the stage."
The peloton came within half a minute of catching Ewart, but even in her tattered state, the 21-year-old from Victoria, Canada could hold off the chase, even after dropping Dillon.
"When I made the final right turn off the highway, I thought I saw a group at 10 seconds and thought it was over. I just dug as deep as I could, then I looked back again and they weren't really there. I thought maybe I have this. I couldn't even put my arms up at the finish. I was so cooked." When asked if her wounds slowed her down at all, she said, "at that point, it was my lungs that hurt. It's hard coming to altitude, but I'm so happy with the win."
The victory was Ewart's best result after a fourth place in the UCI team time trial world championships in Ponferrada with Optum last year, and her first of this season.
"I won a small criterium in Los Angeles in January, but this is the biggest win of my career so far. I'm really happy."
Young was equally pleased to finally notch up a win this year, and to get revenge for finishing second in the same stage in last year's race to Bissel's Nicolai Brochner. It was his second win at Fort Bayard, his first came in 2012.
"My whole team did a great job over the last 10km, staying together and organised, it helps to keep me fresh as a sprinter," Young said. "It was a team effort. This race is always fun, chaotic and hard. I'm glad to get the win.
"This stage is one of my favourite races that we do all year, so I'm really happy to win it, it's awesome."
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