Matthew Lloyd's first race with the Jelly Belly-Maxxis team last week at the UCI 2.2 Tour of the Gila in New Mexico got off to a rough start. The 30-year-old Australian was caught up in the massive crash on the first day and eventually finished 42nd overall, more than half an hour down on general classification winner Carter Jones (Optum Pro Cycling).
Lloyd lost more than 15 minutes after the stage 1 melee - an 80-rider pileup that occurred on a fast downhill stretch as riders approached the final ascent to the ghost town of Mogollen. But the diminutive climber, who won a stage and the mountains jersey of the 2010 Giro d'Italia, said racing in New Mexico's high desert actually provided a proper start for his season.
"It's been interesting racing," he told Cyclingnews last week before the Gila's final stage. "A few crashes here and there, but you're always going to get that in a mixed field. But I think with the altitude and the characteristics of the race - always up and down - it's been some nice training and a good way to get over some jet lag before next week."
Lloyd said he was feeling "pretty good" at the US race after a prolonged opportunity to live and train at home.
"I sort of maintained a lot of the endurance training in Australia and kept all the fast-paced lactic acid work for this week," he said. "So the circuit racing and the shorter climbs are obviously better for that, and hopefully a couple days rest and coming into next week will be fine."
Lloyd finished just behind the bunch sprint at the end of the stage 2 Inner Loop Road Race at the New Mexican tour, and he lost another five minutes in the 26km time trial. Lloyd hung on through the difficult stage 4 critérium in downtown Silver City, but he surrendered another 13:19 to the leaders during the final Gila Monster stage, where he finished 36th.
While Lloyd was slowly easing back into racing during the Tour of the Gila, his teammates, who had been racing since March, had a successful outing. Jelly Belly pulled off a stage win with Serghei Tvetcov's time trial victory, while Kirk Carlsen rode well all week and finished fourth overall, just 16 seconds behind Jones.
The results will provide a morale boost for the team heading into next week's Tour of California, where Lloyd will take the start line for only the second time when the race heads out of Sacramento on Sunday. He also competed in the 2007 Tour of California with Predictor-Lotto back when the race was on the schedule in February. Lloyd finished 28th overall that year and was second to Belkin's Robert Gesink in the competition for best young rider.
Next week he'll get the chance to find more success on the roads of California, while also catching up with some of his former teammates and friends from the WorldTour. Lloyd and the Jelly Belly squad, which also includes Tvetcov, Carlsen, Mexican champion Luis Lemus, Devon Dunn, Sean Mazich, Jacob Rathe and US champion Freddie Rodriguez, are looking forward to a week of pursuing breakaway opportunities and stage wins.
"The team is going strong, and we're confident.”