Rafael Montiel maintained his overall lead in the Tour of the Gila on the second stage, the "Inner Loop" route, putting one more day behind him on the way to an overall victory. Should he manage to pull off the coup, it would be the first UCI stage race overall win for the 33-year-old Colombian. Only the 26km time trial and criterium stand in the way for this climbing specialist, who is expected to be formidable on the final stage, the fearsome Gila Monster mountain finish.
Montiel knows that his 57-second lead over Chris Horner (Airgas-Safeway), and perhaps more importantly, his 1:01 gap over Redlands Classic winner Phil Gaimon (Optum Pro Cycling), will be difficult to hold, but he continues to vow that he can win.
"I know how strong our rivals are, but I'm confident in my strength and the strength of my team," Montiel said after the finish of a stage in which his teammate Cristhian Montoya took over the mountains classification lead. "My teammate really wanted to get the KOM jersey. He was feeling great so he went for it. It was part of the plan. He did great, and we're really happy to have that jersey, too."
Looking ahead to the coming two stages, Montiel said he didn't feel under pressure, but knows that the other teams are starting to feel it. "I was able to handle it because I'm a racer with experience and know how to. I know my team can handle this kind of situation, too. We are prepared and we train very hard for these kinds of situations, so we're confident."
He admitted tomorrow's time trial will be a challenge. "It's going to be very hard because we're good in the mountains and the time trial doesn't have a lot of climbing, but I'll do my best. I'm confident it will be fine."
The Colombian climbers aren't well known for their time trialing abilities, and the Orgullo Antioqueno team's long journey to New Mexico meant they came with limited equipment. Montiel's teammate Cristhian Montoyo explained the team had only three time trial bikes to share between seven riders. "We will either share or someone will be without a TT bike. We're a little worried because there are very good time trialists here and we don't have a lot of experience. We will do everything we can to defend the jersey."
Montiel comes from the state of Antioquia, and started racing rather late at age 22. He's been on his regional professional team for the past five years, and said he is riding well here because the area around Silver City is similar to his home. "Where I live is in a nice place to ride, with perfect weather, and great temperatures for training year round, and it is at the same altitude as this race. All the races I won have been on very steep climbs."
Doping case in the past
The cycling public is rather sensitive when it comes to doping cases, and after Montiel's commanding victory on the opening stage, in which he chased after the breakaway for the better part of 100km before catching them on the final climb, riding through them and then dropping them all on the steep pitch to the finish, the social media sphere was quick to point out that Montiel had been banned once for doping. Such stand-out performances unfortunately raise eyebrows in cycling, but Montiel said his case is in the past.
Montiel's positive in the 2008 Vuelta a Colombia, which he raced with the Colombia es Pasion - Coldeportes squad, was for triamcinolone acetonide, a corticosteroid that is used in many medicines, from creams for rashes, nasal spray for sinus problems or can be injected. While it is no longer on the banned list in- or out-of competition*, it was not allowed in 2008 when Montiel was tested.
"I'm not worried about it anymore," he said. "It wasn't a doping case. It was medicine I took that wasn't allowed. I've already paid for it with an 8 month suspension. What's in the past is in the past. I'm not concerned about it now."
Correction: the drug is not prohibited as cream, nasal spray or inhaler, or local injection in competition, but is banned when injected intravenously or intramuscularly, or taken orally. Montiel did not specify what was the cause of his anti-doping violation.