Bonus seconds for the win: Sean Gardner wins the Tour of the Gila

Grueling five-stage race came down to mere seconds won in a bonus sprint.

Final podium Tour of the Gila
(Image credit: Tour of the Gila)

When 2020 Everesting world record holder Sean Gardner (CS Velo) clinched the overall victory in the Tour of the Gila on Sunday, he had no idea he’d done it. 

He, like most of the peloton, assumed that overnight race leader Matteo Dal-Cin (Toronto Hustle) had managed to retain the red leader’s jersey with consistent performance.

“I had no idea. It turns out I only got it by four seconds. Time bonus earlier in the stages helped out … so I’m pretty hyped,” Gardner said.

The 28-year-old managed to climb his way from eighth in the GC at the start of the fifth and final stage, all the way to the top, despite Canel’s ZEROUNO brutal attacks and dominant stage win. 

An all-international podium: Norwegian Torbjorn “Toby” Andre Roed (Yoeleo Test Team p/b 4MIND Project), Colombian Heiner Rodrigo Parra Bustamante (Canel’s ZEROUNO) and Canadian Matteo Dal-Cin (Toronto Hustle).

(Image credit: Tour of the Gila)

How the Race Was Won

After two long Pandemic years, the iconic Tour of the Gila was back for real-life racing this past week. Now in its 35th year, the race’s rich history includes past winners such as Levi Leipheimer, Phil Deignan, Lachlan Morton, and Jonathan Vaughters

The New Mexico race is one of just four UCI-sanctioned road races still remaining on US soil and it also happens to be the most challenging stage race in American road cycling. It starts hard, ends even harder and is fast and fierce in between. The five days of racing saw the UCI men climb some 22,000 feet (6705 meters) over 328 miles (525kms).  

This rare opportunity to earn some coveted UCI points meant that riders came from all over the world. And while most of the North American teams had just scouted the competition at the Redlands race a week prior, the presence of newly formed teams and international contestants meant that the 2022 event carried a lot of unknowns. 

Stage 1

Day one of racing saw an all-international podium with a Norwegian, a Colombian and a Canadian besting the 76-man peloton up the brutal climb to Mogollon.

Attacks came early and a breakaway in some shape and form stayed out in front of the peloton for the first 70 miles. Leading into the race-defining Mogollon climb, however, everyone was absorbed and the teams got ready to support their climbers for as long as they could.

Biding his time for just the right moment, and steepness, Norwegian Torbjorn “Toby” Andre Roed (Yoeleo Test Team p/b 4MIND Project) attacked with less than one kilometer to go, passing Heiner Rodrigo Parra Bustamante (Canel’s ZEROUNO) and Matteo Dal-Cin (Toronto Hustle) for the win. 

CS Velo on the attack

(Image credit: Tour of the Gila)

Stage 2

On the agenda for the second day was a dynamic 76.2-mile road race with something for everyone: rolling hills, fast flats, steep ascents and plenty of opportunity for team tactics, solos and potential GC changes.

It was an action-packed day as teams like CS Velo tried to extend on their lead while others hoped to shake things up.  After failing to place on stage one, Redlands winner Tyler Sites (Project Echelon Racing) made his bid for GC contention on Thursday by picking up 10 bonus seconds and out-sprinting a reduced bunch for the win. 

He moved himself up into seventh place on the GC, now 42 seconds down from the red leader’s jersey, while the top three remained the same. 

Stage 3

The 16-mile time trial on Stage 3 caused a big GC shake-up as Project Echelon Racing dominated the discipline.

After the previous day’s efforts to move their lead man, Tyler Sites, into GC contention, Project Echelon Racing gave a commending time trial performance in placing three of their riders into the top 5 on the stage. George Simpson won the time trial while teammates Stites and Stephen Vogel took third and fourth, respectively. With this performance, Stites made his way into second place in the overall GC. 

Only Matteo Dal-Cin (Toronto Hustle) managed to break up the Project Echelon podium party, clocking in a time was not only good enough for second but also, the GC with a cushion of 47-seconds.

Project Echelon in command

(Image credit: Tour of the Gila)

Stage 4

Project Echelon Racing continued their momentum on Saturday, with Stites sprinting to criterium victory in downtown Silver City, while teammate Simpson finished third. Earning some bonus seconds along the way, Sites finished the day trailing just 34 seconds down from the overall GC leader. 

The Project Echelon team raced with dominance, taking control of the peloton at the beginning of the 40-lap crit and staying on the front until Stites was able to gobble up the first sprint points and bonus seconds. Australian Cyrus Monk (Meiyo CCN Pro Cycling) tried to shake up the Project Echelon dominance by launching an attack that would grow to become a five-person breakaway. Monk earned himself some primes and sprint points but eventually, he and his fellow escapees were reabsorbed by the pack and Project Echelon regained control to set up Sites for the finish.

Stage 5

The final and hardest stage of the event, the Gila Monster, is another road race that favors climbers. With four KOMs on offer, the GC was nowhere near secured going into the 100-mile race. 

Breakaways with out-of-contention riders were allowed to go up the road for most of the race, and one breakaway even managed to gain a lead of over six minutes.  But with 30 miles to go, the peloton, which carried all of the jersey competitors, ramped things up as the final two climbs approached. 

A new five-rider breakaway formed and this time, a dangerous one with a lot of climbing prowess. The break consisted of three Cane’s ZEROUNO riders —KOM jersey-wearer Heiner Parra Bustamante, Efren Santos Moreno and Corte Cordero— as well as 2022 Everesting record holder Sean Gardner and stage one winner Toby Roed.

Using their numbers to their advantage, Canel’s ZEROUNO launched attack after attack. Roed broke first but Gardner managed to hang with the three Cane’s ZEROUNO teammates and ultimately finished third, having gained enough time to take over the red jersey and win the Gila. 

Final General Classification Standings:

1) Sean Gardner – CS Velo: 12:58:04

2) Matteo Dal-Cin – Toronto Hustle: 12:50:08

3) Toby Roed – Yoeleo Test Team p/b 4MindProject 12:58:35

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