Six years ago, in April 2016, Lauren De Crescenzo was a neo-pro. After a decorated collegiate career, the then 25-years-old went pro with Visit Dallas DNA Pro Cycling. She was racing in the San Dimas Stage Race and leading out her teammate when she had a freak accident. Her handlebars got caught in some fencing and De Crescenzo went over the handlebars. Her first memories after that race come some three weeks later when she awoke in a hospital.
In that three-week blackout period, De Crescenzo had been airlifted to a nearby hospital and put in a medically induced coma for nearly a week to mitigate the brain bleeding. She also suffered a skull fracture, facial damage, a fractured vertebrae in her spine and several broken bones in her hand. She had to relearn how to talk, balance and walk.
Today, six years after that terrifying crash, De Crescenzo (Cinch Cycling) got emotional thinking about just how far she’s come since then. From being stuck in a hospital bed to finishing America’s toughest stage race, the Tour of the Gila, on the top step.
"I feel amazing. Six years ago I was in a rehab center learning how to walk and talk, and now I win the biggest UCI stage race in the US. I never thought it was going to happen,” De Crescenzo commented on Sunday after finishing the fifth and final stage of the 2022 Tour of the Gila.
“Learning how to walk to winning the Gila, it's insane. It's totally insane...the last six years have been a journey."
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. The New Mexico race is one of just four UCI-sanctioned road races still remaining on US soil, and this rare opportunity to earn some coveted UCI points meant that riders came from all over the world, including team EF Education-Tibco-SVB, fresh off their Spring Classics stint in Europe.
Showing up in force with riders like Krista Doebel-Hickok, Lauren Stephens, Emily Newsom, Sara Poidevin and Emma Langley, the pink team was hotly favored for the win.
Sure enough, it was former US national Hill Climb champion, Krista Doebel-Hickok, who took control of the race first, by riding away from the pack with two kilometers to go on the brutal climb up the Mogollon. Doebel-Hickok had company in Emily Marcolini (3T/Q+M Cycling Team) and Austin Killips (Amy D Foundation) but soon dropped the two and finished stage one with a 17-second lead.
However, Stage 2, another undulating road race, saw a change of the guard. De Crescenzo was allowed to go on a 67-mile (107-kilometer) solo to shake up the GC. Calling the solo effort “good training for Unbound,” the defining gravel queen of Unbound and SBT GRVL, put a firm grasp on the overall standings with a gap of 2 minutes as 32 seconds going into the race’s midpoint, a 16-mile time trial. Doebel-Hickok finished second in stage followed by Maddy Ward of Instafund Racing.
Doebel-Hickok kept the GC excitement alive in the time trial by obliterating De Crescenzo’s lead with a tremendous time trial effort, while De Crescenzo suffered some bad luck in the form of a flat tire. With her TT performance, Doebel-Hickok made up an astonishing 2 minutes and 18 seconds in the GC, which meant that going into the stage 4 criterium, a mere 14 seconds now separated the two GC leaders.
“Coming into [the time trial], honestly I had just given up on the red jersey and was just stoked to have the polka dot and a couple days secured in that,” a surprised Doebel-Hickok admitted after the stage.
The downtown criterium was aggressive, marred by crashes and confusion and ultimately won by Ward, the third placed rider in the GC.
Both De Crescenzo and Doebel-Hickok went down and hit the pavement, but the GC leaders managed to finish the race mostly intact and ready to battle it out on the final and most challenging stage, “the Gila Monster”. With 5,610 feet (1710 meters) of climbing over 65 miles (105 kilometers), even their two-minute lead would have to be fiercely defended by their teams.
Stage 5 - The Finale
The fifth and final stage, saw another long solo break. This time it was Helena Gilbert-Snyder (Live Play Real Estate) who went free on the winding valley roads and managed to stretch her lead out of three minutes. But as she was 35 minutes down on the overall classification she was no threat to the GC contenders.
With just 14 seconds separating the two GC leaders, bonus time sprints were hotly contested. While Gilbert-Snyder soloed to full points, De Crescenzo and runner-up Doebel-Hickok fought for every second.
Headed up the second QOM ascent some 53 miles (86 kilometers) into the race, Doebel-Hickok took control of the pace and managed to bring Gilbert-Snyder's gap down to 1:30 while splintering the already reduced field. Just four riders emerged atop the climb together, and De Crescenzo was notably missing, struggling behind by some eight second down from Doebel-Hickok.
But by the time Gilbert-Snyder was caught on the final mountain ascent to the finish, De Crescenzo had fought her way back onto and past Doebel-Hickok’s wheel. Crossing the line in third, the 31-year-old was 29 seconds down from stage winner, Emily Marcolini (3T/Q+M Cycling), but also 41 seconds ahead of her nearest rival, which meant she definitively secured the overall win.
“We raced to try and win the overall, but we weren’t successful in that, but taking away the QOM jersey and second [on] GC and the way the team rode, we can be really happy and proud,” Doebel-Hickok said.
With this win, De Crescenzo shows that she’s in great form to defend her titles at the Unbound and SBT GRVL events later this year.
Final GC Results:
1) Lauren De Crescenzo – Cinch RISE: 11:26:01
2) Krista Doebel-Hickok – EF Education-TIBCO-SVB: 11:27:01
3) Austin Killips – Amy D Foundation: 11:28:28
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