Will Routley escaped a horrendous crash, helped a teammate to victory and earned another stage podium and strong overall finish — all in a week's work at Tour of the Gila in New Mexico.
The Whistler pro cyclist was a key contributor in Carter Jones's general classification win for Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies at the five-stage race that ended Sunday, May 4. But Routley was also very fortunate to emerge from a nasty pile-up on Stage 1 that forced 14 riders to abandon, two of whom were airlifted to hospital.
"I've honestly never seen anything that big," said Routley, estimating that more than 100 riders were involved in the crash. "We were going probably 70 km/h downhill, and it just went down like dominoes. I was fortunate to react and steer my way into the ditch and not go down, but I certainly had to jump off my bike and cyclo-cross over carnage, basically."
Routley and Jones were able to catch up to the riders out ahead of the crash, which paid dividends later in the week when Jones rode to the GC win. Jones, who took the overall lead after three stages, fell back to second place after a Stage 4 criterium.
That set up Sunday's dramatic finish, a road race with more than 10,000 feet of climbing. Routley and Optum teammate Tom Zirbel went out on an early breakaway that established a big gap over the peloton. Routley remained up front when Jones joined him on the final climb, helping his teammate to the overall victory while placing third on the stage himself.
"We basically had a perfect day, we executed the plan perfectly, felt really strong," said Routley, who finished seventh in general classification.
"I think we're all pretty excited. Tour of California is one of the biggest goals and biggest races of the year for the team, so to build momentum and get a big result just before that, I think everyone's charged up."
The Amgen Tour of California gets underway on Sunday, May 11, and will feature nine UCI World Tour squads making the trip to North America to race. That includes 2012 Tour de France champ Bradley Wiggins and his Team Sky, and Mark Cavendish with Omega Pharma—Quick-Step.
"It looks like it may have one of the best fields of competition they've ever had for California this year," said Routley. "There are a lot of World Tour teams and some big guys, like Wiggins, who's a heavy favourite coming over. It's a big deal for the guys racing in North America."
But Optum has been strong in races early this season and will head into the eight-stage race confident after taking the GC win and six podiums during the Tour of the Gila.
"We'd like to get a stage win on one of the sprint days, get a top 10 overall GC, and we want to be opportunistic on some of the intermediate days," Routley said of Optum's plan for the week.
"The form is good, so now it's just a matter of having things come together."
CHADDOCK FINDS RIGHT ENVIRONMENT WITH GARNEAU-QUEBECOR
Ben Chaddock has returned home to Whistler for a three-week period of rest and training before resuming his race calendar. But the 29-year-old also seems to have found a good home with his new team, Garneau-Quebecor.
Chaddock joined the Quebec-based UCI Continental team for 2014 after spending one season with Team SmartStop p/b Mountain Khakis. Although he said personal results have been tough to come by in the early part of the schedule, he's very pleased with the new crew and encouraged by the team atmosphere.
"I really like the guys. It's a really good team, and it was pretty apparent just in the first week," said Chaddock. "It's exactly the type of environment I was hoping for. We all get along really well and it's been a lot of fun.
"I'm having the most fun as a cyclist that I've had since I was an amateur."
But Chaddock is also eager to have some time back in the resort as he recovers from a busy April and some ailments picked up along the way. Since Garneau-Quebecor has just seven riders travelling regularly, the squad's season has been organized into blocks of racing and rest throughout the season.
"It wasn't the best spring for me, personally. A couple things didn't go quite the way I wanted to — I had some hamstring issues, then there was a cold virus that went through the team mid-April," he said.
"Then just as I was getting over that, I crashed into a bunch of dogs on a training ride. I don't know if I broke my scapula (shoulder blade) again, but it hurts."
Chaddock's most notable individual finish thus far came when he placed eighth at the USA Crits Speed Week opener in Athens, Ga., on April 26. Although the results have been tough to come by in his first few weeks of the year, Chaddock isn't feeling at all discouraged.
"I'm in a good place right now, I just had some bad luck in April, so I feel good for the coming season," he said. "I'm optimistic and the team's working really well."
Garneau-Quebecor started the season off with a bang, winning criteriums at Delray Beach, Fla., in March and at the Redlands Bicycle Classic in California in early April — the team's first two races on the calendar. Races over the past few weeks haven't been as fruitful for the team, but Chaddock and the rest of the crew will look to start fresh in June with a block of top-level races in Quebec, including the Tour de Beauce and the new Grand Prix cycliste de Saguenay.
"In the next three weeks of training here at home, my goals are to put myself in the position to take advantage of good luck in Saguenay; in Beauce," he said.
"I'm maturing more and finding more satisfaction in the accomplishments of my teammates knowing I can contribute, and that goes hand-in-hand with having teammates you care about. That's not to say I didn't care about my (past) teammates, but having that extra strong friendship makes everything more fluid."