bbh 1287 copy Photo by VeloImages/Brian Hodes for Tour of the Gila.

By Rebecca Reza, RadioTour

Silver City, NM — Cade Bickmore celebrated his team’s third stage victory in as many days at the Downtown Criterium presented by the Town of Silver City Saturday. Project Echelon continued the winning momentum the team displayed a couple weeks ago in California. At stage 3 of the Tour of the Gila 2024, Luca Haines was second for Team California, with Brody McDonald in third for Aevolo Cycling.

Cade Bickmore took 2023’s green jersey on this same stage, and he addressed how pleased he was to have earned both for a second time on Saturday. “Yeah, it was great,” said Bickmore. “I think it’s sometimes harder to win a race the second time because everybody’s expecting it. But the team was great today, and the legs were good, so it was great to be able to repeat here.”

Following a full morning of amateur and kids races, the pro women took to the stage, followed by the pro men, who were the final stage of the day. The men raced for 40 laps on a 1.08-mile, four-corner course. The backside had an 80-foot climb before riders descended, rounding the third corner down Broadway, increasing their speed into the final corner onto Bullard St, down the straightaway to the finish.

A breakaway of six riders escaped shortly after the first intermediate sprint. The group consisted of Kaler Marshall (Expeditors), Allan Schroeder (CS Velo), Conn McDunphy (Team Skyline), Patrick Fletcher (Above & Beyond Cancer), Cormac McGeough (Canel’s-Java), and Gabriel Shipley (Aevolo Cycling). The group worked together, gaining up to a 35-second gap.

With five laps to go, the gap began to decrease. Conn McDunphy took over the work at the front of the group, lifting the pace that continued to split the group in two. Marshall, McDunphy, and Patrick each took pulls, rotating the work to hold the gap with three laps to go. Tyler Stites made his way to the front, sliding in behind his teammates that had been working to control the front of the field.

In the final two laps, the gap decreased to 11-seconds. Kellen Caldwell jumped in to help Project Echelon reduce the gap for Team California. The field caught them on the final lap as they made the turn on Broadway, fighting for position before making the sweeping turn onto Bullard and the final sprint to victory.

Several bonus seconds were available on each of the three intermediate sprints, with finish line bonus seconds available to the top three across the line. There was no change in the gap separating the overall GC leader, Tyler Stites, who currently holds a 30-second advantage ahead of second place Walter Vargas (Team Medellín).

Cade and team are up against what promises to be a tight finish tomorrow. “It’s gonna be really difficult. Walter’s right there at 30 seconds, and then I think four other of his teammates are at around 3 and a half minutes, which sounds like a lot; but on tomorrow’s stage, anything can happen. And that’s a lot of dangerous riders that we have to consider. So, it’s gonna be a tough one.”

The current King of the Mountain classification leader, Wilmar Paredes, said Team Medellín hopes to confront the Queen Stage on Sunday with a lot of force to make the race hard. “The idea is to attack, hoping to win the stage with one of my teammates.”

Team Medellín won the stage last season with Óscar Sevilla and in 2019 with Cristhian Montoya before the race was canceled during the pandemic. Canel’s-Java was the victor in 2022 with Eduardo Corte, the team now hoping to fight for the win with Heiner Parra, who finished second that year. Parra is in the running to win the King of the Mountain classification for the third year in a row, looking for four points to steal the classification from his compatriot, Paredes.

The Gila Monster will be an epic battle in many ways, but with the main showdown between Medellín and Project Echelon. Time will tell if Stites is able to hold his own and finish the job going up against the escarabajos of Colombia. The confidence the team has built these last few weeks of success will certainly help.

Bickmore was able to briefly discuss how he and the team felt going into the end of the race. “It’s incredible,” Cade said. “It’s a lot of momentum to have all those wins behind us, so tomorrow we just have to finish the job.” This year, the Tour of the Gila is especially important for the team. “It’s huge,” Bickmore said. “It’s the only UCI race left in the US for this year, unfortunately. But, that just makes it a bigger target for us. We really want to win at home. We haven’t ever won an overall at a UCI race, so bringing that home would be fantastic.”

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