The first stage of Gila took us from Silver City to a ghost town of Mogollon. We had a ripping tailwind and covered the entire stage with an average of nearly 47km/h. I remember looking at my computer after a bit and seeing something like 26km down after 32 minutes. I definitely had a "what?" moment but knew we had been cruising, just didn't realize how fast! Despite the stage being fairly straightforward, it was kind of eventful. I destroyed a rear wheel on what I believe was a rock, but I'm only going off what Marco told me. I was following wheels, never saw anything, only felt it, but I knew immediately that my wheel was done! I got a wheel change and started to chase back on, meanwhile watching guys getting dropped and the peloton moving away. I stayed calm and kept chasing through the caravan, just hoping they wouldn't make a barrage. Thankfully things let up a bit and I rolled back into the field. We continued to ride along, our team leading the charge with Daniel Eaton pulling like a maniac, given some help from Jamis.
As we rolled into the final 20km of the stage, things heated up a bit, as well as some scary events. One was in the last feedzone when a commissaire moto nearly took out the field after almost clipping a logging truck who had properly stopped on the road. Luckily it didn't go bad. Unfortunately the same can't be said for a dog that ran into the field and took several riders out. It was some kind of shepard dog and I'm pretty sure it went into herding mode. I'm not sure how many went down or how badly anyone was hurt, but it was an avoidable accident had the owner only had the dog on a leash. But that is the risk we take riding through uncontrolled/open areas.
Having those moments behind us, it was time to focus on the looming finish climb ahead. The team did a great job working all day and into the climb to give us the best chance of success. The climb comes in three separate parts. The first/bottom portion that finishes with a fairly steep slope for about 1km, which then opens into a false-flat crosswind section, followed by the final ~4.5km to the finish. I was well positioned on the lower slopes of the climb and being attentive to the race at hand. Just as we crested the first pitch into the crosswind section, Jelly Belly attacked the race. I was right behind them but got forced into the gravel by a rider as I went to follow. I recovered and tried to close the gap, but they had opened it quickly. I was within a few bike lengths of closing it, but the last little bit was too much. Three of us chased across the flat section, but we lost nearly 30 seconds before the final kilometers of the climb.
Once the final section of the climb started it was more or less mano-y-mano. We never caught the two in front and a few came from behind. Daniel was in there and looking strong. His group originally passed us, but I was able to come back to them and recover a little. I attacked with about 2.5km to go, but wasn't able to get a real gap. Daniel immediately countered and was able to get a gap, which he ultimately kept to the finish. The rest of our group basically rode individual time trials at that point. Daniel finished third, I finished 5th, and Jani finished up 8th. I was originally pretty happy with my result and thought the team was overall well placed to take the overall, but upon seeing the results, the time gaps are much greater than we would like. That is going to make our overall goal of winning the GC very difficult. It doesn't mean we won't try though. One day/stage at a time; anything can happen. Check back to see what happens.