Phil Zajicek (Fly V Australia) captured the biggest victory in his cycling career, breaking away from seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong (Mellow Johnny’s) and his teammate Levi Leipheimer at top the infamous Gila Monster ascent to win the 175km fifth and final stage of the 2009 SRAM Tour of the Gila in New Mexico Sunday.
Leipheimer won the overall classification as he and his Astana team head into the Giro d’Italia May 9.
Zajicek received a congratulatory hand shake from Astana team director Johan Bruyneel after beating his riders in their specialty: climbing. Zajicek won the final stage with his proud parents and wife amongst the spectators – a podium photo that will no doubt hang on the wall for life.
“This is unbelievable,” said Zajicek, whose wife watched the stage from SRAM follow car and witnessed the race unravel. “This is the best day on the bike ever, the best. It was so fast from the start and then [Chris] Horner was absolutely lighting it up, just flying.
“I’ve been working so hard on my climbing and everything just came together,” he added. “I knew Levi wanted to give Lance the win and he went so fast into the last kilometre. I just had to follow and give it everything I had with 200 metres to go.”
Leipheimer’s commanding victory in the SRAM Tour of the Gila’s general classification is a good indication that he will arrive to the upcoming Giro d’Italia in top condition. Armstrong moved into a well-deserved second place after a weeks worth of endless domestique duties. Zajicek’s stage win, combined with a stellar fourth place in the stage three time trial, earned him the third spot on the overall podium.
“Its always nice to win no matter what race it is,” Leipheimer said. “There is no easy race. I won the overall, two stages and I set the course record and I think that is something to be proud of. I think of all the great time triallist who won it over the years. This is one of the more prestigious races in American history.”
Team Bissell won the best overall team general classification based on the times of the three highest placed riders from each stage.
“As long as we had good climbs on the first day and today we were good,” said Bissell rider Ben Jacques-Maynes. “Obviously the time trial shakes out real nicely for us. We have a good time trial team. It wasn’t a goal coming in, but it stuck out as a goal after the first couple of stages. We had five guys with really good rides today so we are happy.”
Roman van Uden (Landrover-Orbea) surprised everyone when he out-paced bigger named rivals to claim victory in SRAM Tour of the Gila’s 40-lap criterium bunch sprint on Saturday. The U23 rider had the fans screaming when he punched it out of the last corner and held off Sebastian Haedo (Colavita-Sutter Home) and Alex Howes (Garmin-Holowesko Partners-Felt) to win Stage 4.
For complete results with photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.