SILVER CITY, New Mexico (April 29, 2023) — Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24 picked up a hat trick Saturday at Tour of the Gila Stage 4 Silver City Downtown Criterium with Emily Ehrlich outpowering her competitors for the win and closing the gap to the overall race lead.
With only 10 seconds now separating Erhlich and race leader Austin Killips (Amy D Foundation), TWENTY24 is gaining steam heading into the queen stage after wins on stages 2, 3 and 4.
“Our goal today was obviously to try to make up some time by getting away in a breakaway,” Ehrlich said. “But when that didn’t happen with about five to go we just switched to conserving for the sprint and tried to win.”
The green sprint leader’s jersey changed hands after the crit from Shayna Powless (DNA Pro Cycling) to Rylee McMullen (InstaFund Racing) after McMullen secured bonus sprint points and finished third.
“We pretty much played a really patient game and let the other teams do the work,” McMullen said. “The girls were awesome at bringing me up when the sprints were coming, and I just cut that last corner really hot and held on to the line for the first two sprints and then only managed third in the final but we’re really happy with today.”
Teams lined up on Bullard Street surrounded by onlookers and fans ready for fireworks, and with primes, points and time bonuses up for grabs, that’s exactly what they got.
Marlies Mejias (Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24) attacked early, wanting to entice others to chase and put Ehrlich in a good position for the win. But it was McMullen who had other plans; she snagged first place points on the first and second bonus sprints.
With 17 laps to go, Ehrlich and Olga Zabelinskaya (Tashkent City) duked it out for a cash prime and formed an initial break that included Killips, Maeghan Easler (Roxo Racing), Lorena Villamizar Varon and Valeria Leon Ordaz from PatoBike.
The race eventually came back together before Ehrlich and Zabelinskaya again broke away, bringing Killips, Mejias, and Sarah Van Dam (DNA Pro Cycling) with them until five to go.
Zabelinskaya picked up an estimated $300 in primes and five sprint points for her efforts on the day. Ehrlich secured a three-second time bonus on the third sprint, with Killips gaining a one-second time bonus.
PatoBike, hoping to do damage control, worked as a machine on the front of the field to close the gap. Once they brought the field back together Mejias and teammate Sofia Arreola Navarro controlled the lead out to drop Ehrlich off for the win.
Holly Breck (DNA Pro Cycling) slotted in on their train and held on for second, with McMullen in third, putting her six points ahead of Powless for the green sprint leader’s jersey. Two bonus sprints are in contention on Sunday.
That stage, the Gila Monster, is a 65.9-mile road race with 5,487 feet of elevation gain and kicks off at 10:05 a.m. Killips will have to defend her red leader’s jersey with Ehrlich, Nadia Gontova (Roxo Racing) and Marcela Prieto Castañeda (PatoBike) in pursuit.
Killips’ team director Julie Kuliecza said she tips her hat to Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24’s performance at the crit.
“It was a super hard race,” Kuliecza said. “Wow, so impressed with TWENTY24. They did exactly what they needed to do. They did a really solid job for Emily. She attacked a bunch. She was able to get 10 more seconds on us, so the GC is a little bit closer, so we’re going to be really attentive tomorrow just to make sure that there isn’t any more time acquired at any of the sprint points, and we just have to be super attentive, because ultimately our end goal is to have Austin in the jersey.”