Cyclist Austin Killips is known more for the mud and guts of cyclocross. Last weekend, the 27-year-old campaigner from Chicago showed she can rule the road as well, by winning the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico.
Killips and her Amy D Foundation team mixed strength and strategy to yield a win in Sunday’s 65.9-mile final stage, which is known the Gila Monster Road Race.
Killips also rallied to earn the polka dot jersey as “Queen of the Mountains” (best climber). Mexico’s Marcela Prieto ended up 89 seconds behind for second place. Emily Ehrlich ended up 93 seconds back in third place.
The win is the first elite-level road victory for Killips to go with her first UCI Cyclocross victory last fall.
“This win was possible thanks to the community and connections I’ve been fortunate enough to build over the years through bikes,” she said in a statement via Instagram. “I worked my ass off training for this and it feels f——g good to reap the fruits of the hardest block of riding I’ve ever completed.”
Stages 1-4 Punch and Counterpunch
The win didn’t come easy in the five-day stage race. For the first four stages, Killips was locked a slugfest with Prieto and Ehrlich. The Mexican drew first blood by surging past Killips in the final kilometer of Stage 1, when it looked like the stage was lost.
Prieto retained the overall lead in Stage 2, but Killips remained eight seconds behind.
The American’s climbing earned enough points take over the lead for Queen of the Mountains standings.
Friday’s Stage 3 was a time trial, and Ehrlich stepped forward to take a strong win at 38 minutes, 15 seconds to vault from ninth overall to second. Killips was third on the stage at 39:24, but outpaced a struggling Prieto to take the overall lead by 22 seconds on Ehrlich.
Stage 4 was a criterium and Amy D team director Julie Kuliecza said the team would fired up to add to Killips’ lead.
“The whole team is so stoked, and we’re ready to defend the jersey tomorrow,” Kuliecza said. “We do love a crit.”
Saturday’s crit wouldn’t go Amy D’s way. The race through Silver City belonged to Ehrlich’s TWENTY24 team. When an early gambit to take the overall lead via bonus points missed the mark, the team regrouped and paced Ehrlich to the stage win and a fighting chance at the overall win.
“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.”
Stage 5: The Chess Move
The final stage is where Killips’ team gave her a boost. Teammate Cassie Nelson worked into the day’s second attack, along with seven other riders. The breakaway maintained the advantage all the way to 54-mile point.
The big guns, including Killips, Prieto and Ehrlich, had caught up to the lead bunch by then. Ehrlich would fall back.
Killips, Prieto and Nelson, serving as a bodyguard of sorts for Killips, surged ahead. That was exactly what the Amy D team braintrust was hoping for.
“We thought that there was going to be something that would go right after the second sprint point,” Kuliecza said after the race. “We wanted a rider in that break so that when Austin and the other GC riders came up to it, Austin would have someone to help them and protect them, and it worked out perfectly.”
In a reversal from the finish in Stage 1, Killips surged away from Prieto in the final 400 meters to seal the stage and overall wins. The grimace and grit of five days were replaced by her wide, warm victory smile.
Last weekend is another feather in a cap that has seen quite a few for Killips since last fall.
In December, she backed up a first career UCI win with a strong third place effort in the snow at USA Cycling Cyclocross Nationals.
She then held her own on through the rough-and-tumble of a European Cyclocross season, which included a podium in Belgium that she said was “unexpected”.
True to form, the anti-trans boo-birds were chirping. Killips is licensed by the UCI to race, which means she has met all of the current criteria to do so.
On Wednesday morning, Union Cycliste Internationale affirmed that fact in a statement defending their transgender participation policy.
“The UCI acknowledges that transgender athletes may wish to compete in accordance with their gender identity,” the statement reads. “The UCI rules are based on the latest scientific knowledge and have been applied in a consistent manner.”
Tour of the Gila organizers turned off comments on the women’s elite race on social media. Killips avoided media requests. Given the screaming, misgendering headline in the Daily Mail Monday, her skittishness about the press could be warranted.
The 2023 Tour of the Gila winner has kept herself above the fray in the days since the win.
“After a week of nonsense on the internet I’m especially thankful to everyone in the peloton and sport who continue to affirm that twitter is not real life,” Killips said on her Instagram Sunday. “I love my peers and competitors and am grateful for every opportunity I get to learn and grow as a person and athlete on course together.”