End of Tour of the Gila

After a pretty rough first two stages I was looking forward to getting some rest in the TT and the Crit. I had my Franken bike TT set up going, but it turned out not to be the most helpful. The strong cross winds that plagued the Gila last year were starting to act up again on the day of the TT. The morning started out decently calm, but the winds rose steadily throughout the day. I haven’t put too much time on the TT bike so was pretty unsure on the bike handling in the cross winds. I was also pretty fried from the two days before so took the TT pretty easily in mostly the tempo zone, so finished pretty far down. The course started out with a 3 mile climb up to Little Burro Pass then descended a mile followed by a few rolling hills to the turnaround. On the way back to the finish the descent had a pretty stiff tailwind and for the second time in my racing career I spun out the 53×11, not that I was too upset about coasting for a good mile.

The Cat 2’s and Elite Women had it a little rougher. The winds were pretty brutal leading to a good deal of riders getting physically blown off the course in the cross winds and making a trip to the hospital

I was looking foreword to the crit after getting schooled for the past three days. The crit is in downtown Silver City which looks like a city frozen in time, most of the buildings reminiscent of a 50’s western town. The 4 corner 1 mile course had some pretty steep kickers of climbs on the back side. My past experiences with NRC crits had been pretty rough. At Nature Valley last year I never could even see the front of the pack up the road, and the Presbyterian Hospital Charlotte crit ended in one of the more terrifying crashes I’ve been involved in. So I was pretty happy with my ability to actually move up to the front of the pack and even throw in a few attacks to stick it to the pros. Unfortunately with a 150 guys in the field there are plenty guys to cover weak attacks from the amateurs like me. My sole moment of glory came where I attacked with 10 laps to go, I bridged up to the break on the climb (the whole 5 second gap) and brought the entire with me. After that the altitude got to me and I was fried.

You might have heard of the whole lap counting fiasco, I wasn’t too affected since I was sitting in the back by that point but it was still slightly confusing. Someone had flipped the lap counter a little too far and showed 1 to go when there was really two to go. A lot of guys got a little confused by this, but there wasn’t a bell, the announcers didn’t say anything about it being the final lap, and at the top of the hill on the backside nearly every person was holding a single finger up for one to go. It was pretty hard to miss.

After the crit it was down to the Queen stage: The Gila Monster. It totaled 106 miles and 9600’ of climbing. With 5 KOM points and pretty much constant climbing and descending at altitudes reaching 7800’, it was damn hard. Not to mention the race started out REALLY fast. In the first hour the race averaged nearly 29 mph with 1500’ of climbing.

It was pretty rolling in the first hour, and I learned the beauty of sag climbing. It’s surprisingly easy to pick your way back through a pack of 150 guys on a descent while recovering for the next mile stretch of uphill. This got me through the first set of climbing, unfortunately when we got to the flat-ish valley section of the race, the field split up from some stiff cross winds. I ended up on the wrong side of the split again with a groupetto that chased for a good 15 minutes, the ref’s weren’t letting the caravan ride next to us (so we couldn’t draft the cars), so we were just dying in no-mans land with the tail of the field in sight. I jumped on the tail of a Hotel San Jose rider that was going back up from getting a feed and got back into the field just before we went over the continental divide for the first time. It was a pretty easy gradual descent for 12 miles before the first Cliff Dwellings climb. Everyone was cramming the food and liquids before the next round of climbing hit us.

A right hander put us right onto the climb up to the Cliff Dwellings. This 6 mile climb stair stepped up pitches as high as 10%. I made it about a mile into the climb before I was out the back of the group and my race was over at mile 54. From there I made it over the cliff dwellings climb with a small group of 10 guys. It was a little easier in the group off the back, but not a whole lot. A few overly enthusiastic guys were setting a pretty stiff tempo going back to the finish. I made it over the big cliff dwelling climb but was really staring to hurt on the finishing climb up to Palos Altos thanks to the single speed diesel rider setting the tempo at the front. I tailed off the back of the group and rode the last 15 miles with another Garmin development rider.

These were some pretty slow and miserable miles, but after 4:50 I finally finished the Gila Monster.

Gila was a great race, the courses were amazing, it had about as much climbing as any amateur can hope to do, and really just professionally promoted event. That being said it was a totally different monster than anything back east. I’ve done Joe Martin, Fitchburg, Nature Valley and no other race had the sheer difficulty and attrition that Gila had (89 finishers out of 150 starters). The climbs are long and there isn’t much recovery, plus the altitude really knocks your fitness down a whole level if you’re not properly prepared for it.

In the end I finished 27 minutes off the lead of Mancebo.

Big thanks again to the guys at Landis. They really gave us the professional treatment at the races so we could focus 100% on the races at hand
After Gila finished up we took off with all our belongings for SpeedWeek in South Carolina. At about 900 miles into the drive we just got across Texas.

The air feels thick compared to Silver City (probably it’s all mental) and the legs are tired. It’ll be a few easy days before I race again in Walterboro, SC. I made it through The Tour of the Gila, hopefully my fitness did as well.

Tour the Gila pt 1

So I’ve been slacking a little bit on the race reports. Two weeks ago I did the Old Pueblo Grand Prix. A cool little crit in downtown Tucson, one of the best promoted races I’ve done so far in Arizona. Not to mention there was $12,000 of prize money, unfortunately I had some repertory infection acting up and was feeling pretty shitty. I managed to hang on for 12th in a pretty uneventful race, so I’ll just leave you with some videos of the gnarly crashing going on in the races.

Last weekend was the Focus Crit in Phoenix. It was a pretty typical AZ crit, abandoned office park with pristine concrete.

It was super windy so the small race totally exploded. The highlight of my race was when I was caught between the breakaway and what was left of the field and the announcer said he’d give me $50 if I caught the breakaway in 5 laps…I did it in 2. I took the field sprint in the end for 2nd place.

On to the Gila!
The Landis-Trek team based out of Phoenix asked me to guest ride for them after one of their riders crashed pretty bad last week. I was originally just going to go out and ride solo for Panther but riding for the Landis guys has been a huge help in terms of support. Having people in the feed zone on a 94 mile day is priceless, not to mention a ride back from that same 94 mile point to point race is a big help as well.

We just finished up our second day of the Tour of the Gila. Yesterday was the 94 mile stage to Mogollian (ghost town). The race was pretty flat and tame for the first 88 miles. There was a few field splits going on caused by some pretty sudden gusts of cross winds, although nothing compared to what it sounded like last year. I got caught on the wrong side of the second field split the second time round and we formed an echelon to chase. I narrowly avoided a big crash in our echelon that was probably a result of people riding cross eyed. Our group caught back on pretty quickly and it was back in the pack till the finish. There were a few pretty nasty isolated crashes going into the finishing climb, but luckily nothing that happened in front of me.

With 6 miles to go we made a right turn and it was all uphill to the finish. There was a mile of short steep (10% climbing) followed by a pretty shallow plateau. I stayed in contact with the main group through the first steep section then got dropped as we crested onto the shallow plateau. There was a mile of false flat where we almost caught back on then it was straight up the last 3 miles to the finish. I just rode my own race from there on out to roll in a little over 4 minutes off the winner: Paco Mancebo from RealCyclist.

A quick word about altitude: it sucks. Its effects might be slightly exacerbated by being a little sick, but racing at 7000 ft is damn hard. You don’t notice it just walking around or sitting in a field that’s just cruising along, but as soon as I hit any climbs and go into the red zone there is no recovery for me. My heart rate is no where near what it normally is, I can put in about 5 minutes of hard effort then blow sky high.

And that’s exactly what happened in Stage 2. The second stage, called the “Inner Loop” made a 80 mile circuit around the Gila Forest. The tough thing about this stage is that at mile 6 there is a Sprint point, followed immediately by climbing/rolling terrain up to a KOM point, followed immediately by the most technical descent of the race. So the race starts out more like a Crit than anything else. My legs felt like crap as soon as I woke up so I knew it was going to be a fun day.

I made it through the first bit of the climb but couldn’t recover enough on the smallish descent before the final push to Palos Altos (KOM). I got gapped out with a bunch of other riders. Fortunately we were able to chase back on through the very technical descent off the Wolf Mesa. The descent itself wasn’t very technical, just a few tight steep switchbacks, but my group was doing most of it through the caravan of cars, which meant we had about the width of a bike path to work with on the descent.

We caught back on at the bottom of the descent, but someone forgot how to corner and opened up a large gap on like 20 guys that had to be closed again. Finally around mile 38 we caught back on. Fortunately, after a pretty gradual climb up to the continental divide it was all downhill to the finish. Unfortunately there was one last KOM climb before the finish at mile 62. If it was just one 2 mile stretch of climbing I’d be ok, but the climb went up 2 miles, then descended a mile, then went up another few miles to the KOM point, before rolling back into town.

I was hanging on to the coat tails of the group, but holding on none the less, until a Rio Grande guy sitting in front of me swung right abruptly and took out my front wheel. Luckily we were only doing about 10 mph and I managed to unclip and keep from crashing, but the group was long gone by that point. I rolled in the last 10 miles of the race solo in the caravan, which I still have not been able to figure out the protocol of how to ride in. Can I draft the cars when I get dropped, which side of the road am I supposed to ride on when I’m passing them, when their passing me, and most importantly can I draft the cars when I get dropped.

However hardest race of the day goes to Ben Damhoff, who double flatted before the first climb (@ mile 7) and had to chase the entire 80 mile race to catch back on. He got his TT practice in today so the 16 mile TT tomorrow should seem like a piece of cake.

All I can say is that I can’t wait for the crit, and to get down to sea level.

I don’t even want to talk about Sunday yet.