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.
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.