Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tour of the Gila update

Day 1-Pinos Altos to Fort Bayard (65 miles)
It’s hard to believe that in a four day race lasting 170 miles, overall gc possibilities are determined in the first twenty miles of day one, but such is heart of the beast of the Gila.  A three mile descent, followed by a five mile climb, culminates in the Sapillo Crossing descent down the Gila Monster into the Mimbres River Valley with off camber hairpins, blind corners, no guardrails, the constant smell of burning brakes, and the inevitable crashes makes these early miles some of the most demanding of the race.  As my official stated, “Gentlemen, you can buy a lot of fancy cycling gear for what it will cost to air lift you out of here.  Think safety.”  
Well, we did and made it through the descent in the bunch.  I collected a time bonus at the intermediate sprint (to have it given to someone else) and finished with the bunch.  Chuck hung tight but had his field splinter in the accordion style of road racing.  

Day 2-Individual Time Trial (16 miles)
Often called “the race of truth”, the TT could be called “race of aero equipment” at the Gila.  Chuck and I were certainly the exception by racing road racing bikes (albeit with aero bars), regular helmets, and non-deep dish wheels.  We raced hard and chopped off at least three minutes off our last Gila tt times and…finished middle of the pack.  It think Chuck was the only rider in the race who chose race day to ride aero bars for the first time.

Day 3-Downtown Crit (16 miles)
Between the back straightaway climb, the rough pavement on Broadway and the 18 inch curbs on corner 4, this criterium race is a nasty girl.  Chuck has done the Gila many times before, but never finished with the field on crit day.  That streak ended at the 2012 Gila.  He took his hairy legs, fired it up, and said, “Adios, cowboy” to the past by sticking out a blistering pace and staying with the contenders.  
I tried to get away at one point, but there was none of that in my field.  On lap five, a rider got loose in turn 4, hit the tires and took a few riders with him.  The field responded with a wicked acceleration throughout the next lap.  Unfortunately, an official parked his motorcycle in the apex of turn 4 to block a fallen rider still shaky from his earlier crash that no one decided to alert the field about and a rider hit the motorcycle at full speed broadside.  It was nasty.  The field self-neutralized the next lap (with numerous one finger salutes for the officials) and began racing with two to go after the entire course was deemed safe.   It ended together.

Day 4 Silver City to Pinos Altos (72 miles)
Rolling terrain from Silver City to the Mimbres Valley, over the Continental Divide and down to the Gila Monster, this stage is the ultimate test of endurance and climbing ability.  Bodies and minds are alternatively frazzled, tired, and excited for the last twenty miles of drawn out climbing and lightning fast descending that the last twenty miles provides.  Of course, there were inevitable feed zone attacks to endure (Bob!) and the first fifty miles of crazy pack riding.  This year also provided two separate “neutralizations” on the road for the Cat 4 and Master B groups to allow the UCI men to overtake the fields.  It was the result of some poor staging decisions made by the Gila officials, but such is life.  Both Chuck and I brought the Rez Dog hurt to the field and moved up some spots in the GC.  

Lessons from the Gila
  1. The Gila is a hard, hard race.
  2. Aero is in, and it makes sense.  Most folks in all fields had deep dish carbon wheels due to their speed saving properties at speed but the possibilities extended to aero handlebars, frames, jerseys, etc.  While it got a little compulsive (where do you stop), over the course of multi-stage race with hours in the saddle, every little bit helps.  More to think about later.
  3. Rez Dogs are rare, but welcome.  Strangers saw our jerseys and struck up some of the most interesting conversations of the weekend ranging for BIE teaching experience to Red tail hawk eggs.  But the most common question was, “Where can I get a Rez Dog jersey?”
  4. Masters division is more fun to race with, but man, they drill it.   A few years ago, Peter had shared that racing the Masters is racing a more “civilized” division.  He’s right.  Instead of being sworn at (like Chuck), I had guys apologizing to me for cutting me off in a corner (which I don’t remember).  The Masters guys are nice, polite and concerned with safety.  And going wicked fast.

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