First things first, New Mexico is windy. As a teaser, we faced a 30 mph cross wind in the TT with gusts up 50. I look at my week there as karma for ever complaining about wind anywhere else. Second, despite the wind, the Tour of the Gila is a great race. Great roads, nice people and really well run.
Possibly the nicest of the nice people were my host family, Dave and Pat Wasmund. They were accommodating, great conversators, knowledgeable about cycling, and made some fantastic food. That included burgers made from home ground meat and buns made from scratch. I may have gained weight during a five day stage race.
California transplant and former Mike’s Bikes sponsored athlete Justin Laue was also a great host and really made the race possible and enjoyable for me.
A break got up the road super early – one of the first things to go when you’re racing solo in a stage race is caring much about early breaks. Guys went off within the first eight miles or so- I figured if they stayed away, they would have earned it. Plus the five Garmin development team guys looked pretty pro, so I figured they’d handle things.
Turned out the break stayed away, at least mostly. We rolled pretty slowly through the long flat windy section and the break built close to a four minute lead at points. A few chase groups got away late, I would have tried to go off with them, but I was taking care of some personal business at the back of the pack.
The breaks and chases had several minutes when we hit the base of the final climb. My only frame of reference for this climb was that I had been told that Levi put 1:30 on the pro field on it last year. So that basically told me nothing.
We hit the first section of the climb pretty hard. I was happy as it looked liked we’d take at least a big chunk of out of the break’s lead by the top. Then the road turned to a false flat down and things all but degraded to a track stand competition. Furious, I turned it on as soon as the road again tilted up. The move shed most of the field and it was down to me and a few guys. Gradually we shed all but one and we started to see riders who had fallen off of the breaks. Then as we passed the two miles to go sign, I blew up. My attack that thinned out the field might have been an ok idea at sea level, but it was a probably a bit much at 6,000 feet. I fell off the one remaining guy from the pack, but did manage to continue gradually reeling guys in from the breaks. Then I got passed back by one more guy from the pack and finished seventh.
Nothing particularly of note here other than a guy who took off on a solo break with about 25 miles to go staying off by about half a bike lengths for the win. As a non-sprinter, it’s always cool to see stuff like that.
I finished 12th in a field filled largely with other non-sprinters. I remained in 7th in the GC.
Stage Three: The TT
I pulled my race wheels out of the car – within 30 seconds, they blew over. I put the wheels in my bike, it blew over. Then my trainer tipped. To be fair, the trainer was kind of precariously placed.
Realizing the wind was seriously bad and that all of my non-deep front wheels were back in CA, I decided to sacrifice a little warm up time to try to find someone to lend me a safe front wheel option. I managed to bum a ZIPP 101 from another car in the parking lot and hit the road with a little more confidence, up from none, that I’d be able to keep the rubber side down.
After a fairly rough warm up of getting blown around and probably not eating or drinking nearly enough, I hit the start line for what ended up basically being 40+ min of bike sumo drill on a TT bike. Head-cross wind on the way out, cross-tail on the way back. Respect to the guys who still rode discs, deep front wheels and stayed in their aero bars the whole way back on the long, fairly fast descent back. I certainly wasn’t one of them. For those of you power wonks out there, if you could assign a TSS score for holding the bike upright, I’d say it would be higher than what I generating pedaling.
I ended up 17th, losing serious time to some guys ahead of me in the GC, but also putting a pretty big gap between me and some of the guys behind me. I fell from 7th to 8th in the GC.
All things considered, it was probably good the windiest day ended up being the TT, at least for safety’s sake. But it was still a bit frustrating as the TT was a stage in which I hoped to gain time, not lose it. To be fair, everyone in the Cat 2 field had to deal with bad wind as we started last on the day, about 6 hrs and a 30 mph increase in wind speed after the pros went in the morning. And much respect for the guys who rode their tt rigs fast in those conditions. That’s a real skill and those guys are legit time trialists. I just would have liked to see how I would have stacked up on the course without the huge crosswind gusts.
Stage Four – The Crit
Four corners, down town, a hill, one smooth fast turn.
I ended up spending the better part of the race tail gunning it. I was able to move up decently, but found the back to be surprisingly smoother. Nevertheless, I worried about the safety of hanging out in the back as things heated up in the last lap, so I moved up to the front. Then, ironically, as I sat in fifth wheel, one of the then four guys in front of me hit turn two a bit too hot and took me and a few other guys down with him. No one was badly hurt and we were awarded pack time, so things ended up ok.
Stage Five – The Gila Monster
To put in nor-cal terms, hella climbing.
The group raced fairly hard on some rollers out of town and the intensity continued up through the first mountain pass. Then the memo went out that this was a no-drop race and the field slowed to a crawl through a flat headwind section, allowing just about anyone who had fallen off on a climb to catch back on. Downside – probably could have taken it easier up the climbs. Upside- lots of time to relax, eat, drink, etc on what was going to be a very long day.
On the subject of making a long hard day a bit easier, something in the Cannondale Super Six, Reynolds 46, and Specialized Prevail combo is making me pretty aero. Whenever there was a super straight fast descent section, I was able to tuck and move up alongside the field without effort. I was probably one of the five smallest guys there, so something is pretty aero.
Finally, after we hit feed zone number two and got chased out of a group piss break by the highway patrol, sirens blazing, the group again started to race. Lots of guys tried to get away, none succeeded. Though the field did get a bit guttered and strung out in the process.
Then we hit the final climb and people started to up the tempo. We shed most of the field after a mile or so, then about a mile later I decided to thin it out a little further. But what I intended as a hard pull at the front ended up creating about 10 seconds of daylight between me and the rest of the field. So I committed. I knew I had a ways to go, so I kept things pretty under control, but hard enough to at least make any guys who were going to catch me earn it.
So it was just me, the lead car and a whole lot of cow bell. Ok, it was just the one guy in the lead car with a cow bell, but it was still cool. Then the race motorcycle said told me that my chasers were about 20 seconds back and we were about to get caught by the pro field. Then I saw the 15 miles to go sign. Ooops, may have gone a little early.
I crested the climb and started the rolling down hill section before the course would again kick up to finish. A few miles later, I was caught by three chasers. I hung on, recovered a bit, then started working in their rotation.
Things continued like that for several miles until we hit the 1k to go sign. I attacked, created a gap and threw everything I had into holding on. Then I saw the finish banner, entered the crowd gates, heard more cow bell (this time actually from a decent number of people) and zipped up.
Definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced on a bike. Francisco Mancebo won the pro race a few minutes later.
Check out a great account of the race on one of the top GC guy’s blog: http://theroadtocat1.com/
I’m probably done flying with bikes for a little while, but definitely eager for some more stage racing in the near future.