Men Hope to Defend 2014 General Classification Win
April 29th | Silver City, NM
The men and women of Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefit Strategies tow the start line today at the notorious Tour of the Gila, a grueling 5-day race in the New Mexico desert.
The Tour of the Gila is a true climber’s test, standing apart from other domestic events on the U.S. calendar whose winners are often determined among flat land sprinters. With a stage name such as “The Gila Monster”, participants are well-warned of the challenges ahead. The difficult terrain and high altitude make Gila stand out as one of America’s true classic events, and a test of mental and physical fortitude for the team.
Difficult Days Ahead
From humble beginnings in 1987, the Tour of the Gila established 5 difficult stages, which have remained largely the same from the race’s inception. With upgraded UCI status in recent years for the men, and a first time UCI status for women this year, both fields will see stiff competition.
The first stage, the Silver City to Mogollon Road Race, offers a deceptive downward profile for most of the day, inspiring breakaways to form and get a large gap before the final 10km climb through the Mogollon Mountains. A break of tired riders typically need a gap in excess of 5 minutes to hold off the surging climbers on the taxing mountain road.
The stage 2 Inner Loop Road Race begins and ends at Fort Bayard, climbing over the Continental Divide early on, before dropping down toward the Gila Cliff Dwellings. The middle of the stage is largely flat. Riders are well-advised to make the front group on the first climb or risk chasing back over 30 miles to catch back onto the group for the return run to Bayard.
Stage 3’s Tyrone Time Trial features a long gradual climb on the way out, with a fast descent to the turn around. After climbing back up to the top of the course, riders can face any sort of wind direction to run toward the finish. If a tailwind is present, look for Tom Zirbel to reach speeds in excess of 55 mph here.
Saturday’s stage 4 Downtown Silver City Criterium is not without its own climbing – the stage racks up over 3000′ of elevation gain for the men, tiring out the field in advance of Sunday’s finale.
The most difficult and iconic stage lands on the final day, assaulting the tired peloton. The stage 5 Gila Monster Road Race features two Category climbs, two Category 2’s and a horrendous Category 1, mid race, which narrows the list of overall contenders to very few. Optum p/b KBS’ climbers must be among this group to take the stage, or overall, win.
Before tackling these five difficult courses, the team was invited by race organizers to visit local Santa Clara Elementary School for a fun meet and greet with 1st and 2nd graders. The athletes talked about their lives as pro athletes, signed autographs, and the kids were invited to lift the team’s featherweight Diamondback race bike.
Men Look to Defend 2014 Overall Title
The men’s team comes into the Tour of Gila with the added burden of defending their overall win in 2014 by Carter Jones. It was one of the key races that propelled the young climber to peak summer fitness for the “Majors” of U.S. Cycling – the Amgen Tour of California, the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah and the USA Pro Challenge. His impressive results there landed him in the Pro Tour for 2015. Performance Director Jonas Carney expects to be equally competitive this year, with a new array of climbing talent. The quest for another yellow (red, in Gila’s case) jersey is the final preparation race ahead of the Amgen ToC.
“This year we will enter the race with the same goal as last year…to contest the general classification”, explained Carney. “Last year all the pressure was on Carter and the team really stepped up to help him clinch the win. This year Phil Gaimon and Mike Woods will be our best bets for the GC and hopefully having two climbers will give us more options. We’ll have some sprinters in Gila and it would be great to win a stage with Pierrick Naud, Guillaume Boivin, or Eric Young. We’d also like to see Tom Zirbel make a run at the TT again, a stage he won in 2013 and was 2nd in last year. We’ve found that the Tour of the Gila is the best preparation for the ATOC as long as the riders are acclimated and somewhat rested at the start of the event. It worked well for us last year and we hope it will again this year.”
Women to Hunt for Stage Wins and More
The women take a slightly different approach to the hot, climbing heavy desert race. Performance Director Patrick McCarty is aiming for stage wins, and brings a balanced team focused on any opportunity that may arise.
“We are aiming for stage wins this year – we have a number of very strong riders who can win almost everyday, but our overall hopes might be tough. We will see how Brie and Jasmin are climbing on stage one’s mountain top finish, and evaluate our overall campaign afterwards. This is an extremely tough race, one of my favorites, and ultimately one that suits a strong team such as ours. With Gila stepping up as a UCI event this year, we will have better competition which will lend to a faster race that ultimately favors our team. We are bringing mostly sprinters and TT riders. That being said, we might have a hand at the overall depending on how aggressive the race is, and if we can employ some potentially sneaky tactics.”
Women’s Tour of the Gila Roster:
Men’s Tour of the Gila Roster: