Friday, May 13, 2011

Tour of the Gila Part I

A few weeks ago, the team packed up for a 2.5 week trip and hit the road.  On the schedule were my first two NRC stage races: The Tour of the Gila and the Joe Martin Stage Race.  I'd been told I could do very well at Joe Martin, but was more excited for the Gila as I love to climb and really suffer....

This trip marked the first real test of my design for the trailer setup, and it worked!

We knocked out the drive in a single day and were warmly greeted at our host houses in Silver City a few days before racing was to begin.  We spent those days riding some of the roads we would race on, including the time trial course, a stretch of road known for its blustery winds and high speeds.  Recon completed, it was time to race.  Our team was joined by Stefan Rothe, a friend from Texas who simply wanted to race hard and be a worker for the team.

Stage 1: 94mi race to Mogollon
Course profile

The race began with nearly 180 racers in the Pro/1 field, and the attacks kicked off immediately.  With the first hour of the race being downhill into a headwind, nothing went anywhere.  No team wanted to take control, so no break ever got more than a few seconds on the field.  The workers on Rio were active following moves, while Trevor, Ian, and I floated in the field saving our energy for the decisive climb at the end of the race: a 7-mile ascent of 1800 vertical feet to Mogollon.

When the field reached the circuits halfway through the race, the pace picked up as breaks began to stay away for longer durations.  The punchy rollers on the loop served as launching points for attacks, and it seemed that perhaps something would finally stick.  Concerned about this possibility and seeing that we were not represented, I began following moves.  Shortly after leaving the circuits, I ended up in a move that was nearly perfect.  Our 9-rider break had a player from every notable team except for Jamis-Sutter Home, and had a 1:30 lead in only a few minutes while Jamis made their way to the front to pull us back.  Our effort lasted nearly 30 minutes before we were caught; I had done my best to conserve energy but nonetheless was not as fresh as I should have been....

We finally made the right turn towards Mogollon and began climbing.  John and Stefan burned their last matches ensuring that Rio's GC riders were at the front, then left it up to us.  We made it over the first pitch halfway up in the lead group across the mesa, then began the final push to the summit.  Ian and I quickly let go of the lead group to maintain our own pace up the painful climb, while Trevor lasted a bit longer.  I was lacking a bit in legs due to my earlier efforts, and ventured deep into the pain cave as we wound up the mountain, hitting pitches as steep as 19%. Finally, at an elevation of 6794', we crossed the line.  Trevor finished 28th 2:19 back, I was 30th at 2:29, and Ian was 34th at 2:34.  We quickly began the recovery process and made the 2 hour drive back to town to rest up for day 2.

Stage 2: 80mi Inner Loop Course
Course profile

This stage featured two category-3 climbs right out of the chute, with a 3rd towards the end of the day after some tiring rollers.  Traditionally a sprint finish for the day, I would be focused on sitting in the field and making the splits.

A general rule-of-thumb is that if the wheel in front of you goes, you go with it.  It was by following this rule only 0.2km into the race that Ian ended up in the all-day break.  With the break established so early, the pack  hit the climbs at a good tempo without causing too much pain.  Since Ian was only 2.5 minutes down in GC, RealCyclist team never gave the break a long leash so as to protect Mancebo's race lead.  For a few minutes, he was the virtual race leader, though!

They set a fast but safe pace down the tricky descent of the Sapillo, and the field swelled as we rode through the valley when riders began catching back on.  The day dragged on uneventfully, and Ian finally came back to the field exhausted after 70 miles off the front.  From then, our main concern was to get to the finish safely without any time splits in the narrow sprint finish.  Sure enough, some riders allowed gaps to open in the sprint and we lost 16 seconds as a result.  Frustrating, but with the time trial the next day it may prove inconsequential....

Check back tomorrow for Part II: Suffering on a new level.