Tour of the Gila is a professional stage race in New Mexico that is the highlight of many pro calendars. The best teams from around the country send their riders for glory up high mountain passes. This stage race debuts the best roads around Silver City with Iconic climbs like the road to Pinos Altos and to the Ghost town of Mogollon. What separates this race from many other pro stage races here in America (like Tour of California, Tour of Utah, and Redlands) is that it is open to amateurs. That’s where Elaine comes in. She competed in the Women’s 3/4/5 field.
Stage 1: Inner loop road race. 61 miles. 4,400 ft of climbing
Stage 1 started at Pinos Altos (elv 7,000ft!). The skies were clear but the temps in the mid 30’s. Elaine dressed lighter knowing that it would warm up fast. She stocked up on gels and Infinite drink mix to endure what would be her longest road race ever. She also got a look at the competition. It can be hard to judge your competition by what they look like. However, one thing was clear, she was outnumbered. El Groupo youth cycling sent 3 riders and ALP cycles (as in Alison Powers) sent a whopping 7 riders! The hills can make numbers count for nothing, but this was not reassuring.
Elaine finally relaxed after months of anticipation as the field rolled down the mountain and into battle. Unfortunately for some, the race got off to a bumpy start. There was a crash on the tricky descent 15 miles in and the field neutralized (the right thing to do). All riders were ok but a couple riders opted to slow roll the rest of the stage knowing that there was plenty of action to come in the days to follow. The remainder of the field stayed slow on the ensuing miles of rollers. No one was willing to burn themselves up with a significant climb near the end of the stage.
With 25mi to go, the Cat 3 climb finally broke up the field and 4 riders pulled away (Cory, Tamatha, Brook, and Elaine). The group stayed together and descended towards the finish for a bunch sprint. With 200m to go Cory kicked and the group followed. She was able to make it count and took the red jersey. Elaine claimed 2nd and kept her hopes alive of a strong finish in the overall.
Stage 2. Time Trial. 16 miles
Elaine went into the time trial with confidence. She knew she could lean on her strong triathlon background to bring her to the finish line. But this race presented a new challenge, CROSSWINDS! New Mexico crosswinds are not like Michigan crosswinds. The land of Enchantment brought 20mph sustained winds and 30+mph gusts! Luckily everyone stayed on their bikes, but there were quite a few pucker moments.
Unfortunately Elaine lost time on her competitors on the downhills. A compact chainset was not enough to keep her from spinning out and loosing time on the 3-4% descents. She slid to 4th, over 4 minutes behind Tamatha who stormed the TT.
Stage 3. THE CRIT
Elaine wanted to race aggressively given how prominent criteriums are back in the mitten but the voice of reason prevailed. There was little to gain and so much to lose. ALP constantly sent riders up the road as any strong squad should. Elaine stayed tucked near the front and followed the red jersey as it was primarily her responsibility to chase. With a lap to go, Cory accelerated off the front to take her 2nd win of the race! She took 10 bonus seconds at the line but the overall did not change. Elaine sat in for 6th.
Stage 4. The inner loop road race (counterclockwise this time). 68miles 5,800 ft climbing
While the roads are beautiful in New Mexico, they are not plentiful. There are only really 4 roads out of Silver City, and it just so happens that 2 of them reconnect. Hence, you get stage 1 backwards. This results in a massive climb at the end of 70miles that never disappoints.
When the group hit the rollers a large break of 6 formed which contained 3 ALP riders. The leaders all sat back and conserved their legs. This also meant that Cory (team ALP) got a free ride to the base of the climb. With 15 miles to go the leaders hit the hill and immediately lit it up. Elaine knew that she needed to start early if she wanted a chance to move up in GC. The Red Jersey couldn’t follow and would ultimately loose a spot on the podium.
The 3 remaining GC riders chipped away at the break which had a 6min lead at the base of the undulating climb. With 500m to go, Elaine made one last ditch effort to grab the stage win catch the last escapee but it was not to be. A junior rider from El Groupo stayed the course and took a monumental victory. Cory passed Elaine at the line, which left Elaine with her second stage podium!
Elaine learned a lot this week and held her own against a talented field of racers. Now its back to the flatlands for criterium season in Michigan.