One of the tougher stage races in North America, the Ben D. Altamirano Memorial Tour of the Gila kicks off tomorrow, with five days of racing, leg busting climbing, arrowing descents and often brutal winds around Silver City, in New Mexico.
For its 22nd edition, no major changes to the race except that the order of the stages where shuffled putting the ITT stage into slot three instead the first stage.
The stages. The race begins with the 94.1 miles (73.1 miles for the women) Silver City-Mogollon road race with a final 3 mile 1500 feet ascent with the rough road pitching up with grades of 19% at some points.
On Thursday, stage 2 is an 80-mile loop with 5781 feet (77.9 mile and 5854 feet) of climbing starting and ending at Fort Bayard. The course not only includes three cat3 climbs but 3-mile Sapillo Descent, a very technical 1000+ feet drop which is one of the most dangerous areas in the Tour of he Gila.
Friday is the Tyrone ITT where riders face two climbs in an out and back 16.2 mile course and 1000 feet of climbing.
Saturday’s stage is finally a stage for the sprinters if they’ve survived all the climbing and time cuts, the Silver City Downtown Criterium, a 1.04 mile, four-corner rectangle with about 80 feet of climbing per lap.
The queen stage or in this case the monster stage is Sunday’s Gila Monster road race, a 105.7-mile point-to-point road race with 9131 feet of climbing and 8252 feet of descending (71.8 mile with 5610 feet of climbing and 4714 feet of descending for the women). The men will tackle five categorized climbs including the 7-mile long, 1600 foot Copperas Vista climb of the Gila Cliff Dwelling to turn around and come back down on a dangerous descent with steep grade and blind corners.
The teams. Neither defending champion will be present, with Nathan O’Neill serving a suspension due to doping infraction and Mara Abbott racing in Europe, but the man to watch is Toyota-United’ Chris Baldwin who finished second last year and won Gila in 2006. Backing Baldwin will be Chris Wherry; winner in 2002, Justin England and Ben Day, and maybe the secret weapon DS Scott Moninger who also won the race in 2004 and 2001. Other riders to watch include Redlands’s 3rd place finisher, winner of Gila in 2005, 1998 and 1996 Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell) who sat out Georgia to focus on Gila; Anthony Colby , 6th last year and Tyler Wren (Colavita-Sutter Home).
On the women’s side, while none of the previous winners from the past ten years are returning, six of last year’s top ten are returning. Women to watch include Amber Rais and Rachel Heal both of Tibco, the Cheerwine trio Anne Samplonius, Leigh Hobson, and Marisa Asplund-Owens and Leah Goldstein, winner of last year’s Mt Hood Classic, now riding with Value Act and Felicia Gomez (Aaron’s) .