Decisions have been made, riders are in Silver City ready to start the tough SRAM Tour of the Gila tomorrow.
The UCI and USA Cycling played with the rules to let the Astana trio of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner be able to race, which at the same time hit the BMC Team hard, forcing them to also only field 3 riders. These riders are in theory not riding as a team and cannot wear their Pro Team kits.
Defending team Tecos-Trek will not be racing at this year’s event but last year’s runner up and 3-time former winner Burke Swindlehurst is returning with his BISSELL to get himself or his teammate Tom Zirbel on the top step of the podium. Zirbel crashed out while wearing the leader’s jersey in the final stage last year. As Zirbel said at the beginning of the year “I have a bone to pick with Gila” as he fractured his collarbone in the crash.
Hoping to capitalize on their overall wins at the Tour of Thailand and the Vuelta Ciclista del Uruguay, Kelly Benefit Strategies is counting on Neil Shirley and Andy Bajadali as their GC hopes. GC also contenders include the Ouch-Maxxis duo of 2007 and 2008 NRC points champion Rory Sutherland and Floyd Landis, Fly V Australia with Phil Zajicek and Ben Day, Team Type 1 with Darren Lill who just won La Vuelta de Bisbee and climbing ace Moises Aldape. And of course, Leipheimer who is honing his form for the upcoming Giro d’Italia.
Other teams and riders that will animate the race include Scott Nydam (BMC), Justin England (CalGiant), the boys on the Felt-Holowesko Partners-Garmin team, Aaron Tuckerman and his Land Rover-ORBEA team and the Canadian Planet Energy team.
Will the Astana trio combine forces with the BMC trio? Or will the Astana trio combine forces with the Trek-Livestrong development team? I guess we’ll know soon enough.
The ValueAct Capital team is ready to do battle and defend their title. “We’ve got such a strong group of girls this year,” commented last year’s winner Leah Goldstein. “And the competition will be tough; but we’re ready to race hard!”
Among the notables this year is Cervélo Test Team’s Kristin Armstrong who is racing without a team but that hasn’t stopped in the past at other races. Other teams and riders to watch include Team Type 1′s Alison Powers, Colavita-Sutter Home’s Tiffany Cromwell, Webcor Builders and Lip Smackers. And that brings us to uber-junior Coryn Rivera (Proman) who is also racing without a team but if history is repeated, will probably benefit from Armstrong’s advice just as she did in last year’s Nature Valley. Good on Ms Armstrong for helping out the next generation.
The five-day race includes three challenging road races, plus an individual time trial and a criterium in Silver City.
The race begins on Wednesday, April 29, with the 94.1 miles (73.1 miles for the women) Silver City-Mogollon road race with a final 5.5-mile category 1 climb on a very narrow alpine road with the rough road pitching up with grades of 19% at some points.
View Silver City-Mogollon Road Race in a larger map
On Thursday, stage 2 is the Inner Loop Road Race, an 80-mile loop with 5781 feet (77.9 mile and 5854 feet for the women) of climbing starting and ending at Fort Bayard. The course not only includes three cat3 climbs but the 3-mile Sapillo Descent, a very technical 1000+ feet drop which is one of the most dangerous areas in the Tour of the Gila.
View Fort Bayard Inner Loop in a larger map
Friday brings the Tyrone Individual Time Trial where riders face two climbs in an out and back 16.2 mile course and 1000 feet of climbing. The course consists of all ascent or descent with very little flat ground. (see map)
Saturday is the Silver City Downtown Criterium, a 1.04 mile, four-corner rectangle with about 80 feet of climbing per lap. The women will race 25 laps and the men 40 laps in total.
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.
View The Gila Monster Road Race in a larger map
Lastly, unfortunately I cannot be in Silver City to provide live updates, but many teams and riders will be tweeting – check out tweets and blogs.