The NRC goes up and up starting tomorrow at the 24th annual SRAM Tour of the Gila where 339 miles of racing, 25,231 feet of climbing will challenge the riders over five days. A who’s who from the North American cycling world is showing up to claim the prize and test themselves before the Amgen Tour of California next week.
Defending champion Levi Leipheimer is back with his Mellow Johnny’s teammates Lance Armstrong and Jason McCartney. Due to UCI rules, NRC races cannot field full Pro Tour squads but a compromise was reached in that a maximum of 3 riders can team up but they must wear another kit. Using the same rule, Garmin-Transition riders David Zabriskie, Tom Peterson and Tom Danielson are also in Silver City racing under the DZ Nuts kit.
NRC leader Fly V Australia has been on a roll this year, winning stage races and criteriums and will be hoping to continue the trend. Gila Monster tamer Phil Zajicek is focused on the final stage once again with teammates Jai Crawford and NRC leader Ben Day. UnitedHealthcare p/b Maxxis will be led by 2006 winner Chris Baldwin and Rory Sutherland, BISSELL with Ben Jacques-Maynes and Paul Mach. Riders to watch also include Eric Boily (Spidertech p/b Planet Energy), Tyler Wren (Jamis/Sutter Home). 3-time winner Burke Swindlehurst (Teamgive p/b BlackBottoms) is back and racing solo and hoping to surprise the field.
Another battle will be for the U25 title between Holowesko Partners, Trek Livestrong, California Giant and Rubicon-ORBEA riders.
On the women’s 2007 winner Mara Abbott is back supported by Peanut Butter Co TWENTY12 squad which includes Kat Carroll and Shelley Evans. Earlier in the year, Team VBF was counting on 2008 winner Leah Goldstein but the Israeli Champion was hit by a car at Redlands Bicycle Classic and is out with broken wrists. But they still have a strong Alison Powers (Team VBF) to led the squad with Robin Farina and guest-rider Anne Samplonius proving support. Carmen Small (Colavita/Baci) has been showing good form winning the Sea Otter Road Race and the Roadrunner Classic omnium. Riders to watch also include Webcor Builders’ Katheryn Mattis and US Road National Champion Meredith Miller (TIBCO/To The Top).Colavita/Baci).
The race begins on Wednesday, April 28, 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. Last year, Leipheimer and Kristin Armstrong (Cervélo TestTeam) soloed to victory on the stage.
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. The stage finished in a bunch sprint last year for both the men and women.
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. 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.
Jerseys for the 2010 event include the green Sprinter’s Jersey, sponsored by the State of New Mexico, a white U25 (U26 for women) jersey, sponsored by Champion System, and the red overall leader’s jersey, sponsored by SRAM. SRAM is in its second year as title sponsor. With the race struggling to find sponsorship in 2009, SRAM stepped in as title sponsor and invited many of their key athletes and teams, including Team Mellow Johnny’s.
See cheat sheet for details on all the stages, including interactive maps.
Follow @podium_live for live updates during the race.