This year has been one of ups and downs. Like any bike racer we all want to win. But winning does not always come down to just luck. With a solid dream team for 2017 The tour of gila was a major A race for the Dolce Vita p1/2 boys. As well as a logistics nightmare we prepped the sprinter van after racing Cooperopolis RR. A 105 mile 9,000 ft elevation gain road race, proving to be a hard man race dubbed the "the hell of the north". After the long day in the saddle, and two top tens, we then packed up the van and then flew out to Phoenix AZ. Cooper drove the van with our road and TT bikes all packed up, to pick us up from the airport in Phoenix and then another 3 hour drive to NM to host housing.
Training takes a big commitment, sacrifice, planning, resources and this was my first tour of gila. So like always I go in with the best fitness possible and had never skipped a workout, on or off the bike. This has always been my mentality racing and training. If you want the results, do the work, no way around it. When you get to an elite level, everyone is fast, so how do you set yourself apart?. Well the physical and mental have to be in line, to cooperate when the going gets tough. Specific training will serve multitudes and is something I've been working with coach Tim Burton @joulecycling.com for the last 2 years. To touch on that subject for a second, I never had a coach or power meter till I was a cat 1 and wanted to take my fitness and commitment to the next level. Tim has taught me so much and has held me accountable when I didn't even believe in myself. Great guy, huge inspiration go check him out.
Before headed out to the big block of racing I stopped by to see Jon Tallerico. A professional mechanic and frame builder Jon is well known in the cycling community. While I'm temporarily based out of Lodi California, Jon has always been there for me and been a huge part of my success keeping me in the loop, always there for encouragement, and his mechanics are 2nd to none. (Jon I want a frame soon btw for a winter bike:)) He told me who to see, talk to, make friends with and how to keep pursuing cat 1 life as this has proved to be more than a fitness challenge, full of politics and all about who you know.
Stage 1 MOGOLLON ROAD RACE
We had arrived a few days in advance to settle in, get dialed and adjust to the weeks races up ahead. The entire race is at 6,000 ft elevation and up. Close to the sun and the first real hot weather exposure so far, all year. I was sunburnt in a bad way on day 1. Determined to keep healthy and hydrated I lathered in sun screen after a big blow to the neck and back, I avoided major sun exposure at all costs.
Living and breathing at altitude and closer to the sun is no joke. I was even gasping for air st some point some while laying in bed.
We started the day with an easy warm up and to the start line and a preacher greets us to some holy water and a prayer. I looked over to teammate Zach Morvat and said I've never done this before should I accept this. We smiled at each other and he said it couldn't hurt. And that it didn't! For the beginning parts of the race we didn't do too much but keep ourselves accountable toward the front and inline for some moves. Nothing threating was happening except a few attacks going no where, in which we would all be protecting teammate Cooper Shanks for the anticipated GC guy. I had covered a few moves that really put me in the red, in a brake or two and burnt a few matches for sure. This was my role for the race. Having a team to work for can be a great feeling especially when you have a plan and I'm not too bad at it. Give me a job and I'm on it like glue. After almost 100 miles of stage 1 we had Cooper in perfect position for a final climb to the finish and we landed in 2nd. Perfect way to start the race!
Stage 2 Inner Loop Road Race
After a well thought out plan with team DS Ralf Medloff we were going to keep Cooper in good position. After the whistle blew I was at the front of the race and ready for the day. Just staying top 10 and feeling real good we were approaching the 1st climb, but first disaster struck. Cooper had double flatted right at the base of the climb and the group had noticed "2nd in gc just flatted let's hit it". Now I know there is no good time for flats but this was real bad timing. After double fisting both brakes I. Came to an immediate hault as the group flew by. Coop got his replacement wheels only to find out teammate Virgillo Pigliucci had flatted even before Coop and had been chasing since the start. Even worse luck. But it dosnt stop there. A crash up the road and Zach who had stayed with the group went down. Teammate Adriano Castro was the only guy left upright. So i did my part to sling shot Coop, back on two wheels, up the road to Zach who had just got back up from the crash who then pulled Coop up the the 2nd group that was chasing. Still there was a front group up the road and a brake had establised. I ended up riding most the race by myself frustrated and not even sure if I was going to make the time cut. I ended up 18 min behind the front and the race. This race was really starting to turn against me and the team had the worst possible day we could have asked for. All in all we didn't loose to much time but enough to take us out of the top 10.
Stage 3 Dan Potts Memorial Tyrone Individual Time Trial
Now at this point of the race you can really start to get in your own head too much and that I did. A TT is so much suffering and head games that I just had it coming. I had been a descent stage racer and TT guy in the past but I'm starting to rethink my path and I want to be more of a break away artist. None the less I had the TT bike dialed and ready for this effort. Usually sticking to a trainer for the warm up, I opted out and just did the warmup on the road. We had pre rode the course before hand a few times and it was a power course that suited a bigger guy like myself. Close to start time and a few final adjustments, drink of water, and bite to eat i rolled up the staging. I was the 1st to go of DV boys. Not very nervous, I still wanted to do well on the stage, and had nothing to loose. After the 10 second count down and green light, I was instantly in the hurt locker and just couldn't throw down. Adding insult to injury I dropped my chain 3/4 of the way out, on the climb before the turn around. All I could do was laugh at this point. Legs burning, having a horrible run. I just threw it back on and was on the road again. I had already passed my minute guy and he was still nowhere in sight. But I still lost a ton of time. After back to it I hit the turn around and really stepped on the gas, and out of nowhere I felt really good. Had great legs. I even caught my 1:30 guy, on the climb back and put time on him. None the less lost way to much and finished in the top 30. With Zach & Copper finishing top 15 they had a better day today then me and I was a bit bummed but hey win some loose some.
Stage 4 DOWNTOWN SILVER CITY CRITERIUM
With the crit starting at late afternoon today we decided to head out for a morning leisure spin and some coffee and pastries at Jumping Cactus. Where they have cowboy espresso and some amazing pour over coffee.
Our host housing only about .5 miles to the crit. We never had to drive to any of the starts which was amazing for this race. Some rode trainers while V aka "stallion" heads out for a road warm up and sign in. Feeling a bit sluggish today still, I knew I had some good legs for this one. Before the start J Weeks Found me,i.w. legend from AZ and that was rad to meet you man. Let's get a ride in sometime homie. And good luck on future endeavors. And then we all lined up to the start whistle blew, and it was go time. I started up toward the front and was just waiting for dangerous moves. We were representing well in the front, brakes, and in counter attacks. I was in a promising move that really put the hurt on the group. But it wasnt enough firepower and cooperation. We were slowly was caught. It was then I needed to recover a bit. Adriano did his thing and he ended up doing the best on the stage. Toward the end I tried moving up best I could but like any other crit, toward last few laps I just loose positioning and watch as V, Adriano and Cooper dance their way toward the front. Last lap Cooper crashes on the back side and the entire field split. Luckily it wasn't bad got up and we didn't loose much time. Adriano ended up 7th on the day. We'll take it. We worked well as a team for another top 10, job done.
Stage 5 Gila Monster
Now this was for sure going to be a day for the books. After 4 days of racing, this was going to be the real game changer and true test for the legs. 103 miles and 9,000 ft elevation with two major climbs.
1st major climb was up Emory pass. At this point of the race I wasn't responding like earlier stages. I just wanted to hold position and stay with the front group. And that I did not. There was a break that went in the 1st few minutes of the race and not much responding from anyone they got away easily. No one ready to chase except halfway up the climb. The group hit it and I'm doing sweet spot efforts and still off the back. I decided not to blow myself up and stay at my own pace. Which turned out to be the group splitting up and a chase up the road. I figured the day was over for me. Once you get to the top there is a turn around and the climb is an out and back. So by the time I get to the 1k to Kom sign the break is already on their way down then the group and then the chase. I'm all alone. But my legs are not giving up. So once I hit the top I rush back down like a mad man. I took every risk possible and pushed harder than I knew I could. I'm an attempt to catch the group again with 5,000 ft climbing already I was determined.
I end up seeing Zach up the road that was riding solo as well, and was dropped by the groups poor descending skills and pushing him in bad position. We end up chasing together. With somewhat high hopes, the group is still no where to be seen. Until we hit the flat section. Now this is where it gets interesting. We were chasing like no tomorrow and once we get a clearing and see the group we put down the hammer and do vo2 efforts to get back in. After a lot of pulls and almost blowing up we were back in the group. That felt like the best effort of the day. After settling in we get back to Cooper that informs us a break is up 4:00 and a chase 2:00 we have to get them. So I get to the front and the chase is on yet again. Me and Zach work with team Octane on the front. We ended up working so hard we split our field dropped some gc guys, yet I'm about to blow. I end up having to settle down and back up a bit to Cooper to tell him after all the work of the day, chasing the whole time I'm almost done. He says your finish line is that break. Ok cool, I have a goal, a job and I'm out here let's get it done. I get back to he front like a possessed demon and fire on all cylinders. I end up rolling off the front a bit caz guys are done and we are approaching the last climb to the finish. I just knew I was not gonna make it until I somehow come around with a fresh set of legs. After getting dropped, chasing, doing work at the front, splitting the field, and hit the climb I can still manage. I end up rolling with the front group a bit but couldn't hold their pace. But I'm still pretty good. The gila monster is no joke, I end up rolling in 20th on the day and felt the best I had the whole race. On day 5. Go figure. I'd been putting in tons of miles for this race, and it paid off. Cooper ended up 8th on the day and gave us a top 10 gc finish.
But here's where it gets real good, my best result so far, and probably of the year. The effort I put in on the chase from earlier when I was dropped to catching the group and then stringing out the field I landed a KOM on the stage that still stands on strava. "Gila monster flat segment" where I averaged 28mph for an hour. I couldn't believe it. I had some redemption on the last day after having crap tour of gila. I was happy with how it ended. I look forward to next year and to the races up ahead. Stay tuned for more race reports and for what's next.
Link to strava Kom down below.