Gila - Postscript

Near Sierra Blanca As I was driving out of Sliver City after finishing the Tour of the Gila I had to stop by the Holiday Inn Express and pick up my spare wheels from James Slauson. As I circled the parking lot I saw a familiar figure: Floyd Landis was sitting on the curb yakking it up with his teammates. They had a large van pulling a trailer. In just a minute, they all piled in and took off to whereever their next race was. What a far cry from the city-block-sized mobile home thing that Astana was traveling in (and that was for only three racers).

I drove as far as Balmorhea State Park that night. It hardly bothered me that someone else had glommed the campsite that I had reserved days earlier. I found another empty site, pitched my tent and inflated my air mattress in my car's headlights, and enjoyed a big fat roast beef burrito in the pale moonlight.

Yours truly at the SpringsIn the morning I awoke to a beautiful wispy-clouded sky. I was afraid that the the spring-fed pool might feel cold in the cool morning air, but forgot that it's always the same temperature - perfect. 


More photo's from the return:

09:48 PM in Cycling | Permalink | Comments (1)

Gila Stage 5 - Gila Monster Road Race

Here are some great photo's that I took of Lance et al in the P/1 crit:


The Last Supper - Heagerty, Bickel, Bain, Barton, Sladek
Alright, it's true confession time. I really wanted the final stage to pass as uneventfully as possible and as slow as people were willing to go. But I had my reasons...

The first year that I came to the Gila, I found myself and two others chasing another group up the Mimbres River valley for 20 miles in a perfect team time trial straight into a tough headwind. We never caught that group before we reached the base of the Sapillo climb with 20 mile left in the 72 mile stage. I got up two switchbacks and bonked. In what qualifies as one of the most memorably inhuman rides of my life, my two companions practically dragged me the 5 miles up the climb, the ten miles across to the the next climb, and the final five miles up to the finish.

Maynard Herson, MC driver for the P:1's Then there was the race three years ago when I seemed to get through the final stage alright. Until on our drive away from Silver City that afternoon, a hemorrhoid flared up and I had to spend the remainder of the trip laying on my side in the back seat while Seymour drove us back to Austin.

Just two years ago, I was so spent after the race and felt so weak for the following ten days that I was convinced I must have come down with Epstein Barr Virus.

So in six prior starts I was batting fifty percent on final-stages-where-I-wanted-to-die. You understand my sense of foreboding.

We started the stage with a nice, sedate, neutral rollout. I talked with Michael Carter, the race leader (won three of the first four stages). He told me that he was about to head out to be a DS at the Tour of Korea. I'd never heard of it but he said it was a pretty big race. I was catching up with Jame Carney when Korioth interrupted us. As they continued to talk I realized that we were going up hill and I was starting to struggle while they were in casual conversation. Not a good sign.

The next 15 miles were critical - hang with the leaders until we got over the early climbs before the long headwind trudge up the valley. I hung on by my fingernails as we went over the last of the 3 little climbs but I was still in the race. We then rocketed down the other side of the mountain at 50 mph until we reached San Lorenzo. Phil Sladek went off the front there. I wouldn't see him again until after the race.

The headwind in the river valley was a blessing. It controlled the race while I kept myself as sheltered as possible. Carter and Carney were content to sit on the front and set a tempo that kept almost all from escaping and insured those who did get away would not gain much advantage. 

We climbed through the feed zone and then the next little climbs. Once again I was hanging by a thread. So were Bain, Heagerty, and many others. We passed over the spot where about an hour earlier there had been a massive crash in the P/1 race.

After surviving those hills I knew I was golden. I'd reach the base of the Sapillo climb in one piece and could dawde all I wanted. The guy ahead of me on GC had more than 3 minutes advantage, and I had a twenty minute advantage over the guy behind me on GC. Not much was at stake other than survival and a little foolish pride.

So when we hit the climb I did exactly what was called for. I just rode my own pace, which meant that almost everyone except Heagerty and Bain rolled up the road. The three of us trudged up the climb; soon only one figure was in sight ahead of us and he eventually disappeared. No one was visible behind us although I knew there were a few back there who hadn't survived the valley in the group. Heagerty complained that his back was spasming. We slowed for him. Now that I was thinking of Heagerty's back my own back started to bother me. I found that we were barely climbing faster than we had on Tuesday when we were just doing a warm-up spin and practicing the descent of this hill. But we were climbing.

Kristin Armstron is not even breathing hard after winning the Women's P:1:2 Gila The top of the climb meant just 15 miles to go. We shot down the other side, but not with as much panache as on the previous Tuesday. When we finally got to the finish in Pinos Altos, we had given up 17 minutes to the leaders that we were with just 20 miles earlier. It had taken us an hour and twelve minutes to cover the same distance they did in just fifty five. Pretty damn amazing. But it wasn't a final-stage-where-I-wanted-to-die; so no complaint!

The crowds at the end were like nothing I'd seen in Pinos Altos before. That's what Lance's presence does. Kristin Armstrong came in to win the women's race about ten minutes after we finished. Thirty minutes later the men finished, with Lance and Levii coming in 2nd and 3rd just seconds behind Phil Zajicek. Levi and Lance finished 1 & 2 on GC. 

I didn't stay long enough to see the P1 award podium but did see Kristin Armstrong on the women's podium.

After that it was a fast six mile ride down the mountain to The Palace Hotel in Silver City so I could throw everything in the car and head for home.

Another Gila and I was still alive to tell about it.

The women's podium
The Women's P/1/2 Podium

09:42 PM in Cycling | Permalink | Comments (1)

Gila Stage Four - Downtown Criterium

Awright!  This crit was a good day in the saddle. Of course I was worried about how fast it would be. And my early morning warm-up felt horrible: I had zero energy. But once I was out there, I was fine, even though I really wasn't a player. Sixty minutes of only moderately intense pain. I was never dropped, although it was getting pretty grim around lap ten of our twenty minute race. The last lap was blistering as Korioth kicked off the last attack, resulting in a crushing final mile. On the back side I could see the field splintering up ahead; I was powerless do anything but keep pedaling; no telling what was going on behind. I managed my standard mediocre twenty-fifth place or so. Kurt Bickel pulled out 7th place. Bain got eleventh. But Jame Carney won it. 

I spent the rest of the day gawking at the Lance spectacle. Fans were ten deep around his mobile home an hour before his race. Lance appeared for about six seconds, then Leipheimer appeared and signed autographs for a few minutes. All the while, Johann Brunyeel was just calmly standing in the door of the motor home.

The Pro/1 race was great to watch. I stayed away from the start finish area so I don't know how big the crowds were. Actually the crowds in the start/finish were already huge for the kiddies races, so the must have been really large for Lance. On the backside of the course, which has a nice little hill in it,  I got some phenomenal shots of the race, particularly of Lance, who was near the front for most of the race. I'm just pissed that I forgot my damn camera cable so I can't dump my photos to the computer and upload them for viewing right now. It will have to wait until I get back to Austin. 

Nothing was very successful at staying away, although Ben Day held onto a twenty second advantage for at least ten of the forty lap race. Eventually he was swallowed back up. Floyd Landis spent practically the whole race at the back of the pack until he launched a big attack near the end. But he was reeled in by the Mellow Johnnies bunch just like anyone else who tried anything.  I was in turn two at the end of the race and several riders stacked it up there on each of the last two laps, including Chris Horner. But he looked okay and finished the race. Due to the crashes, all the riders still in the pack w/ two to go got the same time.

Tour of the GIla 2009 077 Tonight we ate at a little restaurant run by a friend of mine in Silver City. He calls his menu Asian Fusion, but with the racers in town he also put on some pasta. I had a mild chicken curry that was perfect for racing - lots of protein and carbs, low in fat. But then we followed that up with some espresso chocolate cake - so much for my slim girlish figure.

Tomorrow is the final stage of the race - 72 miles, three categorized climbs. If I can just get over the first one without getting shelled then I'll be happy with whatever happens after that. Then it's a quick exit from Silver City to spend the night at Balmorhea State Park. So the final race report may be delayed a little.

Final Stage Profile

09:02 PM in Cycling | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gila Stage Three - The Lance & Levi Show at the ITT

The Gila is sure different when Lance & Levi show up. Our little time trial was generally a pretty dull little thing in years past. This year, the parking lot in Tyrone was overflowing. People were three deep around Lance's bus, even with no idea when he would ever come out.

Eventually, Levi won the time trial with a course record of 32:59. Tom Zirbel was second almost a minute back Lance was 1:23 back. Young Peter Stetina pulled off a 5th place ride. The crowds couldn't get enough of Lance and Levi, practically ignoring Chris Horner who really was the man of the day yesterday, spending all day at the front, controlling any escapes (Floyd Landis was caught just a kilometer from the finish on Thursday).

The 40+ field didn't race for another three hours after the pro's. By then the calm air had turned into aTour of the GIla 2009 056  nasty, gusty crosswind. At the last minute, I decided to replace my front aero wheel with a shallow-rimmed Bontrager. And last night I put on my massive pie plate of a fiftty-eight tooth front chainring: always useful on the final four mile, straight-as-an-arrow descent. Unfortunately none of the equipment helped. I never managed to get rolling - maybe ten guys passed me.over the next 49 minutes. After the first half dozen of them went by it was pretty hard to keep up my motivation and pain. That still didn't stop me from doing 45-48 mph on the final four miles, bombing the descent with a 58/11 that I couldn't spin out while tucked in behind the arrow bars that I had just recently set up even narrower than before. And that low-profile bontrager front wheel was rock solid in the cross-wind. It was oh-so-sweet to have the last four miles pass by so much faster than the first four miles.

Michael Carter did a thirty-seven on the course, just a few seconds faster than Jame Carney. Korioth slipped from third to fourth on GC, after David Zimbelman ((a 50+ rider) smoked him. Our own Kurt Bickel was three seconds faster than Korioth and held onto 7th overall. Joel Grimmett stayed in sixth, with Roger Worthington still in fifth. Kevin Barton did a great ride tha moved him up two places to thirteenth on GC.

Tour of the GIla 2009 063 Tonight, six of us went out to eat at Shevek's. When Kevin ordered a German beer from our extremely gay waiter, he asked Kevin if he wanted it served in the traditional German style - with a big head. Kevin simply demurred that he would like it however it would be best served. To which the waiter responded that he always liked a big head, and also with his beer. That set Kevin back a little, being the traditional air force guy that he is. He managed to recover though, and got himself a big-headed beer. The food was outstanding as well.

Tomorrow is the downtown criterium. I have an early race at 10:40 in the morning. The pro's will go off in the late afteroon. There's always a crowd at the crit - with Lance there this year, it will be one solid square mile of jammed in people. Our hotel is inside turn four of the crit, about 400 yards from the finish. It should be a great show. I'll treat the crit as a recovery day. I'll let Jame Carney and Korioth duke it out for the crit win. But Carter has less than a minute lead over Carney so he can't let those two go. Nor will Roger Worthington want to be denied. The result will be a race that is way too fast for my little girl legs. Ouch.
Tour of the GIla 2009 015
Thursday Night Dinner - Joe's Pro's, Geri Atrix, Bicycle Heaven

Tour of the GIla 2009 050
Yours Truly, in his Hotel Lobby

07:13 AM in Cycling | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tour of the GIla - Stage 2 Inner Loop Road Race - 78 miles

Stage Two - Inner Loop Road Race - 78 miles

Well, Peggy will laugh at me about this. She always makes fun of me because I pretty much believe that a good bike ride can cure just about anything. Got a cold? Go for a spin. Low back pain? Ride your bike. Insomnia? Get some miles in.

So today, somewhere between breakfast and the start of the stage, I developed one hell of a throbbing headache. I was seriously worried at the start line. That's always where your mind messes with you. I never have headaches, so something must be seriously wrong. If you're having a stroke, do you get a headache?

Those first few miles just seemed to aggravate the headache. But by the time we did the first ten miles of climbing, I never noticed it again. Pretty amazing - bikes cure everything (except - apparently - sore legs). 
George Heagerty & Kevin Barton (before the race)

This is always a hard stage. There is an 1100 foot climb in the first ten miles of the race. Ouch. I was shelled about halfway up it. Ouch. Luckily Tom Bain was shelled even earlier. His group of four caught me before the top, and we bombed the next 10 miles before the next climb. By then we had picked up a few (including George Heagerty) and lost a few. I threw up in my mouth a little, but it wasn't a big deal. Six of us went over the climb together at mile 20. But we blasted the ten mile descent so hard (40+ mph) that only Bain, Heagerty and I were together at the bottom (plus two more that we caught along the way). I got to watch Heagerty almost bite it big time when he started to slide in a corner and just barely avoided going off the road and down the hill. 

As usual by the time we reached  the bottom at Sapillo Creek at mile 32 I felt like I had already done a whole bike race. Only 46 miles to go. We picked up a couple more people over the next 15 miles, butJame Carney  there were still 30 riders ahead of us that we would never see before the finish. Heagerty had an exciting, gunshot-loud blowout at mile 57. Maybe he lost too much tread sliding out in that corner thirty miles earlier? So we lost him. 

After crossing the valley, the (now six) Jives had to climb past the mines - about 10 miles of uphill into a headwind. Not steep (only about 5%) but unrelenting. No one said a word. I just kept my eyes glued to the wheel of the guy in front of me and tried to avoid a liquid yawn. I didn't even know if Tom was still in the group or not until we were mostly done with the climb. I didn't want to spend the energy to look back.

Phil Sladek and Kevin Barton (after the race)

Eventually, we finished - only 17 minutes down on the leaders. Michael Carter had lit it up at the base of the climbs by the mines (about 15 miles to go) and soloed in to finish 38 seconds ahead of a group that included Jame Carney, and Korioth. Joel Grimmet rolled in two minutes later to secure a solid 6th place on the stage and on GC. Kurt Bickel, who had been with that lead group of seven until Carter lit it up at the base of the mines climbs landed in 7th on the day and moved up all the way from 24th to 7th place on GC. Yeah, that's right - moved up 17 places in one day.

Me, I slipped down to 34th place a mere one second ahead of Bain (I cramped in the final kilometer). 

Tomorrow - a forty minute time trial. Relatively speaking, it will be a recovery day.
Stage 3 ITT
Tour of the GIla stage 2 afterwards
I found this guy after our race today, on the grounds of Ft. Bayard, where we started and finished.

09:09 PM in Cycling | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tour of the Gila - The Day Before

On Tuesday, the day before the race start, Bckel, Bain, Sladek, Barton and I (The Five Jives) drove the 20 miles out past Pinos Altos to the high point of Thursday's stage 2 RR so we could do a practice run on the descent down to Sapillo Creek. Kurt (on his 12 1/2 pound Scott) was phenomenal, he was strong on all the uphills and descended like he was in his own backyard. Me, I was just thinking about saving my legs for the Mogollon stage.

Tour of the GIla 2009 010

Up on Horseback Mesa, you're in the pines, miles from the dessert floor - it's the lush and beautiful, with grand vista's. 

I tried to appreciate these as I slogged back up the climb from Sapillo Creek to our cars. The other four Jives were somewhere ahead of me - Bain was generally in sight. I was continually reminding myself that at the halfway point up the Mogollon climb on Wednesday I would be cursing myself over any spare kiloJoule I burnt on Tuesday.

As we got back to the car, and were discussing our form, Kurt was struck by how good his legs felt. All I could think about was how thin the air seemed.

After all that riding and resting and cleaning up, our day still wasn't done. The Mogollon stage is point-to-point and finishes 75 miles from Silver City so we needed to drive out and leave a car out there. Kurt and Kevin followed me out to the finish in Kurt's Prius and we dumped my Mazda at the base of the climb. Then, after reconnoitering the Mogollon we headed back. 

I learned something very important about Kurt on the way back. He's freakin' crazy. As we idly chewed the fat - analyzing who was likely to be strong in the race and who not - we eventually ran out of bike race fodder. Kurt is also an avid spearfisherman and I was asking him about that, which he was happy to discuss since he obviously loves it and he's been doing it for years. Eventually I realized that I was hearing about the 3rd shark attack story in a row and he didn't seem to be particularly bothered by the danger. Then, after we commiserated about how hard it was to race in the Texas heat, the conversation turned to Kurt's previous hobby of motorcycle racing (in the heat). After a couple of motorcycle pile-up stories, I realized that although bike racing is by far the most dangerous activity I engage in, it's about the least dangerous thing that Kurt does. Watching the way he could fearlessly descend earlier in the day, on a course that he had never seen before and which regularly sends people to the ambulance on race day, only confirmed the impression. 

Tomorrow - the race begins.

07:22 PM in Cycling | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tour of the Gila - Stage 1 Mogollon Road Race

Stage 1 got interesting about 50 miles into it. That's when most of us learned - Michael Carter ( included - that the mystery guy in the 3-up break up the road was Jame Carney ( He apparently switched over from the Pro/1 field at the last moment when Lance was confirmed as a starter and he got nervous about the time cut-offs. 

Suddenly our fairly tactical jump/chase/catch/stop race became a Michael Carter time trial event. At least the pace was smooth, if not comfortable. Bain and Bickel had already been pulled back in an earlier break attempt, as had Kevin Barton, and numerous others. Me, I just sat in and faunched over my little girl legs and my old lady lungs.

When we hit the last feed zone, just a couple miles from the final right turn onto the Mogollon climb, the peloton pretty much exploded. Carter got a few bike lengths clear w/ someone else, and I found myself in the 3rd chase group pedaling squares over the top of the feed zone hill. That was the last I saw of the leaders. I hear that MIchael Carter caught Carney near the top of the Mogollon to win the stage (by 9 seconds). Korioth, who had shrewdly escaped with Carney got 3rd, two or three minutes back . Kevin Barton managed 15th place in an outstanding ride only 5 minutes back. Kurt, who had been riding well all of yesterday and today, got a freaky cramp at the base of the Mogollon and was in an acrid mood all afternoon: the cramp was so bad he had to get off the bike for a minute b/f continuing. Of course I was already minutes behind him and never saw him. 

Bain caught up to me at the base of the Mogollon and we climbed mostly together to the finish in a group that varired b/t five people and two in size. My little girl legs were not great, but they held up for the whole climb and I only felt like throwing up once. Unlike last year, I never actually came close to plunging over the edge from sweat constantly dripping in my eyes and blinding me; instead that happened to Tom (the sweat, not the plunging). And unlike last year, my legs didn't lock up into rigor mortis after I crossed the finish line in oh....  33rd place. Actually that's one place and seven minutes better than last year.

Oh yeah, in that other race, Lance launched Levi to victory over Peter Stetina. He finished down 1:40.

So far I've neither gained nor lost weight since I've arrived. That's a good thing. I was parched all night from the dry air even though I kept a water bottle next to the bed and had to get up to pee several times. We'll see where I'm at in another couple days of this.

Tomorrow - a 78 mile loop that looks like this:
Stage 2 Profile

07:20 PM in Cycling | Permalink | Comments (1)