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Tour of the Gila - NE
USA, April 30-May 4, 2003
Jeanson hot favourite for third straight win
Dark horse mountain bikers spice men's race
By Stephen W. Medcroft
The 17th annual Tour of the Gila rolls out in Silver City, New Mexico today. The event puts on USA Cycling National Race Calendar sanctioned races for pros and amateurs and expects more than 700 racers to line up at the start. Pro men will cover 330 miles from Wednesday to Saturday. Pro women will race a little more that 250 miles.
Silver City is tucked in the southwest corner of New Mexico in the foothills of the Pinos Altos mountain range. Founded in 1870, it sits at 6,000 feet in what is considered a dry-arid desert climate. Which means, for riders, they'll be gasping for air up and down dry desert mountains all week (a total of 24,000+ feet of climbing for the pro men) and getting dehydrated and sun-burned for their trouble.
Gila was the site of a spectacular performances last year by Chris Wherry and his Mercury squad and Geneviève Jeanson of Rona, and is traditionally well attended by top U.S. domestic professional teams. In the mix this week, we'll see Saturn Cycling, Trek/VW, T-Mobile Women's National Team, and 7-Up/Nutra-Fig to name a few. Which is a draw for any racer within travelling distance who wants to test themselves against the best.
Oh yes, defending multiple Tour of the Gila champion and women's road racing phenomenon Geneviève Jeanson is scheduled to be there. And if you've followed her form so far this year, you'd understand that the rest of the women's field needs to rise above themselves to be ready. In 2003, she's already won the overall of the Valley of the Sun stage race in Arizona, the Pomona Valley Stage Race, the Redlands Bicycle Classic, and Sea Otter. This week's story from the women's race will be whether it's possible to beat her.
Tour of the Gila is also popular with mountain bike pros who use it as a final tune up of their race fitness before their season begins in Big Bear in the middle of May. Expect to see, for example, U.S. Olympian and Trek/VW racer Travis Brown on the start line. We probably won't see UCI mountain bike World Champion Roland Green though - he took a nasty spill in the Tour of Georgia and is recovering in preparation for the Big Bear NORBA National Championship season opener later in the month.
Besides stiff competition, tough terrain, and lengthy stages, racers will find no hiding from the environment either. It's expected to be moderately warm (low 80's) and clear for the first two days of competition, but the weather guys are calling for overcast and cool skies into the weekend. Wind is always a factor in the desert southwest at this time of year also. Mornings in Silver City can be nippy. Riders will need to manage themselves thorough cold morning starts on into possibly hot, dry, windy late morning finishes for the longer stage races.
Racers will contest for position and advantage in the overall standing beginning Wednesday with a 16 mile individual time trial. Then it's up early Thursday for the 92 mile Silver City to Mogollon Pass road race. This point to point race features 2,100 feet of climbing in the last ten miles. Friday's Inner Loop Road Race runs 73 miles. Saturday sees a test of racer's criterium skills in downtown Silver City.
If there's anything left in racer's tanks, they'll need to pull it out on Sunday. The notorious Gila Monster Road Race covers a brutal 100 miles taking the race up and down 5 to 7.5% grades for much of it.
Team to watch: Trek/VW All-stars. This current contingent of racers wearing the Trek/VW banner will include strong regional pros as well as some of Trek's mountain bikers. Landis/Trek/VW's Drew Miller is fresh off a stunning win at La Vuelta de Bisbee where he rode away from Saturn's Viktor Rapinski and Team HealthNet's Gord Fraser in the final climb of the final stage to take it all. No doubt, other teams will be taking notice of his position within the peloton this week but if he carries his form into Tour of the Gila, we could see a repeat of Bisbee's fireworks.
Cyclingnews.com will have a complete start list and race coverage after each day's stage.
2002 Chris Wherry (USA) Mercury Genevieve Jeanson (Can) Rona 2001 Scott Moninger (USA) Mercury Genevieve Jeanson (Can) Rona 2000 Eric Wohlberg (Can) Shaklee-Marin Mari Holden 1999 Chris Wherry Kimberly Bruckner 1998 Burke Swindlehurst Jeannie Longo 1997 Bart Bowen (Women's race cancelled) 1996 Burke Swindlehurst Desiree Margagliano 1995 Johnathan Vaughters Carolyn Donnelly 1994 Andrew Miller Carolyn Donnelly 1993 Jose Robles Martha Wavrin 1992 Kevin Livingston Jane Gagne 1991 Bjorn Backman Laura Peycke 1990 Andrew Miller Carolyn Donnelly 1989 John Lieswyn Carolyn Donnelly 1988 Gavin O'Grady Jane Marshall 1987 Andy Bishop Nancy Shipp Past winners by Mario Stiehl, www.world-of-cycling.com