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La Vuelta de Bisbee

Bisbee, Arizona, USA, April 25-27, 2003

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History-steeped Bisbee offers challenging terrain

by Stephen W. Medcroft

The La Vuelta de Bisbee (LVDB) stage race kicks off Friday with a punishing time trial that gains 837 feet of elevation in just 2.8 miles. The three stages that follow will test competitors climbing, sprinting, and time-trialing skills. If the race has not sorted itself by Sunday, the final stage features an extended uphill finish that should leave all questions of who are the toughest racers answered.

A USA Cycling National Racing calendar event, LVDB has been hosted by this small, Southeastern Arizona community for 25 years. With a population of about 10,000, Bisbee sits at 5,500 feet and is about 100 miles Southeast of Tucson, Arizona. Unlike it's more notorious western-frontier town and neighbor, Tombstone, Bisbee has a relatively tame history as a copper-ore mining camp. Most of the mining operations shut down in the 70's though and the almost thousand-foot deep open-pit mines have since become tourist attractions. And once the mining community moved out of Bisbee, artists, hippies, and retirees transformed the town into what it is today; a quirky destination for historical tourism and art. A community into which cycling seems to be readily accepted judging by the effort put forth by local promoters to put on a nationally-sanctioned stage road race in such a small town.

The terrain that made Bisbee Queen of the Copper Camps, is a perfect challenge for cyclists. Nestled in a cluster of high-desert mountain ranges, rural highways both lace through mountainous desert canyons and slope down and away from town allowing event promoters several race course choices. Two of the four stages, of course, include the brutal climb up Mule Pass. These roads were even distinctive enough to attract the 1980 U.S. national championships.

A prominent National Race since the eighties, LVDB boasts past winners such as Greg Lemond (who won as a 16-year old in 1978), Bob Cooke (1977, 79), Alexi Grewal (1992), and most recently (2002), Scott Moninger and Jeannie Longo.

LVDB will be a different race this year because of the coincidental scheduling of the new Tour of Georgia (occurring simultaneously in and around Atlanta more than a thousand miles East). Although many top-level professional road teams have diverted their traffic to Georgia, the professional peloton will still make a respectable showing at LVDB. Notable entries include a team of seven from Saturn Cycling (Jessica Phillips, US National road champion, and New York City champion Ivan Dominguez), the Lemond Fitness / Cra-Z-Soap division 3 pro team, as well as a contingent of six racers from the USA Cycling T-Mobile National Women's Team.

The Stages

Prologue: Friday April 25's Mule Pass Individual Time Trial climbs straight up Tombstone pass ascending almost 900 feet in 2.8 miles.

Course records for the prologue are:

  • Men: 9:18 by Malcom Elliot in 1993
  • Women: 10:33 by Leslie Schenk in 1987
  • Master Men: 11:22 by Mark Weideman in 2001

Stage 1: Saturday's Sulpher Springs Road Race tests riders on rolling rural highways around Bisbee on a two-lap circuit that includes 2,600 feet of total climbing.

Stage 2: On Saturday afternoon the riders get no rest with 10.6 mile time trial named for a city founder.

Course Records for the Warren Time Trial Course:

  • Men: 19:11 by Chris Wherry in 2002
  • Women: 23:02 by Marianne Berglund in 1994
  • Master Men: 21:35 by Mark Weideman in 2001

Stage 3: This short, sharp tour ends with a tough finale. The Tombstone Road Race starts and finishes in downtown Bisbee, and Sunday's 65 mile race promises to settle any tension and drama built over the weekend. The race gains more than 5,000 feet and finishes with a five-mile, six percent grade climb.

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