By Matthew Carinio
Outside of Nationals, this was the only race I put pressure on myself to get a result. Recently, I have used DeVlees Huis and Sea Otter as training with an eye on being in decent form for the 5 monster days in New Mexico. Last year’s champion, Ken Gallardo, would be there, along with 6 teammates, so we would have our work cut out for us. In addition, there would be numerous other strong racers from the higher elevations, with whom I would be unfamiliar, which always makes this race more challenging. I was happy that I would be joined this year by my teammates, Craig Nunes and Patrick Hampton, who would be experiencing the Tour of the Gila for the first time.
Stage 1 (118km): The opening stage is all about the final climb to Mogollon. Known as one of the most difficult finishing climbs in the country, all the favorites tend to save their energy for this monster. An early break of three went away at the first feed zone and rode to a lead of close to 4 minutes by the time the climb started. I hit the front on the early slopes and the field was reduced to 15 riders when we reached the false flat midway up the climb. Craig took a flyer to get 30 seconds when we hit the final (and hardest) 4k, where the race finally exploded. The lead group was made up of Damian Calvert (NM), Matt Gates (CO), Ken Gallardo (CA) , and me. With 2 km to go,, Damian upped the pace on the slopes that reach 15% and I was the only one who could follow. I quickly hit my limit and decided to ride my own pace to the 7,500 ft summit. With Gallardo and Gates back on my wheel, we caught Craig and the rest of the original break in the last km. I came across the line 4th, with Damian finishing 40 seconds ahead and the top 10 coming in individually 10 seconds apart from one another. I limited my losses and there was a lot of racing to come. [Read more…]