Tour of the Gila Stage 2: Inner Loop Road Race
by Geoffrey Curran (Get Crackin)
Stage 1 of Gila was terrible. The first 135 km was a flat, slow, boring march through purgatory to an 8km climb. After the slog through the valley, the road tilted skywards into the Mogollon Mountains. This is where I was dropped by old guys, Strava freaks, and someone with a Halo sweatband. I was left alone, crawling up the steep grades and arriving over two minutes behind the winner. It was thoroughly embarrassing. I previously had visions of myself dancing up the switchbacks and soloing to victory. The day before, I told my director, Bart Bowen, that I was at Gila to win. While I collapsed on the ground with my left foot clipped in and bike tangled on top of me, I wondered how I was dropped. I mostly blamed it on the altitude, not wanting to admit that maybe some of these guys were actually faster up a hill than me.
The effort in stage 2 was fueled by the smackdown I had received on stage one. I had looked at the profile and realized that the wind favored a breakaway, so long as it established a gap over the climbs at Pinos Altos and Wildhorse Mesa. The race started on a few rollers and went up the climb to Pinos Altos. It went up and down until a very technical descent into the Mimbres Valley, stair stepping up to the Continental Divide. From the Continental Divide, it was a downhill tailwind blast to the feed zone and final climb. After a few rollers, the race finished back at Fort Bayard. The day was perfect for racing with temperatures in the seventies and cloudless skies.
The race started with a neutral, which just screws up the average power and speed. We cruised at 25km/h for a bit, and then the race was on. Oddly enough, nothing happened. We soft pedaled out of town, which is starkly different from races like Redlands and San Dimas, where the attacks started off the line. One of the Garmin juniors joked that we should go for a 110km break. Finally, someone decided to do something and went on one of the rollers. It was quickly chased down and the group stopped. I just kept going on the left side and punched it over the top. I caught a guy on the descent that was really going for it. I looked back and couldn’t even see the group. I dropped the guy up Pinos Altos and was caught by the two poursuivants on the descent. We rolled nicely over the Continental Divide and into the Mimbres Valley. Eventually, our three-man move got a six minute time gap. We were stunned. We kept rolling nicely and even extended our gap to 6:55 on the feed zone climb. A headwind struck us on the rollers, but the move had enough time. One of the breakmates attacked, but was quickly caught on the headwind descent.
Going into the finish, I was third wheel at 500 meters to go. At 250 meters, the first guy jumped for a few seconds, but then sat down. I used that momentum to launch a sprint, and then sat down and powered home for the win. I was stoked that the win came together after 115 kilometers in the break, and nearly 25 of them solo. Aggressive racing prevailed, compared to the boredom and negative racing of stage 1.
Stage 2 set me up well in GC, where I eventually finished fourth overall.