Words by Travis Dixon, Photos by Angelica Dixon
The Tour of The Gila is a 5 stage race held in Silver City New Mexico. The racing community has long held this race in high esteem for the difficulty of the race courses, the altitude, and weather. Stage 1 saw the UCI men face a 92 mile stage, and the women, a 73 mile stage, of rolling to hilly terrain on open roads that leave riders exposed to the winds that dominate the region at this time of year. The stage ends with the Cat 1 Mogollon climb. It’s a narrow and very steep ascent with pitches up to 19%. It’s a tough way to end a tough stage.
Arm warmers were necessary for the chilly start. But the final climb would see riders shed all of these. Staging was unique for a day that turned out to be extremely chaotic.
The race is in its 28th edition and is well established with the local community. The race passes through the town of Cliff and the elementary school takes a special class day by coming out and cheering on the racers with supplied Gila cowbells. Ranchers make their way to the end of their roads and locals congregate in their village centers, all cheering on the riders.
The roads are remote and exposed to what the elements dictate. Just a week ago it was snowing. Luckily today was cool temps and a healthy tailwind. The roads through Cliff provide the racers with a chance to breakaway and hide as the roads are narrow, constantly turning, climbing, and descending. In the men’s race, a group of four put this ten mile stretch of road to good use by building a 4 minute gap before heading back out onto main roads. They worked smoothly and eventually built up a gap of 10 minutes.
Teams 5 Hour Energy p/b Kenda Pro Cycling and Jamis-Hagens Berman decided enough was enough. They got to the front and began drilling it. For 10 plus miles the pace never dropped below 30 mph. Sadly, there was a massive pile up with some riders having to be airlifted to medical facilities. In a matter of seconds, the 120 rider men’s field was cut down to roughly 50. It’s one of those things that unfortunately happens in our sport. Nervous riders on the first stage of a 5 day race, fatigue from an unrelenting pace, slight over lap of wheels … Who knows, but at those speeds it’s not going to end well.
The women’s group stayed together until the latter third of the stage with UnitedHealthCare whipping up the pace to chase down a dangerous 3 rider break before tackling the Cat 1 Mogollon climb. With Mara Abbot, a three time winner of The Gila, on United, they were going to control the race and deliver her in perfect position for the final ascent.
The mens breakaway leaders had 2:30 at the base of the Cat 1 Mogollon climb, but that wasn’t to be enough. Jamis-Hagens Berman got on the front and drove hard bringing back the break and then sending riders up the road to take a sweep of the podium.
The days events left the riders physically and emotionally drained. The atmosphere at the finish was somber and lacking in any sort of celebration. Cycling is a tight community and this race was hit hard today. But they are cyclists and the peloton will line up for Thursday’s stage.
Men’s Results Stage 1:
1 Dan Jaramillo Diez (Jamis – Hagens Berman) 3:32:45
2 Matt Cooke (Jamis – Hagens Berman) 0:00:02
3 Grego Obando Brenes (Jamis – Hagens Berman) 0:00:12
4 Rob Britton (Team Smartstop)
5 Carter Jones (Optum P/B Kelly Benefit Strategies)
6 Kirk Carlsen (Jelly Belly P/B Maxxis ) 0:00:17
7 Flavio De Luna (Team Smartstop) 0:00:25
8 Maxim Jenkins (Marc Pro-Strava) 0:00:31
9 Alexis Camacho (Arenas Tlax-Mex) 0:00:32
10 James Oram (Bissell Development Team) 0:00:37
Women’s Results Stage 1:
1 Mara Abbott (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) 3:12:53
2 Flavia Oliveira (FCS|Zngine p/b Mr. Restore) 0:00:55
3 Abagail Mickey (TWENTY16 Pro Cycling) 0:01:31
4 Annie Toth (Groove Subaru Excel Sports) 0:01:38
5 Scotti Wilborne (Team TIBCO to the Top) 0:01:48
6 Sharon Laws (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) 0:02:19
7 Katie Hall (UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling) 0:02:24
8 Breanne Nalder (DNA Cycling p/b K4)
9 Andrea Dvorak (Team TIBCO to the Top) 0:02:35
10 Jessica Cutler (USA FCS|Zngine p/b Mr. Restore) 0:02:39