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The Tour of the Gila

The Tour of the Gila is supposedly the hardest race on our North American calendar. It was my first stage race since Tour of Alberta. We finished racing last Sunday, and I thought I’d write a bit of a race report.

Stage One: 148 km; 1734 m

I was excited to race again, but nervous about how I’d hold up. The plan was to protect MA and Luke throughout the day, and then help guide them up the finishing climb.

I hadn’t been feeling good on the bike all week. I figured I’d had an extra week to acclimatize to the altitude though, so really I should be better off than some others. The top teams, of course, had been training at altitude too, and for much longer. I hoped my legs would come round on the first stage, and that I’d be able to climb well.

The stage was mostly flat, with only a few small rollers. At 10.7 km to go, the race turned right and climbed the Mogollon. The first few kms weren’t very steep, spilling you out onto a mesa with strong crosswinds. With 4.5 km to go, the road went up again. It was pretty steep, averaging 8 percent to the line.

I spent the first 30 km of the race trying to pee off my bike. I’ve never had to go during a race before, but for some reason I was absolutely bursting the moment the flag dropped. Loads of guys would coast alongside the peloton on a downhill section and get their business over with without stopping. Upon failing to follow suit several times in the first hour, I finally pulled over on the side of the road and accepted that I can’t pee at speed. Something to practice for sure.

I got back on my bike after relieving myself and my Garmin started ringing. Then it died. It would proceed to turn itself on and off for the next hour, before I threw it into the team car. I use my Garmin in races to know when to eat, and how far we are from sprints, KOMs, corners or the finish. This really pissed me off. Not to mention I don’t have the money to replace it, and I also use it in training.

 Lining up for stage two.

Lining up for stage two.

The race was pretty uneventful. A break went early on and the peloton let it go knowing we’d reel the riders in on the finishing climb. I covered a few attacks around 80-100 kms in, but none of them gained more than 50 metres for a few seconds.

We hit the finishing climb and I had nothing. I went straight to the back, and was shot out. I rode on my own to the top. I sucked. It sucked.

I sneezed the entire hour and a half drive home. I’ve never had such bad allergies. My sinuses were in such pain, and my right eye swelled dramatically. My eyes were watering and I had a severe eye/sinus/headache all night.

Stage 2: 120 km; 1600 m

I woke up and felt like I’d been hit by a truck. My head and eye still hurt and so did my throat and chest. I decided I’d start the stage, but figured there’s no way I would be able to finish.

As we drove to the race, I decided that I would push to the end. I accepted that I’d get dropped based on how I felt, but told myself that no matter what, I’m forcing myself to finish the stage.

A few minutes before the start I told myself to just race my bike. I wasn't going to think about my allergies or my excuses. I would just race. We were riding for a field sprint and would lead out MA, and I promised myself I’d be there for it.

 I went for a post tt walk / photo adventure to clear my head and found some doors. 

I went for a post tt walk / photo adventure to clear my head and found some doors. 

The first intermediate sprint was 9 or so km into the stage at the base of a ~9km climb. I wanted to win the sprint. I positioned myself at the front of the race and followed the first guy to initiate the sprint. I went around him before the line, won the sprint, and then ended up having a significant gap on the peleton. I rolled ahead solo, and started the climb.

A few minutes later a group of 5 guys, including teammate MA, and riders from UHC, Jelly Belly, Hagens Berman and Rally bridged to me. I rolled through, taking pulls and letting MA sit on. He was relaxing, which was good. The effort was killing me though.

A larger group caught us before the KOM and with 200 m to the top I allowed myself to get dropped. My week of pre-riding this bit of the course gave me the confidence that I could rest on the last section of the climb, and then catch back up to the lead group on the descent. I knew the corners really well. Sure enough, I caught them on the descent and moved effortlessly to the front, knowing which corners I could pass through without braking. A few km later, a group of five rolled off the front. Racing on instinct, I followed. MA yelled for me to go back to the pack.

I took a second to consider: pretend I didn’t hear and represent the team in this break, or go back? I had a job to do though, and that was to lead out MA. I quickly returned to the group. We were sure the break would get caught anyways.

The GC teams miscalculated though, and the break stayed away and won the race. We were now racing for 6th. I got dropped with 20 km to go on the final KOM, but chased back on on the descent. With 12 km to go it was only MA and I in the group, as Luke had flatted. I went to the front and got MA on my wheel. I did my best to keep him out of the wind and at the front, preparing for the field sprint. Luke got back in behind me.

I was way out of my comfort zone. UHC and Rally had their trains and I was getting hit from the left. No one wanted me there. Our rivals yelled at me, head butted and shouldered me for the next 9 km. I don’t belong at the pointy end of a sprint stage. I’m too timid. But we wanted to win the field sprint (even if it was for 6th), and most of our teammates were gone. I did what I could, but at just over 2 km to go, I blew up.

 Rolling out on stage two.

Rolling out on stage two.

We didn’t get a result. It was a disappointing stage. I was happy with how I rode, though part of me wished I had gone with the winning break. Based on my form, I probably wouldn’t have lasted, so it’s good I didn’t go get dropped I guess. I listened to our leader on the road and followed our plan.

That night my allergies got worse, and I could feel that there was shit in my lungs too. The team was in a bad mood as well. No results. No one was happy. It was a shit environment.

Stage 3: 26 km ITT

I woke up sad and exhausted. Not sure why I was sad, but I didn't question my exhaustion.

My Garmin hadn’t fixed itself, so I rode without one. I had no idea how fast I was moving. I was distracted the whole time. My legs felt terrible.  I finished 47th.

Stage 4: 70 km Crit; 800 m (90 minutes)

The crit started in the evening, which left me all day to kill. I went for a spin in the morning. With all the time spent doing nothing throughout the rest of the day, I had a lot of time to think.

I got sad. Very sad. Certain things that have happened in my relatively recent past resurfaced. I grew angry that on this day I couldn’t push them aside like I’d been able to do the other days. In a house with 13 people, in a room with no door and a twin bed that I was sharing, I had no space to myself, and no one around who I felt I could talk to. Eventually I called my mom and cried a bit. This was at 2, and the race started at 4:15. My headspace was shit.

I raced hard to push my thoughts aside. We wanted to win the sprint again with MA, so we had to keep the race together to force a bunch sprint. I covered moves, and ended up in a small break for a few laps. With 10 to go, I moved up to help MA and Luke. Again, it was just the three of us. I did my best to keep them out of the wind and bumped shoulders and elbows with the Elevate KHS train. I rode until I couldn’t, and around 4 to go I sat up. Luke helped MA for the next four laps, and MA finished third.

 More doors. 

More doors. 

To me, this was a great result. Of course, a win would have been ideal, but at least we had a podium. I felt I had played a part in it. But the team, again, was not happy. Some shitty things were said. I was exhausted by these attitudes (and my effort) and my allergies came back.

Stage 5: 150 km; 2800 m

I woke up and walked down the stairs for breakfast. As I made my way down the stairs I knew right then my race was over. I had nothing. I was absolutely cracked.

I spent the first 20 km taking turns trying to get into moves. I had nothing and never made it into anything. I was dropped on the first KOM 20 km in, and chased back on, on the descent. We hit the Gila monster 90 km in, and that was it. I was absolutely empty. I sat up and rode on my own to the top of the hill, and put my bike on the van. I got changed, grabbed my music and camera, and joined a friend from Vancouver (Jake) who was in the feed zone for his team.

As disappointing as it was to not finish, I wasn't surprised. I was cracked and that’s all there was to it. I rode hard when I could.

I wanted to climb better last week. I’m hoping that my performance at Gila is not foreshadowing how I’ll ride next week at Redlands. I hope the team does well in Redlands as a whole so that our morale is boosted. For now, I’m hanging out in Cali and spending all day on the front porch. I’m loving the sun, and enjoying a bit of time to train and recover. Dana Point GP is our next race this sunday, then Redlands starts on Wednesday.