Chris Winn: Ramblings From The Road


11 May 2012


 Photo credit © Jonathan Devich

As I was pinning on my numbers for this race, I realized I've been a participant every year since I switched from the dirt to the road.  I still remember that first year being the biggest stage race I had done to date and consequently getting my doors blown off just trying to survive.  Or the year Lance showed up and the crowds were just insane and people drove from miles away just to get a glimpse of the 7 time Tour winner.  This year the race had stepped up to UCI status giving the opportunity for a few more larger teams to enter, namely TT1, UHC and Champion Systems from Asia.  Either way the common thing theme from every edition was that I always left Silver City completely toasted at the end of the week.  Yep, sure enough this year was no on folks!

The Tour of the Gila was the second race this year where I would trade in my cow print jersey for the black and pink striped jersey of the Juwi-Solar team.  With a few roster changes and hiccups we would be down to just 6 of us by the time the gun went off but were all eager to mix things up.  Quite honestly the travel across from Arkansas had the potential to be nasty but looking back now it was pretty smooth.  After the final stage of Joe Martin, Austin and I drove back to St Louis where the next afternoon I hopped a flight to Albuquerque for a nights stay.  From there I arrived in Silver City by midday on Tuesday and had enough time for a quick spin before the Wednesday race start.  However I will add that 'quick spin' I just mentioned felt horrible! I was a right royal mess with the legs like lead and lungs that struggled to breath now I was back at 6000ft or so.  Needless to say though, who cares what you feel like the day before the race, it's the day of the race that matters!

 Photo credit © Jonathan Devich

I'll admit it. Stage one of the Tour of the Gila and I aren't best buddies.  Usually I've blown before the final climb and lose a bunch of time.  This year quite honestly I had no expectations and just wanted to see how the day played out and to stay out of trouble before that final bastard climb up the Mogollon.  With some solid teams on the roster the stage was easily the most calm and controlled I have ever experienced.  To some extent it seemed bizarre and I was waiting for the fireworks to happen at any moment!  In years previous it has been super fast and out of control especially through the two feed zone loops. This year however it was far from it.  Despite not a set GC, Competitive Cyclist who were fresh from their Joe Martin win assumed control and the other teams were happy to let them.  By the time we hit the last 15kms of the day things did get much faster as everyone jostled for top position before the finish climb. In reality there are two parts to the finish of the stage.  Taking a right turn off the highway you hit some steep pitches before it flattens out and you hit an exposed plateau.  From the plateau you then hit the final 5km climb with gradients of 19% at times.  Every year guys either get dropped on the steep pitches before the plateau or on the plateau itself as the strong teams will take advantage of the cross winds and blow the field to pieces.  Sure enough it played out this way and I survived the pitches, but with the road only so wide and my threshold only so much I was in the splintering second group across the plateau. Once we hit the last 5km climb however the legs turned back on and I started feeling great, settling into my own rhythm towards the finish line.  I picked off as many guys as I could and crossing the line with nothing left in the tank. I had no idea where I placed at that point so I was surprised to see a 19th place beside my name when the results were posted later that day.  So far my best start to this race ever!

Photo credit © Jonathan Devich

Each year I have contested it Stage Two has always ended as a bunch sprint.  It's not a flat stage my any means but nonetheless a large contingent of the peloton does make it home together.  This year was no different and is perhaps my favorite stage of the week thanks to some awesome terrain.  It features a hair raising descent that has claimed many victims in the past but thankfully none this year aside from a good amount of brake pad dust left on the road!  Once you reach the bottom the ride through the valley is spectacular with the road meandering through some nice forested areas and up over the continental divide.  Once last chance for attacks over a longer highway climb and it's back to Fort Bayard where things kicked off.

Still maintaining a decent GC position going into the time trial I was a little worried.  Not because of the course but due to the fact I don't have a time trial bike!  However Mike of Juwi Solar came to my rescue and was nice enough to lend me his super nice Cervelo P3.  It was an awesome rig and was more than up to the task.  After some adjustments to make it UCI legal we made it work just fine even though it was a size bigger compared to what I would normally run.  The Gila time trial  is always tough, being one of the longer ones on the calendar at around 35 minutes and features some huge highway rollers.  Going off a little later than normal was nice but although I was 1.20min faster than last years time I still slipped back valuable places on the GC.  To be honest with myself I hadn't ridden a time trial bike since Redlands 2011 with Fly V so I couldn't have expected too much!

Photo credit © Jonathan Devich

Saturday's criterium is always a bunch of fun and normally in years past has drawn decent local crowds.  This year seemed much quieter and it was a little sad to see the grandstands placed on the corners a little empty.  As it is every year the criterium falls the day before the biggest stage of the race being the 170km 'Gila Monster'.  Combine this with the fact that most teams present are made up of non sprinter types this years criterium was one of the less chaotic I have raced.  A Colombian National Team rider spent most of the race solo off the front until Bissell took control for their on form sprinter Eric Young.  When the dust settled it was Jamis who came home with the biscuits going first and second.  I felt super throughout the whole race which left me in two minds what to do, but in the end conserving the legs for the last stage I decided would be the best option.  We had the luxury of staying close to the criterium course so it was a quick roll home and into bed early.

 Photo credit © Jonathan Devich

The final 'Gila Monster' Stage is a real brute. It features 9,131 feet of climbing spread out over 5 burgs and has some steep and winding descents.  The course hasn't changed over the years and it never gets any easier.  With UHC still in control of GC I was surprised they let a large break of 20 roll early.  In hindsight I should have been in there but I wasn't.  Any advantage to get up the road earlier and start the  climbs before the peloton would have been of assistance and I'm still kicking my butt about it.  So things played out as they do most years, and although I had terrible legs in the first hour (perhaps why I wasn't chomping at the bit looking for breaks) my legs came around for the first climb of the day and was in good position down the mad descent to the cliff dwellings.  The second climb back out of the cliff dwellings is where it always shatters thanks to a super steep pitch that throws everyone into the red.  This year for once I survived the nasty incline with the group although I was deep in the hurt box.  Still with at least 4km of climbing left the writing was on the wall and I slipped off and suffered to the top.  It was not pretty but by the summit I was in a small group for the descent to the bottom of the final Sapillo Creek climb which at this stage is approximately 30km left in the stage.  Hitting the start of the climb after the long descent it was as if the light bulb had switched back on again.  I felt great and fueled by the frustration of losing contact with the front of the race I decided to go as hard as I could to the finish.  I shed the group I was in and began to pick as many guys off as I could.  It wasn't pretty, and the stage was essentially over at that point for me but I just wanted to end it with nothing left in the tank.  Soon I had a couple of guys along for the ride and we made it to the finish line well behind the leaders.  Boo. I was hoping to be a better final day but it wasn't to be, and I had slipped to a nothing result of 37th on GC.  One day I'll get this race right!

 Our host Jeff owned this super sweet 1970 Chevy Nova.  It still has the original 8 track player that works!  Sounds mint too...

Every morning began in this fashion.  Yes that clock reads right.

So I'm now back in Colorado and taking a well deserved break this week.  Quite simply I'm knackered and the one ride I did this week so far I averaged 90bpm heart rate!  But I know that with some good rest the form will be back going again for the next few races.  Right now it's back to the couch......

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