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By Todd Wells, GT-Hyundai professional cycling
If you’re not racing mountain bikes in Europe during May, you’re not doing any big races. I’m not heading over until the third round of the World Cup May 29 in Houffalize, Belgium, so that means some serious down time. You might think I’d take some time off, maybe go to a warm beach somewhere, or even just hang out in Durango. But I can’t seem to sit still for a single weekend, so I’ve been hitting the road circuit. It’s a good thing I’m a bike racer.
I already got in some good road racing this past February with a six-day race in Mexico. Then, after Sea Otter, I headed to New Mexico for the Tour of the Gila. Gila is a five-day stage race at altitude based out of Silver City, which was just in Outside magazine as one of the last undiscovered cool towns or something like that. A lot of people think Silver City is a dive of a town, but the place rules.
Silver City is what you think of when you think of an Old West town. It’s got a “real” Main Street with “real” shops owned by “real” people. It’s got a bar like The Ranch in Durango, but there are no college nights or tourists hanging out there, just the local roughnecks tipping back brews while I’m going to breakfast. The high school kids race their “fast and furious” cars up and down Main Street on Friday and Saturday night, and the cops chase them around but never seem to catch them. There are only a few suitable restaurants in town, and the place to go for dessert is Dairy Queen.
Meg and I drove down there from Durango the Tuesday before the TT that kicked off the race on Wednesday afternoon. I had to settle for eighth place. It wouldn’t have been a bad result had more of the big teams been there, but since the Tour de Georgia finished just two days earlier, most of them skipped the race. The TT is always super windy, and this year was no different, with wind gusts up to 40 mph and high-speed downhills at nearly 50 mph with discs and aero’ bars. I was happy to make it through in one piece.
The next day we had the Mogollon mountaintop finish. The race was pretty uneventful until we hit the finishing climb, where everything blew apart. I managed a fifth-place finish but once again had hoped for more. The climb is really twisty and has some pretty steep pitches but goes by fast since it’s got so many turns. The U-23 guys were there and Meg was hanging out with Cramer in the feed zones, doing her best to show him everything Wally taught her in Europe last year.
Friday was a pretty uneventful race with about 6000 feet of climbing but we just finished in a big group again. I took fifth in the sprint but missed out on the top-three time bonuses.
Saturday turned out to be my day. By some miracle I won the field sprint in the crit. Since there were no big teams there to control the bunch at the end of the race, the door was open for me to take the win. My brother, Rude, also won his crit in the Category 3’s.
It was my first NRC win, and we were going to celebrate that night, but luckily the place we went for dinner didn’t serve alcohol. The dinner did take two hours, though, and since we didn’t get our food for an hour and 55 minutes, that’s 1:55 waiting for dinner and five minutes eating it.
The final stage is called the Gila Monster, and it is a monster, with more than 10,000 feet of climbing and just over 100 miles. Swindlehurst won with an attack 30 miles from the finish and built up enough time to take the overall too. I wound up fifth overall, about a minute down. It’s amazing how close the time gaps are in a five-day race with tons of climbing and a TT.
I had a weekend at home in Durango after Gila before heading off for the Joe Martin Stage Race in Arkansas. I had never been to Arkansas, and if you do go there, Fayetteville, where the race took place, is a pretty nice town. It’s got the University of Arkansas, a really cool downtown and a Quedoba burrito place – what more could you want?
In true Arkansas fashion (not that I know what that is), the first day’s race started in the Wal-Mart parking lot. Steve Tilford was supposed to be going to the race and I was going to stay with him and have his wife/girlfriend/mom Trudi feed me. Well, I see Jed Schneider on the start line and he tells me Tilford isn’t coming. Luckily, Carl Decker offered to have the Broadmark team manager feed me. I never got any of the feeds, though. She was new and too busy trying to get bottles to all her guys. But it was a nice gesture.
The weather was hot, and luckily there were neutral feeders, plus Wherry even gave me a bottle. How cool is that? The guy that wins Redlands gets me an extra bottle from the car. The race was 115 miles and we finished in a field sprint of 50 guys. I think I ended up like 16th.
Next day we had a 95-mile race in the morning and a 2.5-mile uphill TT in the afternoon. The morning race stayed together again and finished in a 40-mph-plus downhill sprint. I managed to crack the top 10 and got head-butted by a Monex guy for trying to jump into their train. I thought Pate and Sayers were going to throw down WWF style in the parking lot about something, but it just turned out to be a lot of yelling. You don’t see that too often after a mountain-bike race because everyone is too tired from racing to do much of anything other then sit down.
The uphill TT averaged 7 percent but it’s amazing how flat 7 percent is at sea level. I was able to ride in my big ring and ended up a respectable sixth place, about 16 seconds back on Pate and pretty close to the other guys.
On Sunday, the last day, we did a 95-minute crit that was about a 1-mile lap with a short 200-meter climb. The race blew apart and only 20 people finished in the lead group and the rest of the field might have gotten pulled. I attacked a ton but only got off once with Dominguez, who wouldn’t pull, I presume, because his teammate Moninger back in the field was a few seconds ahead of me on GC. I finally felt like I got a good workout in, though. After two days of just sitting in the field, coasting around, it was nice to get the heart rate up.
After the race, I packed my bike in 12 minutes in the parking lot gave myself a one-minute towel shower and was on my way to the airport in Tulsa less then 20 minutes after I crossed the finish line.
This week, I’m hanging out at my family’s house in New York before the Tour of Connecticut, and then I’m off to Houffalize. If you’re going to Durango for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic next week, make sure you check out “Off Road to Athens” at the Abbey theater that weekend. I wonder what Gully’s doing right now. . . .