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La Vuelta de Bisbee: Digging deep in the old mining town

They’ll never forget you ’til somebody new comes along. – The Eagles, “New Kid in Town” There’s a new kid in town this month - the Dodge Tour de Georgia, a prologue and five stages. According to the official web site, it starts in Savannah and ends in Atlanta, traversing “the rolling hills of central Georgia and the state’s rugged northern mountains … a beautiful and ever-changing landscape for the cyclists as they do battle in breathtaking sprints and grueling climbs.” Sounds great. New races are great. In the Land of Golden Arches, where NASCAR is king, all bicycle races are great, even

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By Patrick O’Grady

Bisbee was a new kid once, too

Bisbee was a new kid once, too

Photo:

They’ll never forget you ’til somebody new comes along.
The Eagles, “New Kid in Town”

There’s a new kid in town this month – the Dodge Tour de Georgia, a prologue and five stages. According to the official web site, it starts in Savannah and ends in Atlanta, traversing “the rolling hills of central Georgia and the state’s rugged northern mountains … a beautiful and ever-changing landscape for the cyclists as they do battle in breathtaking sprints and grueling climbs.”

Sounds great. New races are great. In the Land of Golden Arches, where NASCAR is king, all bicycle races are great, even the ones that suck.

But it seems like there’s always a new race on the calendar, some new kid in town. Meanwhile, 1700 miles to the west of Georgia, in and around the little mining town of Bisbee, Arizona, is a race that’s been around for a quarter-century, just eight years less than The Eagles: La Vuelta de Bisbee.

Despite the wide disparity in their ages, the Tour de Georgia and La Vuelta share a couple of traits. They’re both on USA Cycling’s National Racing Calendar – and they’re both happening in the same week: Georgia runs April 22-27, while Bisbee runs April 25-27.

But while Georgia isn’t even wet behind the ears, having yet to be born, La Vuelta is a 25-year-old, blue-collar bike race, as befits a former mining town of 6500 at the ass-end of southern Arizona that learned to lower its expectations even before Jimmy Carter made it a watchword, mining having become unprofitable about the time The Eagles recorded “Take It to the Limit”:

But the dreams I’ve seen lately
Keep on turnin’ out and burnin’ out
And turnin’ out the same …

Al Hopper knows. He’s been La Vuelta’s patron since 1990, barring a three-year respite that ended in 2000, and his dream for the week “is to have a short, but not so sweet, stage race.”

It’s a modest wish, considering that La Vuelta has drawn marquee names for years, among them last year’s winners – Scott Moninger and Jeannie Longo – and near-legendary figures like Jonathan Boyer and John Howard, Alexi Grewal and Roy Knickman, Inga Thompson and Bob Cook, and Greg LeMond, who won in 1978.

Hopper won’t see many of today’s household names rolling around Bisbee this year, though Saturn is sending a contingent of seven riders – including Jessica Phillips and Ivan Dominguez – and LeMond Fitness-Captain CRA-Z Soap will be in attendance before heading off to the Tour of the Gila in neighboring New Mexico.

While Floyd Landis, Tom Danielson and Jonathan Vaughters are marching through Georgia, La Vuelta’s fields will be filled by “a lot of young riders, 19-23-year-olds,” says Hopper. “For me, if LVDB gives them a chance to shine, I’ll be happy.”

These youngsters can expect the unexpected as regards the weather (generally warm and windy); rolling enclosures on mostly good roads (with a few rough patches); and four tough stages spread over a three-day period. You want to win, you got to dig deep, just like the old miners did.

Racing kicks off next Friday evening with the Mule Pass Time Trial, which gains 837 feet in just 2.8 miles. Saturday is a double-stage day, opening with the Sulphur Springs Road Race (79.3 miles for the Pro/I-II field, 45.8 miles for everyone else), and finishing with the 10.6-mile Warren Time Trial.

Competition concludes on Sunday with the Tombstone Road Race (65.4 miles and more than 5000 feet of elevation gain for the elites, 58.4 miles and slightly less up for the others). The course boasts two Category 3 climbs in the last 15 miles, which should stand in nicely for the downtown crit that once ended La Vuelta, with its leg-breaking assault on High School Hill.

“I expect the thing to be blown apart on the final climb,” predicts Hopper.Sounds like bike racing to me. No glitz, no glamour, just another tough shift at the mines.Take it to the limit, Al – one more time.