By VeloNews Interactive
Drew Miller (Landis-Trek-VW) will be on hand to defend his title at the 26th La Vuelta de Bisbee this weekend, beginning with Friday’s Mule Pass Individual Time Trial.
The 36-year-old Flagstaff racer says both he and his team are somewhat weaker than they’d like to be going into the four-stage National Race Calendar event – Miller is recovering from a bout of flu, while teammate Scott Price had a nasty crash at the Redlands Bicycle Classic.
“My form and fitness were good earlier this spring,” Miller said. “Redlands started well, but I ended it with the flu. I’ve taken a couple steps back since then – two solid weeks of little or no riding.”
As for Price’s absence, it costs the team “a lot of horsepower and leadership,” Miller said. Still, he says, his riders are ready to take up the challenge.
“Even though, just based on numbers, we are weaker this year, everyone’s gonna give their all,” he said. “If someone on the team has the legs to contend, I know that everyone will put forth maximum effort.”
Miller won last year’s Vuelta against a field that included Health Net’s Gord Fraser and Mike Sayers and Saturn’s Ivan Dominguez and Viktor Rapinski. He began by winning the 2.8-mile uphill prologue. The next day’s morning road stage ended in a Health Net-dominated sprint, while the afternoon time trial saw Rapinski sweep into the overall lead, setting up a final-stage battle between Rapinski, Fraser and Miller. It took a dramatic effort on the final climb up Mule Pass for Miller to claim the overall, just 26 seconds ahead of Rapinksi and a further 16 in front of Fraser.
“I suffered all the way to the finish,” Miller said.
This year, with Fraser, Sayers and Dominguez racing across the country at the Tour de Georgia, Miller will face a new set of challengers, including Team Monex’s Davide Frattini, a former winner of the Baby Giro; Navigators’ Burke Swindlehurst, an excellent climber; and Team Seasilver, which Miller says has “lots of potential winners,” among them Jacob Erker, Adam Livingston and Peter Knudsen.
“Monex had a good climber at Redlands (Frattini),” Miller noted. “Burke is also a great climber and a very savvy tactical rider. I think he had Bisbee won years ago but flatted in the final time trial and lost the lead. Bisbee owes him one.”
Meanwhile, though 2003 winner Manon Jutras is racing overseas with Team SATS, half of the top-10 women from last year’s Vuelta will be among the racers contending for top honors again this year, including Lynn Gaggioli (T-Mobile), fourth in 2003; Elizabeth Begosh (Velo Bella), seventh in ’03; Kristin Johnson (Team Basis), eighth; Cynthia Mommsen (The Olympic Club), ninth; and New Zealander Johanna Buick (Victory Brewing), 10th.
La Vuelta de Bisbee, April 23-25, Bisbee, AZ
Friday, April 23: Mule Pass Individual Time Trial, 2.8 miles, 837 feet of elevation gain.
Saturday, April 24: Sulphur Springs Road Race, 79.3 miles with 2300 feet of climbing for the men, half that for the women (morning); Warren Time Trial, 8.3 miles (afternoon).
Sunday, April 25: Tombstone Road Race, 87 miles for men, with 6400 feet of elevation gain (59 miles for women), ending with a five-mile climb on a 6 percent grade.