By Alan Fischer
Top professional teams will mix it up with regional squads in a historic high desert mining town as the 32nd edition of La Vuelta de Bisbee kicks off Friday in Arizona.
The seven-rider Fly V Australia squad features Bisbee’s 2009 first- and second-place finishers: Darren Lill (who rode for Team Type 1 last year) and Phil Zajicek, as well as others who can shake up the results.
“I think we are all in great form right now, we’ll just have to see how the race plays out,” Zajicek said. “We are here to win the race. Which of us wins isn’t important.”
UnitedHealthcare-Maxxis also is coming with a six-man team.
“All the riders going to Bisbee should be a GC-type rider,” said director Gord Fraser.
A host of regional riders, including squads from Team Exergy, Team Rio Grande and Team Waste Management/Hammer Nutrition, are set to battle the three-day, four-stage event that climbs the steep grades surrounding Bisbee.
Team Waste Management brings a young team with two of six riders having ridden Bisbee before, said director Barney King.
“Our goals at Bisbee will be simple: get to know each other, see where the fitness levels is now, see how everyone handles the level of racing, observe the effort put forth, lean as much as possible and hopefully find a couple of top-10 finishes,” King said.
It will be a race of discovery for the seven riders on first-year Team Exergy, said Tad Hamilton.
“Our hope is to do a good result, with minimal expectations. We have lost our best GC rider for the year, so this will be about grooming for the future, and determining the physical capabilities of our athletes, he said. “We are looking at La Vuelta as an opener to the Tour of the Gila, but also as an opportunity to get some warm weather miles in our legs. The riders are all from northern states, so it will be nice to get a couple weeks of warm sunshine.”
The pros are also using Bisbee as a final tune-up for bigger targets coming up.
“Bisbee is the perfect race to get the legs going. I’ve been racing La Vuelta de Bisbee for 15 yeas now and it is always one of my favorite races of the year. I love the history of the race and the town of Bisbee,” Zajicek said. “I’m using Bisbee this year as a launch pad for my major goals of 2010, Tour of the Gila and Tour of California.”
Fraser said he sees Bisbee as good prep for Gila and the Tour of California for his UnitedHealthcare riders.
Friday afternoon’s Mule Pass Time Trial, which kicks off La Vuelta, will be a bit easier this year. About one mile has been cut from the steep climb due to a washed out road, leaving out the steepest switchbacks, said race director Albert Hopper.
The 1.8-mile climb, which in past years has opened significant time gaps, should this year result in closer results and a more competitive event going into the other stages, Hopper said.
La Vuelta continues with the 90-mile Sulphur Springs Road Race Saturday morning and the 7.2-mile Warren Time Trial Saturday afternoon.
The race concludes with Sunday’s queen stage, the Tombstone Road Race, an 84-mile trek that includes climbs up both sides of Mule Pass, which tops out at 5,930 feet in elevation.