Road

Thrills, chills, expected for Gila crit Saturday

Silver City, New Mexico, woke up to crystal blue skies and a bit of a chill Saturday, as drivers poured over the scrubby high desert and through the mountains from Las Cruces, El Paso, Tucson and Albuquerque to gawk at the SRAM Tour of the Gila downtown criterium and its star riders.

Van Uden won in 2009
Van Uden won in 2009

Silver City, New Mexico, woke up to crystal blue skies and a bit of a chill Saturday, as drivers crossed the Jornada del Muerto south from Santa Fe and Albuquerque, over the Continental Divide from Tucson to the west and over the Rio Grande from El Paso and Las Cruces to the east, all to gawk at the SRAM Tour of the Gila’s downtown criterium and its star riders.

Among the stars, of course, is Lance Armstrong, racing for the Mellow Johnny’s ad hoc team with his usual RadioShack mates Levi Leipheimer and Jason McCartney. Leipheimer holds the race lead and has finished first, second and second in the three stages so far. Armstrong and McCartney have been laboring for Leipheimer, and now sit 16th and 95th, respectively, on the overall standings.

Leipheimer played it safe
Leipheimer played it safe in last year's crit

Last year at the Silver City crit, Leipheimer stayed protected by Chris Horner for most of the race, while Armstrong was more active at the front, looking to help deliver a stage win for protégé Taylor Phinney of Trek-Livestrong. Those plans were curbed in the final lap when Leipheimer and Phinney got tangled in a crash. Phinney lost his position for the sprint and Leipheimer rolled a tire and had to finish on Horner’s bike.

Roman Van Uden of (Land Rover-Orbea) won the sprint in 2009, and he is back for 2010 (the team is now called Rubicon-Orbea) looking to repeat, his teammates told VeloNews Saturday morning. Phinney, too, is looking to leave his mark on the Gila with a stage win.

As for Leipheimer, at a pre-race news conference he groaned and rolled his eyes when the crit was mentioned. “It’s fun for the spectators. …” he said.

He, like many of the other GC riders, was planning to sleep in and enjoy a safe ride ahead of Sunday’s queen stage, the 106-mile Gila Monster, which includes more than 9,000 feet of climbing.

The men will take the start at 3:15 p.m. local time and race 40 laps for 43.2 miles. The women’s race starts at 2; they will do 25 laps for 27 miles. Stay tuned to VeloNews.com for a report, results and photos.