The Inner Loop stage of Gila is always a scary one. It start out right at the base of a cat 3 climb, a rolling, exposed to the wind struggle up to the tiny town of Pinos Altos, which is where most of our team is staying. It isn’t that difficult of a climb in terms of steepness until you get to the top, and both years I’ve done Gila, including today, I made it over the climb fairly easily (easily is a VERY relative term in bike racing). But, if you don’t make it over in the main group, you’re in for a very long day. Right after the first KOM at Pinos Altos, there’s a descent, a lot of false flat, and another short steep section that makes up the second cat 3 climb and KOM of the day. Then there’s a long corkscrew descent and a lot of flat and rolling roads before the final climb of the stage heading back to the start/finish line.
Almost half of this stage takes place on a tiny road that winds its way through some of the most beautiful and pristine wilderness in the Southwest, the Gila National Forest. The trees are too short and scrawny to be cut down for timber, there’s no large river to be damned, and the terrain is too rocky and barren for cattle pastures. This is why it’s a National Forest, not BLM land. You’d think that cyclists would have an appreciation for this type of un-raped wilderness, seeing as most of us hate the polluting car culture of America, but the amount of trash and water bottles littered along the road here lead me to a much bleaker conclusion. Even my fellow cyclists don’t really give a shit. I only have three pet peeves: 1) smashing my gum with the front end of my toothbrush and creating a sore that will last for a week, 2) people, and 3) people who litter.
It’s one thing to toss a bottle along a highway or in a town where someone’s going to pick it up as a trophy, I do that, but it’s another thing to toss it in the bushes where it will inevitably slowly break down over 1,000 years and enter the water system and give the trout a third eye. I know that probably won’t happen, and the relatively small amount of trash and plastic bottles we introduce to the environment won’t really matter that much, but it’s the principle that I’m worried about. If cyclists don’t care about the world, who will?
Very few people spend as much time as a cyclist does outside and in that in between area on earth that’s inhabited by both humans and the natural world (roads in the country). Anyways….
The race went well for some of us, not so well for others. Jon and I made it over the first KOM in great position, about 30 guys back from the front. I was hoping that it would split permanently over the top, but things pretty much all came together on the descent.
It didn’t take long for United Healthcare to continue its rampage at the front after the short respite of the downhill. A break of five got up the road, including former teammate and friend Chris Parish of Optum (former friend too—we don’t talk much anymore after he turned pro. Just kidding! No but seriously, Chris, why don’t you ever return my calls anymore?)
The middle part of the race was pretty chill in terms of difficulty and I mainly worked on staying near the front and moving Jon up whenever I saw him. Gabe and Dan were there as well, with Winger on bottle patrol and doing a fine job of it.
Things got hard again near the top of the final KOM when some accelerations were made at the front. This climb featured a descent before the descent and I’d been at the very back, peeing, right before I realized that the climb wasn’t over yet. I booked it to the front just in time for the pace to start up again.
Jon broke a spoke at the base of the descent and Gabe dropped back with him to help him get back on after a quick wheel change. They were both back in the pack pretty quickly and ready for the final 8kms, which were fast and a bit hectic up in the top 40 with constant shuffling and reshuffling at the front as guys tried to position for the 90 degree turn with 1.5K to go. I got knocked once or twice, which made me mad and subsequently not care anymore if I got bumped. A little pain makes the bull angrier.
Still up near the front and feeling “good,” it looked like I’d be entering the final turn in the top 15, then with 150 meters to go there was a big swarm on the left side of the road, causing us on the right to get pinched off and break going into the corner. Shit balls. This was exactly what I knew was going to happen and yet I didn’t move over in time to avoid it. Shit.
There’s a slight uphill drag for about 700 meters, a quick chicane to the right and then left, and a final 500 meters of flat, straight road lined with big trees to the finish line. Being too far back to contest the sprint, I just followed the wheels in front of me and closed a few gaps as I attempted to work my way as close to the front as possible. I came in 24th. Should have gone on the outside with 1.5 K to go!!! ARGHHH!!! Another wasted opportunity! I’ma tear that crit up though if I can on Friday.