What a difference a year makes

Alisha Welsh reflects on a successful week at Gila

A year ago, the Tour of the Gila was my first women's pro race. I didn't know a single rider as I pulled up to the start line in my parents' old red minivan. I stuffed extra bottles in my back pockets and crossed my fingers that I would make it through five days of the most challenging racing in the US. It was the first time that I saw girls in matching team kits covered in sponsors' decals pile out of cars adorned with half a dozen bikes on the roof. That year I watched Kristin Armstrong ride to a dominating victory at the SRAM Tour of the Gila. This time, she returned to the race to direct the newly formed Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 Team.

For me, stepping out of the team car with the peanut butter "monkey" painted on the hood, loaded with our shiny new Fuji bikes built up with SRAM and tricked out with Edge wheels rolling on gold hubs, it felt a bit surreal to be standing alongside girls who have won major national and international events. These girls are stars, yet they set aside their personal ambitions and egos to ride for the team; keeping the leader's jersey for five stages against the best teams in the US requires nothing less. I feel lucky to be a part of a squad that is focused not only on delivering wins but also developing riders.

Thus far, the team has had great success in achieving both objectives. In stage one, the team rode together at the front to bring back a six minute breakaway. It was my job to lead Mara Abbott onto the final climb of the day and, as the field shattered, she jumped off the front to capture the win by a significant margin. However, it was stage two where the team really had to pull together to keep Mara in the lead. I have ridden on windy days, but I have never been in a race with 80 mph wind gusts, big men walking their bikes, and chunks of roofing flying off nearby buildings.

Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 drove it through this wind to gain back time on a dangerous break. By the end of the stage the team was shedding riders. I had just come off the back about 10 miles from the finish when a big gust of wind coming over a mountain pass spun me literally 180 degrees on the road. However, at the finish, Mara balanced carefully atop the remnants of the podium display overlooking the tipped over porta potties and put on the red jersey.

The team's top priority was to hold the jersey for the rest of the race, but in the stage four criterium Shelley Evans unleashed her amazing sprint for the stage win as an added bonus. In the always epic Gila Monster road race, the team rode on the front all day through wind and even some snow flurries. Mara launched her final attack on the big climb of the day to finish second on the stage and secure the overall GC.

These experiences on the bike were pretty amazing, but staying in remote little house in Pinos Altos for a week allowed me to get to know the personalities behind the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 riders. For example, Mara is not only one of the world's most talented climbers, but also one of the most thoughtful people that I have ever met. I celebrated my birthday during the week and walked into my room to find a card and some little chocolates on my pillow.

Kat Carroll is a great leader both on-and-off the bike and always has good advice to give. Olivia Dillon makes everyone smile when she is around and brings a touch of Ireland with her wherever she goes. Lauren Tamayo contributes an amazing wealth of experience that allows her to read races like a crystal ball. Kristin McGrath continues to inspire us all with her determination after a collision with a truck sidelined her with serious injuries only a few months ago. Shelley and I had dinner duty one night and although my portion of the meal was a little disastrous, the orzo salad that she made was delicious.

Finally, the real unsung heroes of the week were our amazing support crew. Kristin Armstrong is an incredibly talented director and I'm pretty sure she could still pull a Fuji off the roof and school us all. Nicola Cranmer's logistics skills keep the team running smoothly and it's not unusual to get emails from her at all hours of the night. Our mechanic Tim Brennan kept all the bikes in top shape with a big smile on his face while our sognieur Emily used her massage skills to keep us ready for action.

I love reading race reports as much as the next cycling fan, but if you want the full scoop watch for upcoming video footage of the team from the folks at BrakeThrough Media. They followed us all week at Tour of the Gila, filming an upcoming docu-reality series showcasing our unique mix of characters on Peanut Butter & Co Tewenty12 and the drama that unfolds everyday on-and-off the race course. Stay tuned for more!

Become a fan of the team on Facebook and buy yourself a case of the world's best peanut butter.

Thanks for reading!

Alisha Welsh


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