By Mason Ibas
Sunshine and warm temperatures will serve as the backdrop this weekend for the 29th edition of the La Vuelta de Bisbee stage race in Arizona. Traditionally, the race offers an opportunity for young riders to mix it up with seasoned pros in a "blue collar" stage race. One such pro will be defending 2006 champion Phil Zajicek (Navigators).
Ages of riders in this year's peloton range from 18 to 45. The race lets veterans to show their experience and youngsters make an impression. In 1977 and 1979, it was Bob Cook. In 1978, it was Greg Lemond, and other winners have included Jeff Pierce, Kent Bostick, Inga Thompson, Alexi Grewal, Jeannie Longo, and Scott Moninger, all of whom went on to successful careers.
Wedged into the steep canyons of the Mule Mountains, Bisbee will host 240 riders for three days including the Mule Pass Time Trial, the Sulpher Springs Road Race, the Warren Time Trial, and the Tombstone Road Race.
The 2.8 mile (4.5 km) prologue course travels through "Old Bisbee" and climbs a brutal 837 feet (255 m) to the top of "The Divide". Malcolm Elliot holds the course record (9:18), which has stood since 1993.
The 79 mile (127 km) Sulphur Springs Road Race heads east out of the mountains to the high desert grasslands on Saturday morning. The course covers 2366 feet (721 m) of climbing. Later that afternoon, racers tackle the Warren Time Trial, an out and back 8.3 mile (13.4 km) race toward the US/Mexico border.
Sunday's Tombstone Road Race packs 6,427 feet (1959 m) of climbing into the 87 mile (140km) course (58.4 miles (94 km) for the women). The fields will head west over the Mule Mountains and into the "basin and range" landscape of southeastern Arizona. Riders face a challenging 17 miles (27.4 km) of climbing in the last 21 miles (33.8 km) of the stage (including two 5 mile 6% grade climbs in the last 15 miles (24.1 km)).