Organisers hope Armstrong will return
Garmin-Transitions trio Dave Zabriskie, Danny Pate and Tom Danielson are scheduled to contest the SRAM Tour of the Gila, taking place from April 28 to May 2 in Silver City, New Mexico. A record number of pro men are registered, many of whom are using the higher altitude and mountainous terrain to prepare for the Tour of California in mid-May.
"We have three guys from Garmin coming to our race this year," said event promotor Jack Brennan. "Zabriskie, Pate and Danielson will be riding but they are riding under the DZ Nuts jersey, Zabriskie's company name. It will be really cool to have them here. It was exciting to see that they registered."
International Cycling Union (UCI) code 2.1.009 prohibits ProTour and Professional Continental teams from competing in national level events where only UCI Continental teams of the country, regional and club teams, national teams and mixed teams may participate. They are permitted to race with three riders wearing non ProTour team clothing, however.
"I emailed USA Cycling and the response I got from them was that the Garmin guys are taking the right approach," Brennan said. "The impression I am getting from USA Cycling is that they can bring a three-person team but can't wear their normal team clothing."
The Tour of the Gila is in its 24th year and recognised as one of the toughest climbing stage races ever seen in the US. The five-staged event includes three mountainous road races, a lengthy time trial and a spectator-friendly downtown criterium.
Last year the race was close to being cancelled due to a lack of funding in light of the nation-wide economic downturn. SRAM saved the race when it signed on as title sponsor. It was further bolstered by the participation of seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and his teammates: three-time Tour of California winner Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner.
Leipheimer won the overall classification ahead of Armstrong, who placed second and Horner in eighth. Their presence brought the event international recognition and Brennan hopes they will return. "We don't have RadioShack or BMC Racing registered yet," Brennan said. "It would be nice to have them back but we've heard nothing from them yet."
"Armstrong was tremendous for our race last year," he added. "It really helped with the visibility of the Tour of the Gila in general international media, not just cycling media. We had coverage all over the world. It was really nice for our race, for our area and for Silver City. Also, they brought so many spectators to the races."
Registration for the Tour of the Gila will close on April 27. The event is capped at 185 riders and there are already 175 registered to participate. Many of the top US-based teams are listed including UnitedHealthcare, Jamis-Sutter Home, SpiderTech, Jelly Belly, Fly V Australia, Mountain Khakis, Bissell, Team Type 1, Holowesko Partners and Trek Livestrong.
"I certainly suspect that some of the teams are coming here to prepare for the Tour of California," Brennan said. "I think that certainly helps out our race."
Brennan added a State of Mexico sprint jersey and a Champion System best young rider jersey to both the pro men and women categories, in addition to the overall race leader's jersey. "We've never had those before we only had the general classification jersey before," Brennan said. "We don't do a climber's jersey because the winner of the overall is usually the best climber."
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