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Gila jumps to the UCI ranks in 2011

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Elite men's overall Tour of Gila podium: Tom Danielson (DZ Nuts), Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny's), Phillip Zajicek (Fly V Australia)

Elite men's overall Tour of Gila podium: Tom Danielson (DZ Nuts), Levi Leipheimer (Mellow Johnny's), Phillip Zajicek (Fly V Australia) (Image credit: Mitch Clinton)
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Lance Armstrong (Mellow Johnny's) looks like he is feeling his years after a hard, wet, snowy stage.

Lance Armstrong (Mellow Johnny's) looks like he is feeling his years after a hard, wet, snowy stage. (Image credit: Mitchell Clinton/
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The SRAM Tour of The Gila winning crew

The SRAM Tour of The Gila winning crew (Image credit: Alisha Welsh)

The 25th annual Tour of the Gila has found a place on USA Cycling’s tentative list of International Cycling Union (UCI) sanctioned events scheduled in 2011. According to race director Jack Brennan the event will likely run from April 27 to May 1 in the high deserts of Silver City, New Mexico, acting as a valuable precursor to the Tour of California held two weeks later.

“Right after this year’s race we started working on what we would need to do to be part of the UCI,” Brennan said. “The first thing I did was call USA Cycling’s Micah Rice and asked him if he felt that our race was of the quality to be UCI and he said yes. Secondly I asked if our organization was worthy of pulling off a UCI race and he said yes. We will have the Tour of the Gila ending early May and the riders can go straight into the Tour of California. We will get some tremendous exposure for US racing for three weeks. We all win, wouldn’t that be cool?”

Brennan and his colleague Michelle Geels sent in the necessary paper work to obtain UCI sanctioning to USA Cycling on May 21. They requested a primary date that would end the race on May 1 and a secondary date of ending the race on May 8. USA Cycling forwarded a tentative schedule of events to the UCI, as per its deadline on June 1. Brennan expects to receive a response from the UCI regarding his date selection in early September.

“We’ve worked on making sure the dates were good,” Brennan said. “We spoke with Micah who spoke with Sean Petty and we contacted a number of teams regarding which dates would be better. The consensus was to end our race two weeks before the Tour of California which is scheduled to start on May 15 so that was our first priority date. I suspect we will get that. If we can pull everything off well it will be a five-day stage race. We have talked about expanding one extra day. We will see how it goes.”

Brennan and Geels have formed an agreement with Robin Mortin of g4 Productions to manage the professional men’s UCI race. Tour of the Gila Inc. will continue to host a number of category events along with a professional women’s race.

“Our hope is to find the resources to pull this race off and bring in Robin and her company to run the pro men’s race for us,” Brennan said. “She has a lot of great experience being involved with the Philly race, San Francisco, Tour de Georgia. We really like the expertise she can bring to us. We feel really good having Robin on board to pull off a really good race.”

“We had to put together a budget,” he added. “I had no idea what it took to be UCI. We spoke with Micah and Robin, who were helpful in figuring out what the UCI wanted to see from us. We put together a budget and we had a lot of talks about what we would need to pull it off. Our budget will increase three fold to what it was last year.

Two years ago, the Tour of the Gila was nearly cancelled but was revived through public donations and a new title sponsor in SRAM. According to Brennan it is hard to believe that he is pursuing UCI sanctioning after nearly three years of nation-wide economic struggle that had to potential to end his event.

“This is really amazing and kind of overwhelming,” Brennan said. “We were so close to pulling the plug on that year’s race and you always see that if you don’t do the race one year it is really hard to come back. The economy was terrible in the US. Things looked really stacked against us. We were reaching out at sponsors and weren’t getting good reception. Then SRAM became involved and the rest is history. It is just so cool that our race is still here.”

In addition, ProTour level riders such seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and Chris Horner participated under the Mellow Johnny’s banner. This year they returned with Jason McCartney, who replaced Horner, along with Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Tom Peterson, who raced as DZ Nuts.

“We want SRAM involved because they have done a great job for our event,” Brennan said. “They promoted our event and brought in top-notch racers, improved our stature. SRAM likes us and we like them so we want to be involved with them for as long as we can.”

Brennan noted that the Tour of the Gila needs additional funding in order to take the next step. He and Geels have sought advice from the Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce in Silver City.

“We are trying to identify where we can go to find a title sponsor,” Brennan said. “They are really helping us out to try to find sponsors for
the race. We are working on a list of companies and other ideas of where we can go for the funding.”

“We have talked to the state of New Mexico, the current governor and the democratic candidate for governor about our race,” he added. “But our state is much like other states and they don’t have the funding. Our race is a weeklong event and can be marketed as a place to come and visit. That is how I am trying to present it to the New Mexico Tourism department. The state is not really involved, if they had the money they would put in the money to the Tour of the Gila. We need to go other directions.”

The US lost several key UCI events in recent years due to the economic downturn including the Tour de Georgia, Tour of Missouri and the Tour de New York. It was recently announce that the nation had gained the UCI 2.1 Quiznos Pro Challenge to be held in Colorado next August.

“We need more stage races,” Brennan said. “We need to find other stage races and support them otherwise we don’t have the racing terrain and atmosphere to prepare our racers for racing internationally. I think we do a great job and we need to continue that.”

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Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.