Last year's La Vuelta de Bisbee stage race saw Darren Lill, Team Type 1, and Phil Zajicek, Fly V Australia, wage a thrilling battle throughout the three-day, four-stage event, swapping the yellow leader's jersey back and forth before Lill finally earned the victory.
This year's event, which kicks off Friday, will see Lill and Zajicek join forces on the seven-rider Fly V squad.
"Darren is a great rider: It gives us many options," Zajicek said. "We are here to win the race. Which of us wins isn't important."
Any one of the Fly V riders could pull off the win. "I think that we are all in great form right now. We'll just have to see how the race plays out," Zajicek said.
United Health Care Professional Cycling Team presented by Maxxis is bringing a loaded six-rider squad, said director Gord Fraser, who said all the team's riders coming to Bisbee should be GC contenders.
The event starts with a shortened 1.8-mile Mule Pass Time Trial, which begins in the copper mining town's historic downtown center. This year, the top mile of the course, which includes the steepest switchbacks, had to be deleted because of a washed out road, said race director Albert Hopper.
The shorter climb should lessen the gaps the climbers can open. "It will make things more competitive during the road races because the time spread won't be so great, Hopper said.
Fraser said the shorter Friday time trial will make time bonuses in the road stages more crucial to the overall results.
In addition to the pro squads, regional teams including Team Rio Grande, Team Exergy and Team Waste Management/Hammer Nutrition are ready to battle the climbs and wind riders have typically faced in the race's 32-year history.
Saturday morning the race continues with the 90-mile Sulphur Springs Road Race, followed that afternoon by the flat and windy 7.2-mile Warren Time Trial.
La Vuelta's queen stage, Sunday's 84-mile Tombstone Road Race, will see the riders face both sides of Mule Pass, a vicious climb that tops out at 5,930 feet in elevation.
The race features two categories: the A race for senior men pros and Category 1-3 and the B race for master men 35+ Category 1-4.
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