The SRAM Tour of the Gila will be bolstered by the participation of six ProTour riders, who have chosen to use the event’s higher altitude and notorious mountain terrain to prepare for next month’s Tour of California. Garmin-Transitions and Team RadioShack will field three riders a piece, with the latter entering seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and Gila defending champion Levi Leipheimer under the Mellow Johnny’s name.
"Not only do the state and the local fans embrace this race, but the terrain, competition, and timing is perfect,” said Armstrong. “We are looking forward to taking the start in Silver City, it's a great event. It is also a great opportunity to ride with our U23 squad and check in on their development."
The race is scheduled to take place between April 28 and May 23 in and around Silver City, New Mexico. The field limit was filled to capacity at 185 riders in the professional men’s race before Team RadioShack announced its participation, a sign of the event’s growing popularity.
UCI code 2.1.009 prohibits ProTour and Professional Continental teams from participation in national ranked events, however the teams are permitted to send a maximum of three riders wearing non-ProTour team clothing. Garmin-Transitions confirmed its three riders Dave Zabriskie, Tom Danielson and Danny Pate will be represented under Zabriskie’s company DZ Nuts. Likewise Team RadioShack will field Armstrong, Leipheimer and Jason McCartney under the name of Armstrong’s Austin-based bike shop Mellow Johnny’s.
"This is really cool, I could not be happier about the direction of our race, the fact that Levi and Lance are coming back and that the fields are stacked with North America's best riders,” said race director Jack Brennan. “This will be a showcase of talent."
The SRAM Tour of the Gila is a valuable addition to the National Racing Calendar (NRC) series. Fly V Australia currently leads the NRC team classification and individual classification with Ben Day. Day will join 2009 podium finisher Phil Zajicek on the team’s Gila roster, with both riders well-prepared to take on the challenging terrain and competition. The duo will lead a seven-man team that includes Jai Crawford, Charles Dionne, Darren Lill, Darren Rolfe and David Tanner.
“I think it’s great to be able to race against those guys, they are some of the best in the world,” said Zajicek. “The ProTour riders are all going really well right now. Gila will be a really good quality field. They bring the cycling world’s attention to Gila again. I think that is great and also nice for us to come out and show that American racing has progressed.
“I think that there will be a few guys who can stay with Levi this year and that it will be a tighter GC and not just one guy walking away,” said Zajicek. “Tactically the American teams are coming into this race a lot stronger than they were in the past because the Tour of California is around the corner. We will see the American teams racing a lot more aggressively and force the ProTour teams, who only have three riders each, to work a lot more.”
The NRC leader on the women’s side, Ina-Yoko Teutenberg, and her leading team HTC-Columbia will not be participating in Gila. In addition to the NRC points on offer the women’s race is a member of the Women’s Prestige Cycling Series, a four round series that kicked off at the Redlands Bicycle Classic last month.
Last year’s race winner and current UCI World Time Trial Champion Kristin Armstrong has retired from professional bike racing, however she will direct the Peanut Butter & Co. TWENTY12 squad. The seven-woman roster will include Mara Abbott, Olivia Dillon, Katharine Carroll, Shelley Evans, Kristin McGrath, Lauren Tamayo and Alisha Welsh.
Team Vera Bradley Foundation will field its former NRC and Women’s Prestige Cycling Series champion Alison Powers. She will no doubt want to improve upon her second place performance at last year’s race.
"I'm really excited for Gila. I would like to win, that is the goal this year," Powers said. "To have a team to support me is amazing, a very strong team. I feel good climbing and time trialing.
“There is a Mara Abbott, who is an unknown and she will be there with a strong team,” said Powers of her main rivals. “She will probably out climb me on Mogollon by a lot but I will have to have a super strong time trial. Last year the time trial secured my second place overall. It is hard, long and windy. It can be very decisive and you have to be game on there."
Other notable riders include the United States of America Road Champion Meredith Miller (TIBCO), United States of America Time Trial Champion Jessica Phillips (Coltavita-Baci). Notably missing from the registration list is the Webcor-Builders team.
Riding toward the Gila monster
Stage 1, April 29: The five day event kicks off with the Mogollan Road Race, a 151-km for the professional men and 115-km for the professional women point-to-point road race. The race will finish atop the Mogollon ascent and is sure to cause plenty of early time separations in the overall classification.
Stage 2, April 29: The Inner Loop Road Race offers the professional men a 128-km and the professional women a 125-km race that starts and finishes in Fort Bayard Medical Centre. Although the peloton will pass several thousand feet of ascending, the event typically ends in a smaller group sprint.
Stage 3, April 30: Dan Potts Memorial Tyrone Individual Time Trial is sure to shake up the overall with a 25-km grueling out and back race against the clock. Last year’s event saw Levi Leipheimer and Kristin Armstrong increase their respective leads in the overall classification by a nearly untouchable margin. Each rider will be up against large highway-style rollers and strong crosswinds.
Stage 4, May 1: Downtown Silver City Criterium is a race suited for the fastest sprinters amongst all the climbers. The 1.7-km circuit offers a steep hill followed by a fast descent each lap. The professional men will complete 40 laps and the professional women 25 laps.
Stage 5, May 2: The Gila Monster Road Race is the fifth and final stage and will finish atop the infamous Pinos Altos ascent. The pro men will complete 171-km and the pro women 115-km.
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