--SILVER CITY, NEW MEXICO--
Wildlife Generation spent the past week in western New Mexico competing at its first UCI race of the year, The Tour of the Gila, a five-day stage race that traversed the hills of the Gila National Forest and the streets of downtown Silver City.
STAGE 1: The Ghost Town of Mogollon
The race's first stage is historically a position battle throughout the day leading into the summit finish at the top of the Mogollon Climb, located in the ghost town of the same name a little over 70 miles northwest of the start in Silver City.
This year proved no different. Crosswinds wreaked havoc as the day went on. The team's plan was to position Sam Boardman as best they could before the decisive righthand turn over a cattle guard that signals the start of the climb. Camden Vodicka, Finn Gullickson, Ryan Kingsolver, and Kent Ross would be on the lookout for early moves to go up the road, but the goal was to conserve for the ascent at the end of the day. They were unfortunately caught out in a field split that occurred about 30 kilometers before the start of the climb and had to chase back onto the second group up the road that Sam had held onto.
Riders' observations were unanimous about the day: it was the easiest race of their lives (as the first section of the course is virtually all down hill and at altitude, so speeds are wickedly fast and it's easy to regroup) that quickly turned into the hardest race of their lives as they scrambled to make the front group.
Colby, Kent, Ryan, and Maxx positioned Sam well going over the cattle guard through the righthand turn, but from their, crosswinds were once again presenting a serious challenge. Sam was gapped over the first riser to a quick descent into the base of the final kilometers of the climb. Being back from the group in front him, however, ended up potentially saving his race, as the guttering effects from the crosswinds forced riders to the crumbling shoulder of the road, creating limited space for drafting and ultimately causing a horrendous pile up right as the road turned up.
Sam would avoid the crash and ride tempo to conserve as much as he could for the following days while still limiting time loss. which landed him in 17th on the day, 1:58 down. The rest of the team, having done a great job to keep him in position, would ride to conserve for the rest of the week.
STAGE 2: Inner Loop Road Race
In an unfortunate turn of events, Camden would not be able to start the stage. Upon feeling sick and exhausted the day before, he would visit a local doctor and learn that he had been suffering from mononucleosis. He would fly out the morning of Stage 2 to head home for rest and recuperation.
The team, now down a rider, still approached the stage optimistically. The Inner Loop course is rouleur's dream route. Its climbs are hard enough to shed riders along the way, but short enough that those who are able to get over them still have time to recover in the group. This makes for a less chaotic but still cagey reduced-bunch finish as the remainder of the peloton battles for position going into the narrower roads in Fort Bayard, the historical site that the stage starts and finishes at just east of Silver City.
It was a much more relaxed day today. Small moves tried going up the road on the first climb out of town through Pinos Altos, but were reeled in quickly. From there, Elevate-KHS, who had James Piccoli in the leader's jersey after winning the stage the day before, set tempo for pretty much the rest of the day.
A small group would eventually get up the road after taking a flyer at the crest of the second major climb going into the technical winding descent of Sapillo Creek that deposited the peloton into the valley on the backside of the course. Their leash would never be let out to more than 1:30, and they would be swallowed up with about 5km to go as Elevate-KHS set a blistering pace on the rollers and the final descent.
Wildlife Generation had decided it would would be riding for Maxx Chance in the sprint, and would be in good position coming into the final kilometers of the course where the route turns right back into the Fort Bayard and to the finish line. However, crosswinds, much like the day before, remained a factor, and as the peloton fanned out along Highway 180, a touch of wheels took Maxx and Colby Lange down. Finn, Ryan, Kent, and Sam remained upright, but with 2km of the stage left, it was critical that Sam remain with the lead group as closely as possible to limit time loss. The crash, however, forced a split, and Sam would scramble to latch back on and finish 11 seconds down from the stage winner in 28th, now sitting 15th overall.
The two riders were alright, for the most part. Both riders suffered from road rash and Colby would have to get stitches in his chin later that evening, but both riders were able to ride it in to finish the stage.
STAGE 3: Tyrone Time Trial
This time trial route is notoriously brutal, as there are few sections that allow riders to settle into a rhythm. The course sets out from the Tyrone mine and heads south for 13 kilometers over an undulating course, which riders traverse in reverse on their way back, making for a total of 26 kilometers of racing.
This year, however, weather offered the riders a bit of respite from chaos that had ensued the past two days on account of crosswinds, instead presenting a calm day with balmy temperatures and only a breeze here and there. In years past, gusty winds had often defined how riders approach the course (with racers running shallower front wheels and sometimes no disc wheels at all), but this year, every TT bike had all of the bells and whistles.
Sam would finish the day in 9th place and would move up to 9th place in the general classification.
Finish times for the 26km Tyrone time Trial:
Sam Boardman: 34:48
Colby Lange: 35: 57
Finn Gullickson: 38:05
Ryan Kingsolver: 38:08
Maxx Chance: 39:08
Kent Ross: 39:44
STAGE 4: Downtown Silver City Criterium
The downtown criterium of Silver City is a non-technical rectangle with rolling punches along the back stretch that descend back down through turn 3 and into turn 4 back into the finishing straightaway, which is all uphill.
It's a deceptively taxing course, and with crosswinds making their return after a quick break the day before, it proved a harder race than anticipated. Ryan and Finn were set to conserve as much as they could in preparation for the following final day in the mountains, and the team would ride for Maxx and Kent, with the hopes of a) trying to sling Colby into a late move to contest the win with his track speed, or b) getting Sam into a break that could gain time on the peloton. Moves have been known to go in this crit in the peloton relaxes even for a split second, so the goal was to keep an eye on movements off the front that appeared dangerous.
No such move would materialize, however, as leading teams of Elevate-KHS and Floyd's Cycling, who both had sprinters in the race to contest the finish, never let anything get up the road. Colby fought to get into moves, but none were allowed up the road, and he fell back into the pack. Feeling the effects the crash two days before, Maxx voiced to the team that he wasn't feeling that great, so the race became about staying safe and using as little energy as possible. The group would roll in together safely to finish the stage.
STAGE 5: The Gila Monster
As the name suggests, this stage is indeed monstrous, covering 3,100 meters (10,200ft) of elevation gain over the course of 162 kilometers (100 miles). There is virtually no area of the course where you are either pushing on the pedals or laser-focused on descending at 90+ kilometers per hour.
The race starts out from Downtown Silver City and heads out along the Inner Loop Road Race course in reverse to the Cliff Dwellings National Monument. It then heads back up the same Sapillo Creek climb that the peloton descended three days before and up the infamous Gila Monster climb, the penultimate climb before the rollers into Pinos Altos.
The team rode fantastically to keep Sam in good position in the earlier climbs and the ride through the valley. Come the final climbs, Ryan Kingsolver and Finn Gullickson would put in great digs to keep Sam in contact with the lead group up Sapillo and finally up the Gila Monster.
Sam would get gapped off just over the crest of the Gila Monster into the rollers, and would be joined by a tiny chase group of five that would work its way to the finish together in the last 25 kilometers in the race. He would finish 16th on the day, 5:13 down from the winner, and would fall back to 15th in the overall general classification.