Gila, Day 5 (The end)

I survived Gila, and didn’t crash out like a poopface. After racing 100+ miles, I then drove all the way home, arriving at my apartment at 5am, making sleep-passionate love to my Tempurpedic bed for a measly three hours, and then waking and re-entering the real world by way of my job.

The short of the final day is that I finished in 10th place on the stage, lost a place in GC—thus ending up 8th overall—and enjoyed one of the most dynamic races I’d ever been in.

The long of it, and if you like bike racing, do read:

Spaniard and Olympian David Muntaner Juaneda was in 2nd place overall, down a paltry (for this massive stage) 23 seconds on the general classification. The red jersey was being worn by Boulder’s own Jim Peterman. The only other thing you need to know is that the course looked like this, only we rode it in three dimensions instead of two:

Tour of the Gila Stage 5 Gila Monster Men 1/2

Ouch x5

The day’s breakaway would get away in the flat stuff you see before mile 10. After the constant attacking and counter-attacking and forming and reforming of little moves et cetera, everyone finally decided the few guys who got up the road were OK. So we let them go, and off they went. If miles 25-55 look almost perfectly symmetrical, it’s because they are. We went out, did the first category 3 climb, it was easy, then the longer cat 4 and cat 2 climbs are part of an out-and-back up Emory Pass. This was nice if only because we would be SURE to see the breakaway zoom past us as bombing downhill as we labored up the mountain.

We took Emory at a decent pace, fast enough that lots of dudes were ejected out the back, but slow enough that by the time we regrouped at mile 60, we were maybe a 40-man peloton, including, as you would expect, all the top GC men. Up the road is, surprisingly, one of RedJerseyJim’s teammates, Colby Ricker. His three teammates had been active most of the race in helping chase down moves and keeping Jim out of the wind, as he’d been wearing the leader’s jersey since winning Stage One. Surely having Ricker in the move isn’t ideal, unless they’re attempting to employ the trick of having a guy up the road so when the selective group eventually makes the catch, bingo, race leader is NOT isolated since he now has a teammate waiting there for him. Bold move if that’s what their plan was.

With the lead group of several guys a few minutes up the road, but no threat to the overall GC, I figured the race would play out as most people probably did: we’d cruise through the valley, and then fireworks would go off as soon as we hit the Sapillo at mile 85, with everyone going all out until the finish line.

Muntaner had other ideas.

During a good crosswind in the valley (blowing us to the right of the road), the pace started picking up. Just some randoms, it seemed, wanting to gutter it and make it hard. Hmm. OK. I’m tucked neatly behind Colby Pearce, hugging the white line on the far right of the asphalt, sitting nicely about seven or eight guys back from the front. The pace ebbs and flows as people half-attack, then sit up. I’m holding my position, not expecting this to keep up the entire way to the base of the climb.

Then out of nowhere, whooosh!

Muntaner’s teammate, with him in tow, blow by us like we’re standing still. Unlike the previous five attacks, this one actually represents a threat, and all the sudden it is game on.

I’m still glued to Pearce’s wheel, but now people are coming over the top of us. The peloton is totally strung out as people who were barely able to hang on over Emory Pass are getting shelled at the back of the field, sent packing for their lonely 50-mile rides home to Pinos Altos.

The first attack by the two Spaniards doesn’t work, as there are maybe 15 of us still with them, but they immediately attack again, guttering the field and putting everyone into much pain, especially with the knowledge of the two brutal climbs still to come. Then quickly: separation.

Muntaner, his teammate, and a couple guys in Top 6 on GC all make the move. I’m in the group just seconds behind them, along with Pearce, this strong dude Kip with whom I rode back from Stage One, and, you guessed it, Jim Peterman. At this point Peterman is still in the virtual Red Jersey—meaning if we stopped the race right now, even with the time gap up to Mantener, Peterman would still retain his overall lead. But our group is hurting, as I’m not able to offer much to the pace, Pearce is off and on with his efforts, and Kip was hurting, too. In a way it was up to Peterman to bring our group back up to the Muntaner group, but we didn’t have the firepower, and they did. Also up in that Muntaner group is Fortunato Ferrara, who was just 10 seconds ahead of me on GC. He knew he had gapped Colby Pearce, who was only a handful of seconds up on him, which meant he was ready to work as hard as he could in order to leapfrog Pearce on GC. Also in that group is Chris Ziemann, an old friend of Randy Warren and more importantly a guy sitting 12th on the overall, just two minutes of taking over my spot in 7th. So he, too, is committed to the move.

So with all of this in play, we’re rotating through, watching Muntaner and company slowly ride away from us. At first they’re still in our view, just 15 or 20 seconds in front of us. But with each sloppy pull-through in our rotating paceline, or each time Pearce yells at the rest of us (including two kids I didn’t mention who were in our group but simply clingers-on, not contributing at all), we’d lose more time to Muntaner. Eventually they got out of sight.

We’re working as best we can together, but we’re all hurting physically. Day five of a stage race means we’ve all got a lot of riding in our legs, and knowing the two big climbs to the finish were coming up didn’t put anyone in a better mental mood, either. After what seems like hours—surely we’re minutes down on the Muntaner group by now!—we hit the base of the climb. Peterman and Kip, the two strongest in our group that day, take off. They ride away from me and I don’t see them for the rest of the race. In a way we were all dumping Peterman off, saying, “This is the best we can do, if you want to win this thing, you’ve got to go catch that guy.” Hitting the base of the climb, he’s maybe one minute down on Muntaner, effectively putting Muntaner in virtual Red by maybe 40 seconds. The Muntaner group even catches what remains of the day-long breakaway at the start of the last categorized climb, giving Muntaner a chance to win a second stage (he toasted the TT in what would have given him 4th in the Pro race).

I really wish I could have watched this race unfold on television, via the aerial shots of the helicopters and the dozens of moto-cameras. Sadly, there was no television, there were no helicopters or moto-cameramen, and I also still had to race the last 25km of incredibly hard climbing.

Muntaner would finish just 5th on the day. Peterman would finish 1:45 later, relinquishing his Red Jersey that he’d held all weekend. The day’s winner, Josh Yeaton, got a 10-second time bonus for winning, and hilariously, that was enough to catapult him above me on GC, by just four seconds.

I finished 10th on the day, 2:44 back, and got 8th overall.

The climbing, the descending, actually being somewhat close to contending for stage wins and the overall… this is one of the most amazing races that exists in the States, and I’m sure glad I could come back and race it again. What a weekend.

Coming up: Liam’s trip wasn’t all about bike racing! Learn more about his road trip off the bike in his next blog post.

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