With unmitigated glee in his voice, Jack Brennan, organizer of the Tour of the Gila bicycle race based in Silver City, announced, “We’re back to real-life racing.”
After nada in 2020 and an virtual race last year, the five-stage cycling extravaganza will again be a whirling mass of vivid, flashing colors with pro racers careening across the tight mountain roads throughout the state’s southwest corner.
“It is important to Silver City and Grant County,” Brennan said of the race. “We all feel like we’ve gone two years without it because of the pandemic. It’s time to get back to living life. For our community, it’s one of those threads of this fabric of life in Silver City. We’re all excited, the community is excited to see the Tour back. We can outlive this pandemic. That’s the basic feeling I’ve been getting from people. Thank you for doing this. We need to do this.”
And it is not just the community that is eagerly anticipating the grinding of gears as cyclists shift ever downward to conquer some of the lung-tearing, category 5 ascents that wait.
“Getting back to being able to race again is nice,” said longtime Albuquerque amateur racer Al Senft, 53. “I’ve done this since ’91. I’ve got lots and lots of friends spread all over the country and world, and to be able to see them again is great.”
Senft will be racing in the master men over-40 division, which Brennan calls the “fast older race. There are really tough guys in this.”
But Senft has a bit of a strategy for remaining competitive.
“There actually is a race within a race for the guys over 50,” Senft said with a chuckle. “That’s what I’m aiming for, to be on the podium with the guys over 50.”
Brennan said he’s anticipating about 400 competitors, which is down a bit from before the coronavirus. The amateur field should be fairly full as always, but the number of professionals have dropped some.
“We’re down a few teams on the men’s and women’s (pro) side,” he said. “A few teams have disappeared and other teams’ budgets have been cut so that restricts what they can do.”
Nevertheless, the Tour of the Gila is where young pros go to earn their chops and make their names.
“There will be some outstanding younger women, younger guys,” Brennan said. “It’s a very competitive race on the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) men’s and women’s side.”
“And that’s what makes being a part of it so special,” Senft said.
“It’s probably the most challenging stage race in the U.S. at this point in time,” he said. “It’s been sort as a gauge. For those who have won the pro race, they’ve gone on to do really well on an international scale. It’s an unofficial proving ground for the top-level American and Canadian rides to go on to do better things.”
For UCI Men; UCI Women; Men 1, 2; Men 3 and Master Men A (women’s pros race similar course, just a bit shorter), the days look like this:
Stage 1, Wednesday, April 27: Mogollon Road Race from Silver City to near the almost-ghost town of Mogollon, covering 92 miles. “The final seven miles is iconic,” Brennan said. “It’s what this whole race is about, the final up toward Mogollon. During that climb, there are 10, 13, 15 and 19% grades. It’s incredible.”
Stage 2, Thursday, April 28, Interloop Road Race: It covers 76.2 miles up into the Gila National Forest north of Silver City.
Stage 3, Friday, April 29, Tyrone Individual Time Trial: A solo, 16.5-mile out and back that covers a good climb along New Mexico 90 toward Tyrone.
Stage 4, Saturday, APril 30, Downtown Silver City Criterium. It will cover 40 laps along a 1.1-mile course throughout the city that is bedecked in festive atmosphere. Racers will climb about 4,000 feet over the course of the day.
Stage 5, Sunday, May 1, The Gila Monster ROAD RACE: A brutal 100.6-mile bruiser that includes 9,131 feet of climbing. “This is what the Gila is really known for,” Brennan said.
The Men 4,5; Master Men B and Women 1,2,3 categories consist of a four-day stage race from April 28-May 1. The Women 4, 5 categories will race two stages on April 30 and May 1.