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Tour of the Gila Turns 20

Donna Clayton Lawder

 

Jack Brennan, co-director of the annual Tour of the Gila bike race, pulls out an entry guide for this year's 20th annual race, boldly displaying the increase of prize money—a total of $45,200 this year. But it's not just the cash that racers are speeding for, Brennan says. It's the whole package: a well-run event, a challenging course and, well, just the "feel" of the race. Guess you'd have to call it "a community thing."

"We get such community support," says Brennan, co-owner of Gila Hike & Bike in downtown Silver City. "From the local businesses to the hundreds of volunteers who make this race possible, it's just a great thing for the town and something to be proud of."

Early next month, May 3-7, as many as 550 racers will take part in an event that has grown in stature every year of its two decades. The Tour of the Gila has earned a proud spot on USA Cycling's national event calendar—the only race in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado to be so distinguished. The race is ranked as one of the most grueling stage races in North America, and is recognized internationally, drawing participants from Canada, New Zealand, Germany, Russia, Mexico, Colombia and Australia.

Involving many people and businesses in downtown Silver City and the surrounding community, the race also is a crowd pleaser. Thousands of spectators will throng routes around Grant County and into Catron County as the popular multi-stage race winds through downtown Silver City, Tyrone, Cliff, Glenwood, Hanover, Bayard, Mogollon and places in-between.

Unlike most bicycle races of this stature, the Tour of the Gila includes divisions for all skill levels, as well as spectator activities for all ages and abilities. The top men's and women's divisions race for five consecutive days, covering around 340 and 258 miles, respectively.

"If we continue on pace with registrations, we may have a record race," Brennan says. He says eight or nine pro men's teams have already registered, and that registrations in general—both online and paper—are ahead of last year.

This year's Tour also boasts a new sponsor, Teleperformance USA, a new business neighbor in Silver City. Currently setting up shop in the old Stream building on Hwy. 180, where it ultimately plans to employ up to 600 people, Teleperformance is showing something of its community spirit by signing on as new title sponsor for this year's race.

"They are really enthusiastic," says Brennan. After last year's sponsor declined to renew, the sponsorship committee sought more local support for the race and happily came upon new arrival Teleperformance as a possibility. The whole process, Brennan says, "moved along amazing quickly," describing a couple of phone calls by Town Council member Judy Ward and the head of the Tour's sponsorship search committee, Lanny Olsen of Holiday Inn Express.

Teleperformance USA is known nationally for its community involvement, actively supporting organ and tissue donation, the Big Brothers & Big Sisters Organization and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation of America, among other efforts.

Brennan also singles out the New Mexico Tourism Department for its help in promoting the Tour of the Gila. "The race has a huge economic impact on this community," he says, "and we are grateful for the Tourism Department's hard work in helping insure the event's continued success."

Anatomy of the race:

Stage One (Wednesday, May 3) is the Dan Potts' Memorial Tyrone Time Trial. The race follows a 16.15-mile course along Hwy. 90 near Tyrone, beginning around noon.

Stage Two (Thursday, May 4) is the Silver City to Mogollon Road Race, which begins at Gough Park in Silver City, travels 92 miles to Mogollon and includes nearly 6,000 feet of climbing. First racers are off at 8 a.m. and are expected to begin crossing the day's finish line by shortly after 11 a.m.

Stage Three (Friday, May 5), the Inner Loop Road Race, follows an 80-mile loop this year for the longest riders, the Men's Pro I category. Racers will start out from Fort Bayard, starting 9 a.m. (except Senior Men 4 and 5 category and Women's 3 and 4, who start in Pinos Altos around 8:30 a.m.), then wind through Santa Clara, touch Silver City, then go through Pinos Altos up to Lake Roberts, heading back through Mimbres, San Lorenzo and Hanover, and ending at Fort Bayard.

Stage Four (Saturday, May 6) is the one-mile Silver City Downtown Criterium, the race in which racers fly around corners and whiz through the Bullard-College-Cooper-Broadway loop. Racers start at 8 a.m., the Men's Pro I category not departing the start line until 3:15 p.m. There also will be children's races and a citizen's criterium that day.

Stage Five (Sunday, May 7) is the 100-mile Gila Monster Road Race, the one that favors racers with climbing ability and who have altitude endurance. This stage ultimately decides the winner of the Tour. First racers depart Gough Park at 8 a.m., and by 10:30 spectators can view these athletes being put to the test as the top riders tackle the grueling climb up the Sapillo to Wild Horse Mesa. All racers finish in scenic Pinos Altos. The Men's Pro I category will cover the most ground at 106.4 miles. There is also a Citizen's Road Race of 32.5 miles that day, starting at Camp Thunderbird, with 2,100 feet of climbing.

 


Race guides with detailed maps will be available, so spectators can choose street corners and scenic hillcrests on which to perch and watch. Remember to bring sunhats, water and sunscreen.

 


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