After 2-year hiatus, Tour of the Gila plays host to steep competition for UCI Men’s teams

Some of the biggest talent in professional Men’s UCI cycling will descend upon Silver City, New Mexico, to battle it out in one of the most grueling five-day stage races in North America as Tour of the Gila returns for the first time in two years.

The 35th Edition of Tour of the Gila will take place April 27-May 1 in the pristine foothills of the Pinos Altos Mountains after a two-year hiatus in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re looking forward to seeing some of the world’s top cycling talent compete on some of the world’s best terrain again,” said Jack Brennan, Tour of the Gila race director. “Our community wasn’t the same without it, and you can feel the excitement in the air.”

World-class competition

Team anticipation ahead of the race is riding high as riders themselves prepare to test their skills in five days of highly technical racing and face off against competition steeper than the Gila Monster.

A combination of domestic and international cycling squads will make up the UCI Men’s participants this year, with four of the 13 teams hailing from Taiwan/Australia, Canada and Mexico:

  • Aevolo
  • Canel’s-ZEROUNO (Mexico)
  • Cinch Rise
  • CS Velo
  • Landis/Trek
  • Meiyo CCN Pro Cycling (Taiwan/Australia)
  • Project Echelon
  • Rio Grande Elite Cycling Team
  • So Cal Cycling
  • Team California/HMS
  • Tecos (Mexico)
  • Toronto Hustle (Canada)
  • Yoeleo Test Team p/b
  • 4MIND Project

The race will test the skills, strategies and endurance of cyclists as they navigate sharp turns, grueling climbs and steep descents of the iconic Gila terrain.

“It’s a five-day stage race, and it’s really a rare beast in the U.S; it’s a unique and exciting race,” said Stephen Schaefer, who will be riding for Landis/Trek. “In order to really do well here you need to be a strong climber but also a balanced rider, and you need a strong team around you.”

Many teams are looking forward to Gila with the intent of taking home individual-stage and general-classification wins, while others plan to use the race to gauge overall team performance and ability.

Next-level racing

“Tour of the Gila is one of the most iconic races in North America and has served as a catapult for both teams and riders to the next level of the sport,” said Eric Hill, founder and team director of U.S.-based Project Echelon.

Hill says the team has ambitions of winning the overall general classification, the time trial and at least one other stage. He said the team will bring its strongest time trialists in hopes of securing a top podium spot in the Tyrone Individual Time Trial on day three.

Among Project Echelon’s roster is reigning amateur time-trial national champion Zach Gregg, current U.S. 40k record holder George Simpson and time trial specialist Stephen Vogel.

“The team thrives on aggressive racing and plans to impose itself at key moments in the race to put pressure on the other teams,” Hill said.

CS Velo also is looking to make the podium in the general classification and secure a stage win as the team competes in the Tour of the Gila for the first time. They’re bringing sprinter Andrew Giniat to lead the team in the criterium stage in his first race back since injury last spring.

“We have a pretty good sprinter who is fresh off a broken collar bone, and this will be his first race back,” said team director Tanner Putt. “I still expect him to be able to pull off some pretty good results in the second stage.”

Giniat has been training at altitude in Colorado in preparation for the race, Putt said. Also among CS Velo’s roster are strong climbers and time trialists, who Putt said he hopes will carry the team to a spot on the GC podium.

Climbing legs

Sean Gardner, who is the current 2020 Everesting World Record Holder and 2019 Redlands Stage Race Best Amateur/White Jersey winner, will be a key climber for the team in the Gila Monster stage.

Alexander White, the team’s newest and youngest rider at 20 years old from New Zealand, is another one of the team’s strongest climbers.

Other riders on the team include Cristhian Ravelo, a Colombian rider who has placed in the top 10 at Gila before, and Allan Schroeder, who is fairly new to road racing but has progressed through the team ranks quickly and who Putt hopes will be a large help for the team in the lead out.

Landis/Trek will be using the various stages at Gila to gauge rider capability and team performance.

“The guys know that it’s super difficult,” said team director Brian Lemke. There’s a lot of really good racers, and Gila is by far the hardest race in the U.S.” “For some guys it will be mostly about finishing. I would like to see the guys racing well as a team, riding together in a group and supporting each other.”

According to Lemke, the team has a combination of experienced and first-time Gila riders. The team will be looking to cyclist Joey Bacala to lead as one of its most experienced Gila riders.

Newer talents include Stephen Schaefer, Sam Gilletly and Jordan Miller.

Schaefer sees the team’s balance of experienced and new racers as a strength, saying the team plans to leverage its venerable riders to set their newest climbers up for success.

The team plans to use the first stage, the Mogollon Road Race that ends in a steep summit finish, to ride for its strongest climbers and to get a handle on who is going to be the strongest GC contenders.

“That’s something we want to focus on as a team, trying to deliver myself and Sam Gilletly to the foot of that climb to be in the best position we can be in,” Schaefer said. “From that point, it’s just ‘what have you got?’ and pedaling as hard as you can until the finish line.”

The second and third stages of the race will see many of the strong teams that dominate in Stage 1 dictating the way the races play out. They contain the most technical descents in the race and give the highest chances for breakaways to happen, Schaefer said.

Stage 4 is the much-anticipated criterium, a favorite for many teams.

Stage 5 will see competitors giving it their all in the iconic Gila Monster road race where riders will climb 9,360 feet over 100.6 miles to the final uphill finish in the village of Pinos Altos, closing out the Tour of the Gila until next year.

Sydney Carruth is a journalism student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.