An infamous climb is returning to Tour of the Gila – the kind of leg-shredding final ascent that sets the tone for a week’s worth of high-stakes bike racing.
The Mogollon climb is back in Day 1 after a one-year hiatus from one of the most challenging UCI stage races in the U.S., where pro teams will test their legs against stacked fields.
“The Mogollon climb definitely sets the stage for how tactics and [general classification] will pan out throughout the following stages,” said Team Rio Grande’s David Greif.
Since Tour of the Gila’s inception, the first stage of the five-day race has finished up a 6.7-mile climb that peaks at a 19-percent gradient en route to the town of Mogollon. The town was flooded in September of 2013, completely wiping out the roads leading there, and construction closed the road to the final climb last year for the first time.
Now, with road repairs complete, the race will return to Mogollon, a former mining town in an isolated part of western New Mexico at 6,800 feet of elevation.
Olympian and multi-time Tour of the Gila and GC and QOM winner Mara Abbott said the climb to Mogollon is her favorite mountain-top finish.
“Mogollon instructs you in patience,” Abbott wrote in a highlights package for the race in 2015. “To get to this finishing 10k climb, you first have to endure about 100k of a very long, mostly straight, sometimes windy and wholeheartedly remote road. Should you be the type of rider tasked with making a difference on that climb, you are supposed to wait, not wasting energy, counting down kilometers until that one right-hand turn. It’s the only turn on the entire course. It can be genuinely maddening, yet worth it.”
Abbott called the climb “remarkable.”
“It ticks all the boxes – startlingly steep pitches and switchbacks,” Abbott wrote. “It features more cows (and their cattle guards) than spectators. The barren solitude of the terrain lends a surreal nature to the experience.
“I love the area, I think it is an incredibly special part of our country, and it isn’t one we get to see a lot of on the racing circuit,” Abbott told Clipped In. “Finally arriving at the Mogollon is the end of a lot of nerves and anticipation for probably everyone, and for me it always felt like finally being set free.”
And on it, riders will vie for top spots to set the stage for the rest of the week’s battles for GC.
Nickolas Zukowsky (Silber Pro Cycling), who has raced Tour of the Gila with and without Mogollon, said he thinks the climb can establish the GC contenders early in the race, but that the time trial and the Gila Monster stage are where the race will be won or lost.
“The plan for our team will probably be to get as many of our guys in a spot for the general classification contention,” Zukowsky said. “We have a couple of options this year for the overall so it will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Zukowsky said he worked hard over the winter on climbing and is going into Tour of the Gila with expectations to be competitive for GC.
United Healthcare Pro Cycling’s Katie Hall said Mogollon is decisive and true climber’s climb.
“I think of this stage as a long lead out into the final climb,” Hall said. “Breaks can go, but if you want to win, you had better put yourself into a position where you can climb for the win. If you win the first stage, you had better have a strong team to defend that lead through to the finish.”
Hall’s teammate, Lauren Hall (no relation), said UHC is aiming for victory.
“Katie Hall is one of the best climbers in the world, add to that the strength that Leah Thomas brings to the team, and it should make for some exciting days in the Gila National Forest,” Lauren Hall said.
Greif, who has only raced Tour of the Gila once – last year without Mogollon – said he’s trying his best to prepare. He’s heading to Silver City, New Mexico a week early to familiarize himself with climbs and descents.
“Gila is notoriously one of the most brutal stage races in the U.S., and there is no underestimating how taxing the days can be,” Greif said. “This year is no exception with teams like Rally, United Healthcare, Silber, H&R Block and 303 Project. I’m excited to be racing it again this year and on a new team, Team Rio Grande, but we definitely have our work cut out for us if we at all plan on doing well.”
Greif said he’s looking forward to testing out the Mogollon climb on Stage 1.
“Last year with the climb gone, it made for a hectic sprint to the top of the mesa where crashes and bottle-necking were abundant,” Greif said. “This year, I think the final climb will definitely suit me personally, and it will be in Rio’s interest to make sure that I get delivered to the bottom of the climb with the other lead riders.”
Stage 1: The Mogollon Road Race of Tour of the Gila begins on Wednesday, April 18.
Tour of the Gila is open to professional and amateur cyclists.
UCI Teams competing in Tour of the Gila
Tour of the Gila sponsored this story.