UCI Women’s teams hunting for victory at first Tour of the Gila in 2 years

Tour of the Gila is back in full swing after a two-year hiatus and is set to welcome top talent in UCI Women’s Cycling to face off in five demanding days of stage racing.

The women’s teams have stacked their rosters with strong climbers, sprinters, time trialists and overall versatility in hopes of securing general-classification and individual stage wins.

Anticipation and excitement coupled with unrelenting competition will make the 35th Edition of Tour of the Gila a race to remember on the women’s side.

“We’re excited — Gila has been around for so many years that it was strange for it not to be around for the last couple of years,” said Rachel Hedderman, team director of EF Foundation TIBCO-SVB. “I think everyone is excited to see it back again and get back to Silver City.”

Back from hiatus

Tour of the Gila, like many other bike races, fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic and had to be canceled two years in a row, not an easy decision for the race’s director, Jack Brennan, but the right one, he said. Now he looks forward to bringing it back to Silver City.

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

The following confirmed Women’s UCI Teams will compete:

  • 3T Q+M/ Cycling Team
  • Amy D. Foundation
  • Cinch Cycling
  • DNA Pro Cycling Team
  • El Grupo
  • Fearless Femme Racing
  • InstaFund Racing
  • Pato Bike (Mexico)
  • Roxo Racing
  • Team Desjardins Ford (Canada)
  • Team EF Foundation TIBCO-SVB

In it to win it

Hedderman said the EF Foundation TIBCO-SVB will be hunting for a win.

“I think we have to be going into it trying to win the race. That’s our goal and it’s definitely what we are going to try and do,” Hedderman said.

Team EF Foundation TIBCO-SVB will be bringing what Hedderman calls a “small but very versatile squad” because members of their team will be competing in a European stage race at the same time as Gila.

Hedderman isn’t worried that having a smaller team will negatively impact her riders; she said the team’s strong climbers and history of breakaways in recent races will give them a competitive edge.

American cyclist Emma Langley and Canadian cyclist Sara Poidevin are two of the team’s most well-rounded riders who Hedderman believes could show out in multiple stages.

Climbing toward victory

Maddy Ward, riding for InstaFund Racing, says she and other members of her team have been training at altitude in preparation for the climbing involved in many of the Gila stages.

The team will be bringing a combination of all around riders and climbers to compete.

Ward, who considers herself to be an all-around rider, says the longer climbs at Gila aren’t her favorite, but that there are members of her team who will be racing as pure climbers.

“My teammate Holly Henry is an incredible climber,” Ward said. “She’s all about the long climbs, pretty much even coffee rides all she wants to do is climb. Gila will definitely suit Holly very well, and I’m excited to see how she does.”

The InstaFund Racing team will be coming to Silver City directly after competing in the California Redlands Bicycle Classic, giving riders the challenge of a 10-day racing block.

“The biggest goal is to race as best we can as a team,” Ward said. “The biggest success will be getting through the Redlands and Gila block and feeling like we raced well as a team and didn’t leave anything behind out there.”

Teamwork makes the dream work

For many teams, returning to Silver City will be an opportunity to test their strongest climbers and assess overall team performance.

“We have a pretty strong squad and some pretty confident riders who are looking to test themselves climbing-wise and hopefully place in a top-five position at the GC,” said Julie Kuliecza, Executive Director of the Amy D. Foundation cycling team.

Kuliecza says team morale is high going into the race, with several riders having expressed intentions to make the podium in the overall general classification and others agreeing to support their efforts.

The DNA Pro Cycling team is bringing a roster stacked full of climbers.

“We’re all super ready to let our climbing legs out,” said Erica Clevenger, team captain of the DNA Pro Cycling  team.

“This is kind of our climbing squad,” said Clevenger.

Clevenger, Diana Peñuela of Colombia and Anette Barrera of Mexico will be the major climbers of the team.

Additional team climbers will include Kira Payer of the U.S. and Kaitlyn Rauwerda of Canada.

The women will kick off their first race with the Mogollon Road Race on April 27. The teams will then continue into the Inner Loop Road Race and Tyrone Individual Time Trials stages before battling it out in the iconic final Gila Monster stage.

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