After driving from Fayetville to Alberquerqe then taking the mountain pass to silver city, it was clear we had landed on the moon. Upon opening the sprinter van door, we found ourselves gasping for precious oxygen. We threw our specialized evade helmets on, and headed out for exploration. The climate was dry and foreign, but had beautiful rolling mountains every which way you went.
Okay, so maybe it wasn’t the moon. Maybe it was just 6,000 feet above sea level, and in the desert, but being born in raised in ol’ Pennsylvania, it kind of felt like the climate had a personal vendetta against my aerobic system. Luckily, we had a little over one week at altitude before we had to race our bikes, so we were hoping for some improvement.
After getting in a solid few training days in the mountains and on the time trial course, it was clear the power meter was either broken or I had gotten about 9% softer. But according to statistical team genius, Tex Jenkins, that was normal.
Day 1 of Gila was a mountain top finish on a lovely hill called Mogollan. It’s a blasting fast start (we did over 40 mph for the first 45 minutes), then you hit some foothills, which eventually lead to the mountains. From top to bottom the climbing is around 25-30 minutes. With a cross wind plateu half way-year’s past, this is typically one of the harder sections that decides the top group.
We hit the climb, and the hitters kept it fast. Coming to the plateu, guys started drilling it. I was guttered, and watched a small group roll away. Unwilling to go after it, as I was physically incapable and already chewing on my handlebars; I hit the climb with a group of 20ish, with about 4 up the road. Behind us the field was shattered. At this point, it’s hard to describe my climbing sensation. It wasn’t pain, rather it was as physically as fast or slow as I could possibly ride the climb. I came in 15th. Definitely my best result to date considering the caliber of field this year.
Day 2 was what they refer to as the inner loop. It’s typically a sprint finish, but we were warned that gaps can happen if you’re not careful. The race starts right away with some climbing through the Gila national forest, then we meander through foothills, climb some more and descend into the finish. A small break got away after the first KOM point, and the boys and I just slotted in for the ride.
Heading up the final climb, the break was caught and the pace got exceptionally fierce. I popped in, and kept the gas on. Coming over the top, I looked back, to see that the field was gone. 35 or so of us made the selection. The race was on to the finish. Coming into the final bend, we took it pretty hot. Guys were jumping the median, and jockeying for position. I hopped on a few UHC guys and held on to the end.
The third day was the time trial. Time trials have been a huge weakness of mine since I started racing bikes. I’ve tried to pinpoint exactly why this is the case, it’s not like I don’t know how to suffer for 20-30 minutes. But I think it has a bit to do with why I wasn’t as successful as a runner, as I was a cyclist. Running lacks the ability to recover, sometimes I would push myself over the redline and there was no coming back. In workouts, I was always able to perform above my racing potential. I truly believe this is because I just had the ability to recover extremely quickly. (Something track racing didn’t present).
I was pretty keyed in-excited for the time trial, but also nervous. At altitude, it’s extremely easy to blow up, so I went off of heart rate, and had a good idea what I could do power wise for the first big climb. After that, I was going to stop looking at power. And focus on form and speed. My 30 second man was the Guatemalan national champion, who is racing the olympics in the time trial, so I knew he was a good target. Halfway up the climb he was within 15 seconds. On the descents he was clearly a lot faster than me. So I need to work a bit on that. On the return trip, there was one major climb. My goal was to smash it here, then maintain as best as I could on the final six miles.
I hit the climb full gas, passed my minute man, and almost caught the Guatemalan. We all flew into the finish, my final six miles was over 46.5 mph. I had heard before I left the lead time was 35:55, I came in at 35:52; I knew it wasn’t going to be a top 10 time, but I had a feeling I held my own. My teammate David Williams had a great ride, with a 9th place finish, I finished about 27 seconds back in 19th. My first time being anywhere close to the top 20 in a UCI time trial.
Going into the crit, I was sitting 14th overall. I wanted to be smart and save the legs for the final day. This is exactly what we did. I managed to avoid a massive pile up (multiple times), and came in on the same time without exerting a ton of energy. The crit was a really wide open course, with good crowds; definitely a fun criterium.
The final day is known as Gila Monster. I was heading into the stage sitting 13th. I was super keyed up and really wanted to sneak into the top 10. The night before, we watched in amazement as our team won Athen’s Twilight. Energy was high. Getting to sleep that night, ended up being quite the task. My mind was running all night about tomorrow’s race, I knew I could do it. I just had to execute everything perfectly.
During the team meeting, we discussed the options. The breakaway was a big target of ours. When 25 guys rolled off the front, I tried to bridge. I was close, but the effort was a bit too much as we ran out of real estate and started rolling down hill. The second time, my teammate Max told me to follow, he got me close, and I was almost there going over the top (about 5 seconds) but again, lost contact when we started going down hill. I sat back in and had to wait until the race blew up on the climbs.
After the efforts, I was a bit tired. I shook it off, I tried to not let the negative energy sink in. The first climb came and I slotted in, I actually felt pretty comfortable so I was confident I would be fine. We made our way to the turn around, and we were about to catch the break. We flew into the cat 1 climb, and the field starting shattering. I slotted in a small group of 4 behind the top guys.
That’s where the beginning of the end started. At around 18 miles to go, I just slowly faded back to each group. By the end of it, I was barely pedaling at 10 mph. Gus our director, and mechanic Joel (the Kenny Powers of Pro Cycling), tried to keep me in it. This wasn’t a bonk, I was eating more than usual; I just physically pushed myself past my limit. My head started pounding and I couldn’t focus. 7,500 feet above sea level can do that to you I guess.
I finished. I was bummed. I still am to be honest. But I laid it all out there. I was in the highest position I’ve ever been in before. There were definitely positives. This was the best field I’ve ever raced, and I didn’t have any altitude training prior. I know where I need to go from here, and I really look forward to the upcoming races.
If you want to check out my rides from the latest stage races, here’s my strava link. https://www.strava.com/pros/537914
The coaching has been picking up, and I’ve been taking on some more clients. If you’re interested, please visit my Sitler Coaching tab on the home page.
Huge shout out to Joel Smith for coming to wrench for us last minute at Gila. Great guy.
May 13- Monkey Hill TT
May 14- Wilmington Grand Prix
May 28- USA Pro Championships
May 29- Winston Salem Criterium
May 30- Winston Salem 1.1
June 5th- PHILADELPHIA CLASSIC 1.1 AWWWW YEAH!!
June 9-12- Grand Prix de Saguenay 2.2