Our ladies crushed the Cat 3/4 Tour of the Gila, and even worked to get on the podium! Read more about the epic race from Jamie – one of our fastest climbers (and she proves it on that last stage)!
Before we knew it, May arrived and we found ourselves in Silver City, New Mexico. Our 4-day adventure was about to begin. Five women from Naked Women’s Racing, Elena Alarcon, Lanier Allen, Jamie Gilmore, Nadiya Mitelman and Leslie Young, were ready to start the Tour of the Gila. The 4-day stage race is known for the challenging climbs and tough competition. In order to prepare for such a race, we knew we had to train both mentally and physically. Fortunately, we had two veterans of the race, Lanier and Nadiya, to help us prepare and be ready to race strong.
In our preparations for the race, Lanier and Nadiya shared valuable advice, and important considerations that proved to be essential for us:
- Focus on being in the pack, but towards the front. Out of trouble, but not working.
- If we found we were on the front, others would let us stay there as long as we let them, so slow down to conserve energy and eventually get another rider to come around.
- Communicate consistently throughout the race to adapt to the rapid changes that would unfold.
- Know we would be racing with fierce competition; be prepared for lots of attacks, aggressive riders and be ready to race smart and with awareness.
Stage 1 – Fort Bayard Inner Loop Road Race – 61.3 miles with 4,595 ft of climbing
The race began in a tiny little town called Pinos Altos with a total of 26 women on the start line. With 5 women, Naked was by far the largest team and there were 4 more women from Colorado. At the start we had a plan to stay safe, throw in some attacks, ride strong and have fun. The day started with a quick descent followed by a 5 mile Category 3 climb. We quickly integrated ourselves into the field and enjoyed the scenic climb with the pack through the Gila National Forest. The fast, technical descent split the field nearly in half, and 15 women continued together through the rolling terrain of the next 25 miles. As the final 16 miles approached, the pace picked up to break the field in two again over the final Category 3 climb.. A group of 15, holding Elena, Jamie, Nadiya and Lanier, quickly fell to 6. Both Jamie and Elena held in with the lead group, which was climbing strong and fast. Elena did an amazing job pacing in the front on the climb and the descent, with Jamie right behind her, to ensure Naked was near the front for the finish. Most of the women stayed together on the descent as well, and it was clear there was going to be a good battle at the finish. Coming into one of the final corners, Elena was nearly thrown into the concrete median and lost momentum, but Jamie held on for the sprint finish and ended up in 2nd! Elena ended with a strong 5th. Lanier and Nadiya were not far behind finishing strong.
Unfortunately, Leslie ended the stage with a broken elbow after crashing in the same corner that nearly took Elena out less than a mile from the finish line. She would have finished soon after Lanier since she had dropped her two racing companions on the second climb. She smiled her way through the pain and wanted to cheer us on for the next 3 days. We couldn’t have asked for a better teammate!
Stage 2 – Dan Potts Memorial Tyrone Individual Time Trial – 16.15 miles with 1,188 ft of climbing
The individual time trial is a true physical and mental challenge. This is especially true of the time trial at Gila, which starts with a 4.5 mile Category 4 climb up and over Little Burro Pass. There are a couple small rollers before the turnaround, and then you hit the shorter but steeper 1.5 mile climb back up Little Burro. Obviously, when you start with a climb, you finish with a downhill! Wind is usually a huge factor in this stage, but we were extremely lucky with a calm afternoon. The best part of this stage was starting on the time trial ramp with someone holding your bike. Certainly makes you feel a bit “pro”.
We ended with another strong day of racing. Elena, who’s favorite event is the time trial, finished 4th to bring her up to solid 4th in the GC. Lanier came in 5th, moving up to 13th in the GC. Nadiya came in 10th to hold her 12th position in the GC. And Jamie, totally retro on her road bike with no aero bars or helmet, came in 13th and moved to 6th in the GC. Next year we will beg, borrow or steal the right equipment for her!
Stage 3 – Downtown Silver City Criterium – 12.9 miles (12 laps)
The crit was a 1.08 mile course with 4 fairly decent corners. There was 1 short hill that certainly had the legs burning right when you reached the top, and then a roller coaster of a downhill that spit you right over the next bump in the road. The descent and last corner onto the finishing street was a fast one. There were 3 primes in this crit. Two of them went to the race leader, but Elena decided to play a bit, and managed to win one as well. Once again, the Naked team raced strong, stayed safe and finished the day maintaining strong GC positions.
Stage 4 – Gila Monster Road Race – 68.9 miles with 5,610 ft of climbing
They certainly saved the best and the most difficult day for last! It’s the reverse route from Stage 1, but they start you in town for a few extra miles. So the technical descent from Stage 1, is now the nearly 10 mile Category 2 climb that determines the Queen of the Mountains! Going into this stage, Elena was sitting in 4th, 2:54 sec off the leader, but only 53 seconds off a 3rd place podium spot. Jamie was 7th, and 4:59 sec off the leader. Everyone wanted Naked on the podium, and we knew it was going to be a tough day. There was a real opportunity for us to launch some attacks and make an exciting day of racing! Jamie made a plan to attack at the base of the Gila monster to shake the field and change the overall GC positions. There’s a descent right before the climb and Jamie took lead of the pack a few miles out and led into the climb. From the very base of the climb, a very determined Jamie launched her attack and completely obliterated the field. Elena desperately tried to stay with her, but happily watched her ride away from everyone! She took one look back early on, and then it was see ya later. Her attack was a great success. She held off the overall race leader who had won nearly everything (every stage, nearly every sprint and prime) and won the most difficult stage of the race by nearly a minute! She also gained enough time back to come in 2nd in the overall GC. Of course, Leslie was at the finish to witness this impressive win and be the first to celebrate with Jamie. Elena was able to maintain her 4th place in the GC. Nadiya’s descending speed and skill were brilliant again that final day. She hung in with the lead pack to help out Jamie and Elena, and finished 12th overall in the GC. Lanier also raced strong, and finished 14th overall in the GC.
As we all finished, we were greeted with the cheering smile and voice of Leslie. What a treat it was to have such an enthusiastic supporter.
The incredible opportunity for us to race Gila as part of the Naked Women’s Racing team enabled us to gain invaluable knowledge. The opportunity for us to race hard, adjust quickly to fast changing race conditions, and be a part of an encouraging team has elevated us as racers and we are excited to apply what we learned to all our future races.