Jen Luebke reports on Tour of the Gila
Dawn and I got the incredible opportunity to ride for Happy Tooth last week at The Tour of the Gila. I was pumped because I’ve wanted to do this race since spending a few winters in Tucson and because I really like hard, climby races. We were racing with the hilarious and awesome Kiwi, Courteney Lowe, an actually team member of Happy Tooth, Sam Bosco, a para athlete shooting for Rio in track, and Amy Cameron, a Mike’s Bike’s gal I got to race with at Redlands! What a team!
Day 1: Mongollon RR
This race felt like 50 miles of tailwind+downhill (scary!) and 20 miles of hard. There was a super bad pileup not too far into the race that sent a friend to the hospital with a shattered wrist and broken leg. I was in the back, skidded to a stop but avoided it all. I took my time assessing the damage, making sure no teamies were in it (Dawn had already popped up and gotten on her bike, and then I kept riding. This is one of the only parts of racing I hate: seeing a big crash and continuing on my ride; it really jerks my stomach and heart strings. Moving on in the race…more jitteriness and 1 more crash before we hit the proper ascent. I was finally comfy in the group and moving my way up the group quickly in the wind as we hit the climb. I made the second group and climbed the last 5 steep miles at my complete limit. I was in the top 20 but dropped a little in the last few ks. I seriously felt like I was going to pee my pants, shit my pants, and vomit all at the same time. I guess I know I was going hard? The hardest part of the race might have been crossing a silly cattle guard that was basically the finish line. There were a ton of people around it and so you had to cross slowly. SCARY! It was like I was standing at the edge of a cliff and couldn’t jump and it just kept getting scarier the longer I waited. Ha!
Day 2: Inner Loop RR
Everyone talks about how the last day is the hardest but I kind of think this day is. 70 mile hilly, windy RR with hills out of the gates. DS Mike Creed told us to really be paying attention in the first part of this race with a bonus sprint at mile 8 and a climb at mile 10. I was feeling good enough that I wanted to try and make a break if anyone went before the climb. Hahahaha! The race was so fast from the gun no one was getting off. I got myself stuck too far in the back when we hit the climb and I was flying by gals getting dropped from the main group. My grupetto wasn’t far behind and a group of 10 of us chased hard to bridge up to the main group. The descent on this stage is so fun and fast. Hairpin turns, steep, pretty. As soon as we hit the main group attacks were being launched left and right. I was hanging on by a thread. I made it though and got to practice feeding out of the car for the first time ever. I don’t know how many times I said “I’m so scared!” I’m sure Creed and our mechanic were simultaneously holding back laughs and rolling their eyes. Whatever, I’m patting myself on the back. And I have something to work on. 7 gals were off the front while we were making our way back to the finish. All the jerseys were in with the group so I was just sitting. We never caught them and it came down to a field sprint where I finished mid pack. Bad news of this day was that a tiny little sinus thing I was feeling on day 1 was turning into a full blown head cold. Might as well add 1 more thing while racing at 6-8k feet! Ugh.
Day 3: Tyrone TT
We were pretty tired heading into day 3. The TT turned out to be very windy on the way out and screaming tailwind on the way back. The times on the return were the fastest in Strava history. I was feeling terrible and grumpy from the sick but TTed my heart out trying not to look at power or heart rate or speed or anything. “Just go as hard as you can for 40ish minutes,” I told myself. It was good for somewhere between 20th and 29th, just like I’d finish for almost every stage, and put me 20th GC. I was bummed to see Dawn had to finish on a neutral bike from a bad mechanical but was seriously so freakin impressed with her attitude about every situation she was put in for the weekend. She was a rock! She was obviously bummed because she didn’t know if she would be able to keep racing but she had the best attitude about it.
Day 4: Downtown Crit
Dawn’s racing! The 3 of us weren’t SUPER pumped, more SUPER nervous, about the crit as it is none of our fortes. Oh well. I was also feeling a tiny bit worse each day. Sneezing like crazy and blowing snot rockets everywhere I asked Creed if he thought I could survive the first few efforts if I didn’t warm up. The consensus was yes, it’s just going to hurt a lot. And it did. I spent the first few laps dangling near the back. Just when I was getting my groove I came around the corner for the uphill and ran into a crash, tires squealed, unclipped, but I didn’t go down. And neither did Amy or Dawn, but we were all in the same boat, just off the back of the main group, chasing. None of us knew to take a free lap. We do now!!! So all of us spent the crit chasing until we got pulled and hoped we made the time cut. I don’t cry after races but I cried after this one. I have never been pulled from a race and I knew all of our next days were at stake. And I was tired. And I was sick. And I was really, really tired. And probably hungry. I really am sorry to my teammates because I was kind of a pain in the ass the last 3 days of the race. Sorry! I promise I’m more fun that last week! Once we found out we weren’t picked for USADA (surprise, surprise) we bolted and got home for some food and sleep.
Day 5: The Gila Monster
Reverse of day 2 race that finishes with the long ass climb. The race starts with some really big rollers, then into a cross windy section, then the climb. The rollers were hard. Dawn and I found each other at a critical point. Having her there helped both of us get to the group just when we were about to get popped. Thank you teammates! Rollers turned to a gnarly crosswind section with almost everyone in the gutter. I seemed to be riding around everyone getting popped and holding onto the last wheel like a champ and made it through with the lead group. The lead group did get bigger before we hit the base of the big climb. That’s where the fireworks started. I found myself in with the second group, full of still pretty fast climbers, a Rally girl and the Tibco gal we raced in Walla Walla a few weekends ago. I hung on as long as I could but I did finally get popped, rode in lala land for awhile, did the middle descent with some masters riders, and then climbed the last bit with a small group that had caught me. I finished 2nd from that group in 29th place and felt incredibly proud. I had just finished a very long, hard stage race. We had a few riders that didn’t make through the whole week from sick and the unforeseen and there was a time when I thought all 5 of us weren’t going to finish the race so I was super proud to finish the race for Happy Tooth. In a totally sick and twisted way I cannot wait to go back to Silver City, NM next year and suffer more with teammates. Having done this race once now, I can imagine there’s a big advantage to do it again.