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George & Eric | Up the Road Off the Back

Eric and George are writers, photographers, washed up bike racers and burnt out dads who are taking over our digital channels for the Tour of the Gila. Thankfully, they won’t also be working on bikes. Follow along all week on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and rallycycling.com for unique perspectives on a classic American bike race.

The desert is a strange place, and the drive from Tucson to Lordsburg, New Mexico did nothing to disprove that. George drove our rented Dodge something-or-other as I stared out the window at the endless brown and blue space - speeding past derelict old buildings, towns, cars that the world had given up on long ago. Nothing seems to ever go away completely in the desert, mainly due to the arid climate fighting off decay and rot so common in wetter parts of the world. As we cruise eastward on Interstate 10, the desert treats us to an endless visual history of broken things. Combined with a cloudless sky and searing midday heat, those elements create a bleak environment that is almost too much to take.

Silver City is nothing like this. Perched at nearly 6000’ and just south of the Gila National Forest, it’s a bustling town of 10,000 filled with hills, oak trees, art galleries, interesting buildings, Harleys, and certainly a few freaks. The cool April mornings give way to sunny, hot afternoons, and the dry climate makes you crave your next cold beer in the best possible way. Silver City should have probably gone the way of most other Western mining towns of the late 1800s, but somehow it survived, and the town that was once as violent as they come, a hideout for some of the Wild West’s most notorious outlaws, pulled itself up and is now a vibrant and irresistibly quirky community with a cultural mix to rival cities ten times its size. And it has an awesome bike race. When Rally Cycling asked us if we’d come provide some media coverage for the team during the Tour of the Gila, we jumped at the opportunity.

Top 7 things we like about Silver City after our first 24 hours:
1. New Mexico Green Chile
2. Lots of Tractor Brewing Mexican Lager
3. Matteo Dal-Cin
4. Historic architecture
5. Javalina Coffee House
6. The Big Ditch
7. Lots of Tractor Brewing Mexican Lager

Of course, we were here to cover a bike race, so let’s get on with that. The first stage is a classic: The Mogollon Road Race. Over the 30-year history of the Gila, the legend of Mogollon has rightfully grown, as it finishes with a steep 9K ascent and has proved an epic battleground for some of the world’s best climbers. And it finishes in a ghost town. An actual ghost town!

It was maybe the biggest news to hit Silver City in the last four years.

Except not this year. Apparently, a bit of construction on the roads forced the race officials to shorten the stage, cutting the climb in half and placing the finish on a flattish section of road that no longer truly favored the pure climbers. It was maybe the biggest news to hit Silver City in the last four years. This would be the most wide-open Tour of the Gila…EVER! Dave Towle made it sound like it was the Watergate scandal over the mic before the race start, and anyone you talked to with even the most peripheral knowledge of cycling mentioned it.

One of the best and worst things about covering a bike race is the speeding. You truly want to drive slow out of respect for the locals and the safety of everyone involved, but the nature of covering a road race necessitates speeding, and quite a bit of it. The main reason for the speeding is the confusion. In a remote road race with very little radio info available and zero cell service, nobody ever knows where the peloton is, but everyone is still speeding to catch it, get around it, or beat it to the next intersection to avoid it. You speed whenever there’s nobody around, then hit the brakes like a plane on a short runway each time you round a bend and see a state police officer. When you dare to take a hand off the wheel, you wave politely because they are, after all, helping the race run smoothly. Because you are always confused and speeding, there is almost never any eating, which exacerbates the whole situation.

Top things we don’t like about Silver City:
1. Confusion
2. Avoiding state police officers
3. Sub-lackluster cell service
4. Hunger

The first 85% of the Mogollon Road Race is there to soften up the riders’ legs, allow a break of woefully optimistic riders to go up the road, allow for a pee break, and then set up an exciting chase. The three breakaway riders in today’s stage stretched their lead out to almost 3 minutes before eventually combusting on their own and removing almost any need for an organized chase. This was to Rally’s benefit because they wanted each rider who can time trial well to finish near the top of the leaderboard, thereby increasing the team’s chances for an overall victory. This was much easier without having to commit several riders to the chase before the real climbing ever started.

This was to Rally’s benefit because they wanted each rider who can time trial well to finish near the top of the leaderboard, thereby increasing the team’s chances for an overall victory. 

George and I stopped at the feed loop to snap a few photos, then hightailed it to the intersection of US 180 and NM 159, where the climbing was to start in earnest. All team vehicle drivers were asked in advance to park at this intersection, as race officials wanted to keep the narrow, twisting 159 free of traffic. We showed the nice race volunteer our freshly-laminated media badges so he could wave us toward the climb, but, not unexpectedly, he waved us toward the team parking. This was not a problem for us, as we had convinced the team’s main partner, Rally Health, to allow us to download their new health app even though we were not technically members of their health group. The app sets goals and encourages you to do things like exercise, read, relax, and eat healthier, and walking the final 5.5K to the finish was going to all but guarantee us our Rally-recommended 10,000 daily steps*. We never made it to the finish, though, as the race caught up to us at the 2K mark. It was serendipitous, however, because that was exactly the spot where Rally Cycling’s Sepp Kuss covered an attack, setting up the final, race-winning dig by his Canadian teammate Matteo Dal-Cin. Rally Cycling had won the first stage!

The hot, sunburn-inducing walk back down the hill and subsequent long drive back into town were made much more tolerable when we received a text from Rally Cycling’s president Managing Director Charles Aaron telling us that we must have brought the team good luck! We pulled into the team’s hotel to find the riders and staff partaking in a pleasant mix of activities: getting massages, grilling burgers outside their rooms, playing football in the parking lot, and generally relishing the satisfying feeling of a job well-done. It’s days like this when you wonder why cycling isn’t the biggest sport in the world. But, it was comforting to know it was going to be the biggest sport in Silver City for the next four days. The Inner Loop Road Race was on tap next and we were ready for some more solid confusion!

It’s days like this when you wonder why cycling isn’t the biggest sport in the world. But, it was comforting to know it was going to be the biggest sport in Silver City for the next four days.

*George and I did, in fact, walk a combined 30,447 steps, of which any benefit was quickly and thoroughly negated when we set a new race media room record for consumption of Twix minis and Lays potato chips.