Now in its 32nd edition, the Tour of the Gila has traditionally served as a true test for North American cyclists looking to succeed in the bigger stages race later in the season and is the second US stop on the UCI Americas Tour. In order to succeed in Silver City, NM, you need to be able to cope with a starting elevation of 5900’.
Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling, fresh off their stage victory on the final day of the Joe Martin Stage Race, kept the team unchanged for the 2018 Tour of the Gila and a focus on the sprint stages with JMSR winner Alfredo Rodriguez and, 2017 Tour of Utah stand out, James Piccoli for the General Classification.
The first stage of the race is relatively flat until the peloton reaches the infamous Mogollon climb. The team spent much of the stage looking after James and keeping him safe on the long straight roads that make up the majority of the route. As the road started to tilt skyward the peloton fractured completely and Eder Frayer looked after James as long as possible before James found himself in the chase group behind five leaders up the road. The very narrow and rough road gave the five escapees the advantage they needed as James would ultimately cross the line for a respectable sixth place on the stage, keeping him in the GC conversation heading into stage two.
Fort Bayard, just outside of Silver City, serves as the start and finish for the stage two Inner Loop Road Race. With a course that finishes with a flat run into the line, preceded by 5700’ of climbing, this stage has proved difficult to predict in past editions with the winner coming from both bunch sprints and successful breakaway attempts. This year’s stage started with a breakaway of sixteen riders getting away about ten miles into the race on the difficult Pinos Altos climb. Eventually this group would be whittled down to just five riders with only one rider in the general classification conversation, the peloton never really got organized enough to bring them back before the finish. In the end Eder would sprint to 12th on the stage and James would only lose one place on the GC with Janier Acevedo from UHC moving up thirteen spots into the top 5 and the decisive stage three time trial up next for the squad.
The Tyrone Individual Time Trial is one the more challenging courses for a TT on the US circuit, with its 1000’ of climbing over 16 miles coupled with fierce wind over the unprotected highway. With the General Classification battle still very much in play for the team with James Piccoli sitting in seventh place, George Simpson went into the stage looking to set a top time while also providing crucial feedback to the his teammate for later in the day. George came through with a early best time earning himself a moment on the hot seat for his efforts before the GC battle went down later in the day. James cemented another tough day in the saddle with ninth on the stage, which was enough to retain his seventh place over all. George’s time proved to be plenty fast when the stage was complete as he finished just behind his teammate’s time in fourteenth place on the stage.
The team proved its versatility in the stage four Downtown Silver City Criterium with focus shifting to star sprinter Alfredo Rodriguez while also eying those bonus second sprints for James (who only needed one second to move into sixth overall). As criteriums go, the Tour of the Gila race is not easy, with a tough climb each lap creating a launch pad for attacks, keeping the race together for the finish proves to be no simple task. Attacks flew early and often in the 2018 edition of the race, but nothing of any danger to the peloton was able to materialize. With fourteen laps completed of the 1.1 mile circuit James was able to grab two important bonus seconds in the sprint lap, moving himself up one spot on GC and allowing the team to shift complete focus towards delivering Alfredo to the line. As the laps ticked down the team moved to the front to control the race with six laps remaining in the forty lap race, but soon after several other sprint trains came forward to create an interesting battle for control of the final lap of the race. In the end Alfredo would come up short of the podium with fourth place on the stage and only the defining Gila Monster left to decide the outcome of the races finale the following day.
The Gila Monster Road Race is one of the toughest days of racing in North America and has the ability to completely rewrite the general classification previously decided by four strenuous days of racing. Similar to the Inner Loop Road Race, the iconic stage takes follows a reverse loop of the stage two route before finishing on the back of the Pinos Alto Climb, or the Gila Monster. Twenty miles into the final stage of the 2018 edition and a large break of fifteen riders, including our Eder Frayer, were able to gain a maximum advantage of two minutes before being absorbed back into the peloton with thirty miles remaining. “The team rode awesome,” Director Sportif Paul Abrams said. “Eder made the first break, and Kevin (Girkins), Jordan (Cheyne), and James made the front group of 5 rider that bridged to the leaders.”
James then stepped out on his own and attacked and eventually got away from the reduced peloton with Rob Britton (Rally) and Gavin Manion (UHC). With 20 km to go James lost contact with the two leaders and waiting for Eder and a small chase group coming just behind. Eder dug deep to close the gap for James to the leaders , allowing him to finish 5th on the stage, just 35” behind the two leaders. Gavin Mannion (UHC) would take the stage and Rob Britton (Rally) came in second, with the two swapping places and Britton (Rally) taking the overall. Eder hung on to finish eleventh on the stage, just outside the top ten, and moving up to eleventh overall, while James would lock in his sixth place in the GC standings with his top five finish on the stage.
The squad soon heads back home to the Redlands Bicycle Classic, starting May 2nd, looking to defend their home turf as the USA Pro Road Tour brings the peloton to Southern California. Up first, though, is the Dana Point Grand Prix.
Follow Elevate-KHS Pro Cycling On Our Social Media Outlets for the latest race day updates!
Thank you to our 2018 Partners: