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Tour of the Gila, April 26-30th, Silver City, New Mexico

Tour of the Gila takes place in Silver City, New Mexico. The two closest airports are both over two hours away (El Paso, TX and Tucson AZ) and host housing options almost non-existent. As a team with a very small budget, the riders usually have to cover all the race-related costs upfront and it’s not cheap. While I’m fortunate to be able to afford these expenses (most of the time), I still feel that pinch and hold my breath every time I talk with a potential guest rider and tell them that at least they’ll need to cover transport to the race as well as split the registration fee with riders attending. I was planning the logistics for our team to go, but the host housing connection wasn’t working out, we didn’t have enough riders, and the deadline to submit the UCI form was fast approaching so I pulled the plug on Orion being in attendance. I called Michael Engelman to say our team won’t make it and asked if any teams need guest riders. Michael said another team had two spots and a few texts and a phone call later, Cheyenne and I were set to guest ride for Cardinal Classic Cycling.

Michael tries really hard to help out women's teams in any way he can. He said there were three teams in dire need of support in terms of mechanics, follow cars, transport, and housing. He was doing his best to accommodate everyone's requests and was dismayed no teams wanted to combine to meet the required rider minimum and share their support resources. Everyone wanted to race in their own jersey and while I would have loved to do the same, I was still so happy to have the chance to go. Since Orion combined with Cardinal, Michael arranged a sponsor to help with transport and mechanical assistance. Cheyenne and I had a little casita to stay in with one queen bed, a shower, mini fridge, and a microwave. Luckily, I had an air mattress I brought along for Redlands and Gila just in case, and that just in case, cased. The two Cardinal girls, Leigh and Florence and a guest rider, Myriam, booked an airbnb and we decided we would use their kitchen for team dinners and my car for grocery runs for everyone. We were finally set and ready to race!

From top left, Leigh Dukeman, Florence Howden, Kira Payer (sitting out Gila with injury) Myriam Paquet, Cheyenne Noble, and me, Anna Dorovskikh

Day 1 was a 73-mile, point-to-point race that finished on top of the Mogollon climb. Kira Payer (Cardinal GC rider that unfortunately, crashed first day of Redlands and wasn’t racing Gila due to persisting concussion symptoms), described day 1 as a chill group ride where the pack even stops for a pee break and the pace really only picks up towards the end before the right turn onto the final 7-mile climb. She wasn’t wrong. After the 2-mile neutral roll out, the pace was easy with a few accelerations when breaks tried to go, but didn’t succeed. And the field did collectively stop for a pee break at around a two-hour mark and continued with the same pace after. About half a mile from the turn to the climb there was a crash towards the back. I was behind it and saw our GC leader, Florence, tripod for a second before clipping back in. The field had already been hauling and I was slamming my breaks. It was a frustrating moment because I was burning matches to close the gap right before the most important part of the race. I made contact right as the field was taking the turn, but as the climbing began and I weaved through people getting dropped, the front of the group was going hard and I could feel I was going to drop soon myself. The Mogollon climb has a gradual start, then it kicks, then plateaus, and then kicks again till the finish. I didn’t manage to go over the first kick with the front group and watched them pull away on the plateau while fighting in no-man's land. After a minute, a train of people caught up and a Cynisca rider took over the chase. We weren’t going to catch the first group, but a break off the front was nice. Eventually, we came to the final kick and I settled into my rhythm and picked off a few riders. By the end I could see my two teammates, Florence and Myriam, just up ahead, but didn’t make contact and finished 21st on the day with my head spinning from the effort right after crossing the finish line.

In the background, closing the gap to teammate Florence and a few other riders, but ran out of road

Day 2

Day 2 was a 74-mile race and the pace was hot from the gun. DNA was on a mission and attacks flew as soon as the one-mile neutral roll-out ended. I regretted so much not doing a structured warm-up (noted for next year). I did find it easier to position myself, however, and consistently stayed towards the front. The pace was brutal, there were people dropping and catching back on from the get-go. The first sprint points were at mile 6 and first QOM at 11 so attacks kept going. I dropped right before the QOM and after a bit was caught by the second chase group and we worked to catch the front right as the gradient pitched again. I was also struggling on the descents. The group was going fast through corners I didn’t know and kept grabbing my brakes and being gapped. I had a high speed crash going through a U-turn at Joe Martin last year and the anxiety of going fast on unfamiliar roads in a group and crashing reappeared. Spending most of my winter on Zwift didn’t help either. I got dropped and caught back on the climbs multiple times. On the big descent after the second QOM, however, I was dropped from the front for good. While I felt decent on the climbs and passed others, the descents were my downfall. I tried my best to keep someone in sight, but didn’t succeed. I tried to focus on staying loose and taking correct lines slightly quicker than my comfort zone, but also had a moto following close behind and could hear him using his own brakes staying right on my wheel and that didn’t help either. Bikes are supposed to be faster than cars and motos on descents and here I was, seemingly slowing one down. Second or third to last corner a rider caught up, passed in one of the switchbacks and promptly slid out. I couldn’t wait for the descent to be over. Finally, the road flattened and looking back, I saw the third chase group hot on my heels. I put my head down and hunted the second group for a solid five minutes until I made contact. We were a group of seven or eight that began to rotate and because I felt good, I took longer pulls thinking we could still catch the front. I should have known better, but time and time again, I pushed the pace. Closer to the final QOM at mile 64, I felt those efforts bite back and regretted my earlier match burning session. The miles stretched on and just when I thought the climbing was done with and it’s all flat or downhill to the finish, the road pitched again. But finally, we came to the 1km to go sign and I was on the front. Nobody was coming through and though we were still far down on GC and eight minutes back on the day, the girls were going to sprint it out. I figured since we still had to take two right hand turns, it’s better that I’m on the front because maybe the finish line will be 300m out and I can at least hold off a couple people. I was wrong again. After the final right-hand turn, there was still 500m to go and I’ve basically given the group a lead out. I finished fourth out of the group knowing I’d be paying for those earlier efforts tomorrow.

Sitting 2nd wheel, rotating with the chase group in the final kilometers of day 2

Day 3

Day 3 was an out-and-back time trial on a 16-mile course with 362m of climbing. I was borrowing a time trial bike and helmet from a teammate not racing and could still count the number of times I’ve been on that bike on two hands. In days leading up to the tt we kept constant watch on the ever changing wind speeds and the gusts climbed to 45+mi/hr. I was so nervous. Every time I descend and a strong gust moves me across the road, my instinct is to stop pedaling and slow down because a high speed crash is worse than a slow one. Perhaps I worry more than others imagining the worst case scenario or perhaps it’s the Joe Martin crash PTSD talking, but those are the thoughts. Cheyenne, coming from a triathlon background and countless encounters with all sorts of winds, tried talking sense into me saying the opposite is better, putting pressure on the front wheel and more power through the pedals is what you should be doing, but the picture of someone (myself, specifically) flying out of control across the road was ever present in my head. Granted, the men haven’t had any incidents in their tts and they go even faster so it’s definitely doable. The wind was also supposed to get worse as the day went on so if anything, it’s the GC folks that would have it worse. My race itself, luckily, didn't see any gusts. Unluckily, it didn’t see any power either. My legs were dead from the efforts the day before and I watched the time tick away feeling like I was bonking half the time, unable to push my regular power. I estimated my time trial would take 40+ minutes and because in 2019 I averaged 240 watts for 43 minutes on a road bike, I figured I’d start out holding 220-230 and pick it up to over 250 towards the end. Instead, I watched those numbers fall over the course of 45 minutes to an average of 210. That was pretty demoralizing I was slower on a tt bike than a road bike.

Day 4

Day 4 was a four-corner, 25-lap crit in downtown Silver City with a punchy hill followed by some sketchy pavement and corners. My legs were still tired and as the race began, I found myself towards the back closing gaps every time the field strung out. I counted the times I still had to go up that hill, try to move up, but not have much success. I felt like I could hang in fine, but my positioning concerned me. There were a couple crashes and I had to accelerate to get back to the pack and those efforts were costly. About 25 minutes in, we had a points lap. The field was accelerating and watching it swell into the corner before the punch hill, didn’t look good. Lo and behold, there was a pileup. As I slammed my brakes, came to a stop, and steered around the crashed riders, someone on the sidewalk yelled, ‘take a free lap!’ A free lap is allowed for riders who have gone down or had a mechanical during the race. I didn’t go down, but saw some girls that also didn’t, getting back in a lap later and regretted not doing the same. Catching back up wasn’t in the cards, the field was going fast during the points lap and didn’t slow down after, so after a few laps watching the gap grow and the field disappearing from view, the focus shifted to making the time cut. A good chunk of riders caught up behind the crash were strung out and my little group swelled to around 5. To make the cut, riders had to get to five laps to go, but we were pulled at 8. However, the officials decided not to enforce the cut because so many were affected and we were given prorated times and allowed to start the next day. I was glad I didn’t have to do those 8 laps, my legs were still tired and my mental energy for the race was draining fast.

Day 5

On day five, I finally woke up with Whoop recovery in the green and felt better as well. On tap was a 66-mile road race, a reverse of day 2, but finishing on a climb in Pinos Altos, no crazy descents for this day. While I was ready for the race to be over, I told myself I’d fight tooth and nail to stay with the front for as long as possible. The first sprint was at mile 8.7 followed by a QOM at 14, but it was more of a gradual approach compared to day 2 and the field stayed together for the most part. I had a gel every 20 minutes and counted the kilometers as the pace slowed through the valley. While we didn’t have a crazy long descent (instead, we were climbing up it), there were still downhills and I focused on not dropping to the back, but looking ahead and trusting riders around to know what they’re doing. Trust is a funny thing. I trust myself to know how descending works and which lines to take, but I don’t go as fast as others. It seems risky and therefore, despite others clearly not crashing left and right and going off the side of a cliff carrying that much speed, I have a hard time trusting them (although in theory, they've proven me wrong and are worthy of my trust). It’s also just riskier having more bodies around doing 30-40 mi/hr. Just because so and so hasn’t crashed in the past going that fast, doesn’t mean they won’t this time or chop a wheel or hit a pothole and on and on the reasons to drop back continued to whirl in my head. But this kind of pressure is a privilege so I might as well challenge myself to keep up, stay calm, and as a result, improve, and save energy for when it actually matters. When we finally got to the Gila Monster climb, there was already a small break up the road, but I focused on just staying with the front group as long as possible. Eventually, I started to drop, but still kept the group in sight. My teammate Florence, who sat 13th on GC, was also in that group, but wasn’t having a good day and was dropping back faster than others. I decided pacing her will be my work for the day, I had nothing to lose, I was 30th on GC and out of any kind of contention for anything. I told her to get on my wheel and for the final 50-some minutes rode as steady as possible and let off the gas when she would start to gap. On the descents I told Flo to go faster if she should and I’ll catch her later and continue the pacing. We had an ambulance right on our heels and I made it my mission to not get passed by it. Without others around, I felt much better going through blind corners remembering the roads from Day 2. We even caught a couple people and when the final 500 meters came, I told Flo it was all her now. She pushed on for the final stretch of the climb and stayed in top 15 GC! I was so happy, after four days of getting caught behind crashes, burning matches, consistently under-sleeping in the runup to the race with travel, family obligations, and running into issues with logistics, that was such a nice way to end the Tour of the Gila. Thank you Cardinal Classic Cycling for having us along!

In the background, passing the 200 or 300m to go sign after dropping Florence off at 500m for the final push

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