Kelsey Brennan talks community, driving the chief commissaire and more
The 31st edition of the Tour of the Gila is fast approaching. In late April, Silver City will be buzzing with cyclists of all abilities and ages, there to soak up the southwestern mountain town’s eclectic flavor. Longtime local Kelsey Brennan is no stranger to this vibrant scene. The race director’s daughter is in her 14th year driving the chief commissaire and chats with us about her experiences.
How did you get involved with the race?
Kelsey Brennan: When my family got involved, I did too. That year my mom was supposed to drive the chief commissaire position. I was a senior in high school and had a relaxed schedule, so my dad put me in there instead. I had ridden in the convoy the year prior, so that was as much as I knew.
So young! It obviously went well since you’re still doing it. What was it like to drive along the cyclists for the first time?
I was nervous driving around that many cyclists. But because I was a local, I was very comfortable on the roads. I learned how to drive on them. Over the years, the officials always seem glad I’m the one driving them. They trust me and that is flattering.
What are some things you’ve learned over the years?
There’s always the initial shock of learning that riders can pee on their bike. That was a thing to get over. You never get used to crashes. They’re always jarring and scary. My first big crash was the final day of the Gila Monster. I had just come around a corner, when nine riders crashed in front of me. Having to continue on is always tough.
What is your most memorable experience from driving the commissaire’s car?
KB: I guess the most exciting was when Lance Armstrong came and for me to be that close to one of the top athletes in the world. I had the best view possible. That is something I’ll never forget.
I remember his first time there. It was the final day and snowing. We were approaching the finish line and it was just awesome to see Armstrong help Levi Leipheimer win the race. And then to see this incredible athlete do his job and take the stage. I knew it was in the plan for Armstrong to be in a supporting role and to watch it play out was amazing. Even after all that controversy, it was a good memory to me.
What’s it like working along side your dad?
KB: Dad is a workaholic. You leave him alone and he works. He likes that. He’s good at managing people and he likes to get things done. Also, I don’t think I view how far the race has come, because it’s always been part of my life. But when I step back and read articles, it makes me so proud of him.
He has a lot of support from Silver City and the state of New Mexico and he really is so passionate about it.
Last year was the 30th anniversary of the Tour of the Gila, a significant milestone for any bike race. What did that mean to you?
KB: I’m really excited we got to our 30-year mark. It scared us that we wouldn’t. My dad thinks of the race organization as a job, but I call it our Christmas. It’s busy, but it’s as important to me. Coincidently, I also turned 30 years old last year, two things to celebrate.
Another distinctive aspect of Gila is the small town vibe. It seems like almost everyone is involved with the race in some way. The saying “it takes a village” really does seem to apply!
KB: I think the locals really embrace how special it’s become. Everyone has little stories like, “oh, one time when I was working the race, I got to help a guy up the road when he had a flat tire.” Everyone feels extremely invested in it.
It’s always the same group of core people who take time out of their busy life to help with this. I can’t be more proud of the place I come from. It’s a great community that has embraced Tour of the Gila as their own.