The Italian veteran discusses finishing second to Adrien Costa, and other favorite memories racing Gila
Fortunato Ferrera stood on the podium last May, holding the pottery trophy bowl proudly in the air for the second year running. The Italian veteran, racing alone as he traditionally does, beat a strong 5-man U23 Mexican team that included riders such as Alfredo Rodriguez and Luis Villalobos – both racing on the continental circuit this season.
“It was cool for sure,” Ferrara said. “I have so many memories racing Gila but last year I was very happy because I was able to manage those guys who really tried to put the hammer on me.”
The unique aspect at the Gila is the opportunities amateur racers have, racing against the top up and coming talent. “The Gila is cool because you see a lot of talent around so it’s a pretty interesting race.”
Ferrara began racing bikes when he was 17 years, in his hometown of Naples, Italy. “I started with a mountain bike thinking I was a mountain bike rider – no, very bad choice!” Ferrara says laughing. “It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s because I was very bad at it.”
The Italian soon switched to the pavement, starting from the very bottom. “When I was in college, I was realizing I was kind of okay,” Ferrara added. “In Italy, there is the professional level and the elite U23 level, but they are completely separate from the amateurs, it’s not like here in the USA. When I was in college, an elite team proposed that I ride with them but I thought, ‘I better study.’ I will always have these what-ifs about that.”
In 2009, a job opportunity brought him to New Mexico where he quickly discovered the Tour of the Gila.
“I like challenging races that are long, with climbs, and so the Gila fit,” he explains. “Honestly, around the region, if I look at the races, this is the only race that really challenges you. It’s hard to find a 100-mile race with [close to] 10,000 feet of climbing and that’s just one stage at the Gila. In Colorado, there are wonderful hill climbs but I think those races are pointless. It’s not a race; it’s just about going uphill as fast as you can. There are no tactics or anything.”
Ferrara first raced the Gila in 2010, finishing third on GC as a cat 2 before the Pro race became UCI. Since then, he has earned back-to-back victories in 2015-2016, two-second places, and 5th and 7th place finishes in the year’s prior. Seven top-ten finishes, with two wins, all while racing solo.
“I always did the Gila by myself,” he says. “The first year I won Gila, one of the pros (I don’t remember who), came up to me after the race and said, ‘Next year, if you want I can find a guest spot for you.’ I have never really searched for one myself. The point is, the Gila is our local race and I always like to compete.”
In 2012, the Gila launched the first UCI edition of the men’s race. “A bunch of teams didn’t make it to the pro race and ended up in the cat 1/2, that race was the hardest race I’ve ever done,” he added. “Louis Meintjes won that year, he later went on to finish top ten at the Vuelta de España. It was just survival mode, Meintjes was in a breakaway the first day and gained over 6 minutes on the rest of us. My entire week was basically getting back into the top ten, which I eventually finished 7th, thanks to being in a breakaway and finishing second on the Gila Monster.”
In 2014, Ferrara finished second behind Adrien Costa, the young phenom from California. “That year was basically a kid destroying me in every single aspect,” Ferrara said. “I knew about him, but that year we did the TT and he was on junior gears. He was riding with a 52/14. So I finish my TT and was pretty happy with my time, I had a 55/11. This kid beat me by 10 seconds! I told him, “You are really, really good!”
The 37-year-old continues to live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, working as a researcher in Internal Medicine at Los Alamos National Laboratory, training hard in his free time. A guest ride in a UCI race remains on his bucket list.
“I wouldn’t mind to do a big race with a pro team, I’ve never been to Cascade but we’ll see.”