For the first time in the Tour of the Gila history, stage 1 will have a flat finish on Whitewater Mesa with no King or Queen of the Mountain points or jerseys awarded. Instead, sprint points and bonus times will be awarded. The changes come due to infrastructure repair taking place in the historic town of Mogollon, negatively affecting road conditions leading up the final climb.
“This is the first time in our history that we have had to alter the route,” Race Director Jack Brennan said. “We lost 2.9 miles of climbing which is the iconic part of Mogollon. It’s so incredible and beautiful up there but we don’t have it this year. It’s going to change the whole dynamics of the race.”
Since the race’s inception, the first stage of the 5-day race has finished up a 6.7-mile climb that peaks at a 19-percent gradient en route to Mogollon. The town was flooded in September of 2013, completely wiping out the roads leading into town. While a few repairs were done to open the roads, the needed infrastructure was placed on hold. Several months ago, construction began with substantial repairs to the road.
Race organizers and USA Cycling officials met with the New Mexico Department of Transportation several times over the past month to discuss the issue, before making a final decision last week. The parties agreed to move the finish line down to Whitewater Mesa, a flat section just before the final climb where race fans will remember Jelly Belly’s Taylor Sheldon attacked, with teammate, Lachlan Morton and Rally Cycling’s Rob Britton, before Morton took the stage win and established his GC lead.
“I think they’re building a bridge or two, so there is a lot of work going on,” Brennan explains. “What’s happening is the construction company building all of this, is hauling these concrete blocks up to Mogollon. The weight of these blocks and the weight of the trucks are destroying the road. It’s just not wise for us to go up there and try to race.
“Once the infrastructure work is done, then the road will be taken back up to suitable standards,” Brennan said. “Trucks can certainly go up there but a lot of potholes are being created, and the road where there is asphalt, is being damaged so all of those things have to be repaired. I expect to be back up there next year.”
Heading into the final kilometers, each race will make the right turn onto NM 159 off of Highway 180 as in years past, heading up towards Whitewater Mesa, with the finish 3.8 miles ahead. Though it is considered a flat finish, a substantial climb remains shortly after the turn that includes a 13% grade. Expecting a sprint finish, officials have chosen to award sprint points for 1st through 10th place, and time bonuses for the first three to cross the line.
“It’s pretty common to have time bonuses,” Technical Director Tom Simonson explains. “We took the bonuses away for the first stage because it was a mountain top finish where we expect they get a time gap anyway. We had to put the bonuses back for the finish and the sprints because of the flat finish. There is a 3-kilometer mishap rule that does not apply in mountain top finishes, but again, since it’s not a mountain top finish anymore, that had to be fixed.”
Mogollon was typically where the general classification contenders had their first chance to establish some time ahead of the time trial. Without it, there will be a fight for every second until the final climb to Pinos Altos on Stage 5.
“I think for the pros, the TT and the last day are going to be crazy,” Fortunato Ferrara predicts, back-to-back solo winner of the cat 1/2 race in 2015/2016. The Italian finished second behind Adrian Costa in 2014, currently racing for Axeon Hagens Berman.
“The Inner Loop will be a sprint finish, unless some sort of magic happens. Usually, the last day has been damage control for the GC guy,” Ferrara adds. “Mogollon typically makes a clear selection among the top 20 contenders being in the front group but it’s not a huge gap for the GC. This year is going to be very interesting. You won’t know who is going to be the winner until the very end! For the women, there are not as many climbs so the time trial is more important, but Mara [Abbott] and Kristin [Armstrong] will not be there so we’ll see!”
Further information may be found in our 2017 Tech Guides listed on www.tourofthegila.com. Stage 1 of the Tour of the Gila takes place on Wednesday, April 19, 2017.