UCI teams ready to do battle at Tour of the Gila
BY SARAH MUENCH
Some of the biggest talent in professional UCI cycling will do battle April 26-30 at Tour of the Gila, one of the only — and most grueling — five-day stage races in North America.
The courses, packed with elevation gain through the pristine foothills of the Pinos Altos Mountains around Silver City, New Mexico, will test the mettle of even the most experienced riders.
“Tour of the Gila is a priority race for many UCI teams wanting to take their racing to the next level,” said Jack Brennan, Tour of the Gila race director. “We are proud to create the experience for that to happen — on stages that rival even some of the toughest European racing.”
National and international talent have punched their ticket to New Mexico, some as first-timers and others looking for redemption.
Matteo Dal-Cin, riding for Toronto Hustle out of Canada, carried the red leader jersey into the final Gila Monster stage last year, only to have it robbed by CS Velo’s Sean Gardner by a few seconds.
“Missing out on the win by such a slim margin was tough for sure, but I was completely spent at the finish so nothing to complain about,” Dal-Cin said. “When it’s a hard fought race you aren’t always going to come out on top.”
This year, Dal-Cin said his team is aiming for victory the general classification, and the race is well-suited to new teammate Carson Miles. Dal-Cin said Miles is an exceptional climber.
“We have a strong team with a few cards to play for sure, so it should be fun and hopefully allow us to be aggressive and racing on the attack throughout the week,” he said.
Gardner, the 2020 Everesting world record holder and winner from last year’s Tour of the Gila, unfortunately won’t be able to attend the race this year due to his recovery from a work-related injury, his CS Velo team director, Jon Heidemann, said. But that won’t stop the team from looking for back-to-back victory.
“Gila is one of our most important races, and our obvious goal is to repeat our overall win from last year,” Heidemann said. “We have put together a team that I believe can win stages and ultimately the overall. We have packed our roster with experienced climbers who can also time trial.”
He mentioned Joshua Lebo for time trialing and vertically challenging courses and climber Drake Deuel who finished seventh last year.
Another 2022 red-jersey wearer (Stages 1 and 2), Norwegian Tobjørn Røed was always in contention for GC. He plans to return this year, this time with Above + Beyond Cancer Cycling, and hopes to wear the jersey all the way to the GC podium this time.
PROJECT ECHELON RACING
The dominant team from 2022, Project Echelon Racing, will be looking to double down on their efforts and then some. The team won three stages, landed three of its riders in the top four at the time trial and put the peloton on notice going into the final stage with Tyler Stites just 34 seconds down on GC. Although he couldn’t close the gap, Stites wore the green Best Sprinter jersey home.
Project Echelon Racing’s director Eric Hill said to expect his team racing more on the offensive this year and forcing the hands of other teams to do the work.
“Every stage of the race will be a target for us, especially the time trial,” Hill said. “We believe we have the best lead-out train and sprint finisher in the U.S. peloton when it comes to long, hard days in the saddle at races like the Tour of the Gila. Last year, we had some unfortunate illness and injuries that our pure climbers were working through, but we hope to contend for the mountain-top stage wins as well in 2023.”
TEAM MEDELLÍN EPM & MIGUEL ÁNGEL LÓPEZ + ÓSCAR SEVILLA
Making a return to Tour of the Gila for the first time since 2019 and sure to turn some heads, late-add Team Medellín EPM out of Colombia will look to up the ante on the climbs, with elevation experts to put the hurt on. World Tour rider and Tour de France stage winner Miguel Ángel López and former Tour de France Best Young Rider Óscar Sevilla will roll out with targets on their backs immediately as two of the most decorated riders in the peloton.
“Our goals in participation in Tour of the Gila are the same with which we go to all the races where we participate, try to win the race, make cycling fans happy, leave the name of the city of Medellín in the most high [regard] and above all, that Tour of the Gila is happy with our participation,” said José Julián Velásquez, the team’s director. “We love Silver City, its routes, its climate and its people, and that is why we are happy to return.”
Velásquez said a win for López would be his first in the U.S. and an important victory for the team.
Another climbing threat, Mexican team Canel’s will return and look for the finish line at the top of any climb, as they did when Eduardo Corte Cordero, Colombian Heiner Parra Bustamante and Efren Santos Moreno launched a three-pronged attack in the final 2022 Gila Monster stage where Corte Cordero won and Parra Bustamante took the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey.
While some top contenders from last year will return to Tour of the Gila, noticeably absent will be the two headline-makers from 2022: Lauren De Crescenzo and Krista Doebel-Hickok. Neither of their teams, CINCH Rise nor EF Education-TIBCO-SVB, plan to be in attendance. The two rivals launched fireworks as they came within seconds of each other in winning GC, but De Crescenzo ultimately took the win.
Looking to capitalize, DNA Pro Cycling, Roxo Racing, InstaFund and more will vie for taking the top step of the podium.
DNA PRO CYCLING
DNA Pro Cycling’s Diana Carolina Peñuela, two-time national Colombian road champion, including her national title win in February, and Anet Barrera, Mexico’s national time trial champion, led the team last year, with Barrera coming away with the Best Young Rider jersey.
Barrera said this year her main goal is to support Peñuela and the rest of the team to come away with a GC win. After some bad luck in the crit last year, Peñuela slipped out of GC contention.
“All of us make a really good team and we connect really well within the race,” Barrera said in Spanish. “After seeing that we can be at the forefront in all the competitions, I feel that this year I am more mature and prepared, and I will continue to be a worthy returnee for my team and my country to fight for podiums.”
Canadian Emily Marcolini, who won the Gila Monster stage last year for 3T Q+M, will return but in a new kit. The Canadian climber signed with Roxo Racing and says her team’s goals are to have either her or a teammate win GC.
“I believe that with the strength of the riders on my team it is within the realm of possibility that we can achieve a top result at this race,” Marcolini said.
VIRGINIA’S BLUE RIDGE TWENTY24
One team that could spoil the party for those looking to better their results from last year is Virginia’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24, a team that hasn’t been to Tour of the Gila since 2019.
“We are back at the Tour of the Gila as we have a roster of exciting new athletes that need the multiple days of hard terrain racing,” team founder and general manager Nicola Cranmer said, adding that the team always goes with the intention of winning.
Cranmer cited Cuban superstar speedster Marlies Mejias and U.S. newcomers Laurel Quiñones, who the team discovered on Zwift during the pandemic, and Emily Ehrlich, who won Valley of the Sun in February.
Cranmer said Olympian, former team member and Tour of the Gila 2010 stage winner Shelley Olds will direct the team this year.
After 19 years of working with and directing cycling teams, Cranmer said as North America’s toughest stage race, Tour of the Gila “changes athletes; it levels them up.”
“You never know what the race has in store for you,” she said. “We’ve seen snow blizzards, sweltering heat and winds that literally blew riders off their bikes. It’s a tough race and it makes for tougher riders once completed.”
TASHKENT CITY & OLGA ZABELINSKAYA
New on the scene will be Tashkent City, a team hailing out of Uzbekistan, with palmarés from big international competitions including the Olympics, Asian Cycling Championships, and Uzbekistan national championship.
The team’s Olga Zabelinskaya has three Olympic medals under her belt, with her most recent result being ninth in the Tokyo Games road race. She snagged silver for Russia in the Rio Games’ time trial in 2016, coming in just behind Kristin Armstrong, who won her third gold medal. Zabelinskaya changed her allegiances to Uzbekistan in 2018.
Jack Jayson, a team spokesman, said every year Uzbekistan cycling is improving and becoming more popular as they invite riders from other countries to their competitions. It will be the team’s first time to the U.S., and he said they are looking forward to seeing U.S. riders to exchange experience, learn and make new friends.
“We have chosen Tour of the Gila because it is new opportunity for us and a new experience for which we have planned and trained well,” Jayson said.
- 3T Q+M/ Cycling Team
- Amy D. Foundation
- Cardinal – Classic Cycling
- Competition Edge Racing
- Cynisca Cycling
- DNA Pro Cycling Team
- InstaFund Racing (Canada)
- Pato Bike (Mexico)
- Primeau Velo Racing Team (Canada)
- Roxo Racing
- Tashkent City (Uzbekistan)
- Virgina’s Blue Ridge TWENTY24
- Above and Beyond Cancer Cycling Team
- Canel’s-ZEROUNO (Mexico)
- CS Velo
- Expeditors Elite
- Kelly Benefit Strategies Cycling
- Primal-Audi Denver
- Project Echelon Racing
- Rio Grande Elite Cycling Team
- Team Banco Guayaquil
- Team California
- Team George’s Cycles
- Team Medellín EPM (Colombia)
- Team Novo Nordisk
- Toronto Hustle (Canada)
- Universe Cycling Team (The Netherlands)
- Yoeleo Factory Team (Canada)
*Final team lists and rosters aren’t confirmed until 24 hours prior to the race.
The lay of the land
The race kicks off on April 26 with the Mogollon Road Race, known for its steep grades, and is sure to provide plenty of drama and excitement for spectators waiting at the finish.
The Stage 2 Inner Loop Road Road Race takes riders through the rugged terrain of the Gila National Forest. The stage features steep climbs and technical descents, and will test riders’ endurance.
On the third day, April 28, the riders will tackle a 16.15-mile individual time trial as riders look to gain an advantage over their rivals.
Stage 4, on April 29, is a criterium that takes place in the historic downtown of Silver City.
The fifth and final Gila Monster stage, on April 30, goes back to the Gila National Forest and is often the deciding factor in the race, with riders looking to make a move and gain an advantage before the finish line.