What's Cool In Road Cycling

Comment: Gila Readers Respond

There’s nothing like a bone of contention – no matter what size – to inspire emails from the valiant PEZ-Fandom. And that’s just what Mike Schatzman’s comment on Astana’s participation at Gila did, although we took cover under the veritable barrage of digitized dialogue. Here’s just a sampling of what readers said…

And thanks to everyone for writing in!

Hey, PEZ~
Pretty good article, once the cynicism died down, near the end. What gives with American racing? No respect? Not enough publicity? Not enough pro level competition? More whining? More victimization role playing?

C’mon. Lance, Levi, and Chris did more for the Gila than could’ve been expected for ANOTHER American race on it’s death bed. Hello? Is this thing on?!!? The great American race is on life support. Philly. Gila. Tour of Georgia. RIP The list goes on. Yes. We have Tour of Cali and of Tour of Mizzurah (holla!). But I don’t see the longevity.

I’m not giving LA the title of American Cycling Saviour just yet. But we now know some new names in cycling, per LA’s inability to follow a sprint lead out by a TT/climbing specialist (re: the final stage). So, his sprint garbage is another racer’s treasure. Enough of the carping and crying about poaching, puh-lease. There is more poaching in local races, than can be analyzed. I agree with Chris Horner. If you don’t want to race pro, go amateur. It’s tough but true. The racers, not in Mellow Johnny’s (is there a more contrived name than that?) kit, got to see their measure of pro racing very closely.

The LA, LL, and CH crew didn’t stifle or steal any dreams at the Gila. They did give the US race scene something to talk about during the Tour of Romandie (yawn).

I didn’t hear anyone complain about the other Armstrong and her team stomping the competition.

John Regions
Springfield, Missouri

As my overtaxed and under relaxed legs still recover from the Cat 2 Tour of the Gila, I am as interested in reading about the race as I was in studying the race bible before. I’ve browsed two CD’s that each had over 400 pics from the race, posted some results on our team page www.mountaintopcycling.com, and told anyone who would listen about this race.

Mike Shatzman is a regular on our nmcycling listserve and he raises good points in the Gila Goes Big Time? article as well. The big point he missed is that everyone who was at the race, at least the 100+ I talked to over the week, were ecstatic that the Lance effect was rolling on the roads of Gila. I felt Levi was overshadowed by Lance personally, after all Levi is the rider who smoked the course record on the TT, and rode everyone off his wheel up to Mogollon.

The riders, racers, spectators, and the whole town of Silver City experienced top notch racing by the best in our country. Levi, Lance, and Horner are racers from our country and it was great to support the best of the US. It’s great that Burke Swindlehurst wanted to race the best, that is what improving riders will embrace.

Riders who are hanging on to descending fitness may have been upset but the riders who help to raise the quality of competition in the US domestic racing embraced this opportunity. Think of Phil Zajicek and his monumental win over the Astana trio. This is the same guy who got second at Bisbee the week before, and at the Gila he was attacking some of the best in the world in the final km’s of the hardest five day race in America.

If you aren’t excited about the 2009 Tour of The Gila then you either weren’t there or have an irregularly low heart rate and not much can get you excited. Start your intervals now Schatzman – this race is getting better and bigger and you won’t want to miss 2010!

Damian Calvert
Lowly 6th in the Cat 2’s

Seems to me all the whining is coming from the Peanut Gallery. A pro I
spoke to after the race (one of the Kelly guys who had been in the break)
said “all the pros” were “totally thrilled” to have the Astana guys in the
race. Burke Swindlehurst said the same. Phil Zajicek seemed totally
pumped to have a chance to beat Lance and Levi in the sprint. All the
complaints I’ve been reading seem to come from amateurs and reporters, not
the local pros competing against the Pro Tour riders. As Chris Horner
said, it was a pro race. If you don’t want to race with pros, do some
other race.

Rupert Laumann

At the last minute, the night before stage 5, three of us decided a road trip was in order to see Lance, Levi and Chris. We left Tucson @ 3:00 a.m. and arrived a hour before the start. Lance and Levi were out signing autographs in front of their motor home as officials and teams were getting set up and sorted out.

Having been to the TdCA., I have to say the scene at the TdGila is much more casual and relaxed, times ten more relaxed. I talked with Phil Zycheck, a old Tucson acquaintance. He’s usually very relaxed but today he seemed a bit edgy. “Yesterday I just tried to stay out of trouble.” Then added; “It’s a big day today”.

Kristin Armstrong was as casual and relaxed as they come. After she tried a bit or two of the worst chocolate donuts ever made, Kirsten paled around like we all there for a Sunday group ride.

The contrast between the day’s stage winners, couldn’t have been more striking.
When I asked Lance how his shoulder felt he quickly responded, “it feels great, I can’t believe how lucky I am it’s healed so fast”. When a fan asked if he returned to cycling for the “race” or his cause, his answer was even faster. “The second for sure”.

At the start, the Mellow Johnny Crew didn’t line up with the rest of the riders. They waited in their motor home (the only motor home on site) until the last moment, then trailed along at the back of the group. Lance was the last off the line and needed to get after it to catch up.

While waiting at the finish, I did hear some grumbling from VIP’s about the Mellow Johnny Crew. Their concerns were over prize money, diminished exposure for the domestic teams and their sponsors. But all agreed Mellow Johnny was being pretty low key.

Fans seemed to fall into two groups; The parent or friend of a rider, and fans like us, who probably never would have come to the TdG except to see Lance.
I’ve never seen Lance before and didn’t have any expectations one way or another. What impressed me about him the most was that he’s as good with the fans and P.R., as he is on the bike.

At the finish, after Kirsten crossed the line, I asked her how it went? She recognized me, and replied (barely winded and smiling), “it was the donut”.
When Phil crossed the line Lance and Levi were 200 yards behind. It was a big day indeed!

I’ve followed Chris Horner’s career since he and Phil Z. road TdTucson together. Chris was in Tucson to pay back his domestic, Phil, and Phil won. When Chris crossed the line in 5th, he was the only rider greeted by his savagyour, he was spent. As they passed I said to him “Great job Chris”, he lifted his head with an exhausted “Thanks”.

Was the 6 hr. round trip worth it? Absolutely!

Gordon Darby

It’s good to see Burke welcoming the “Astana Boys” to the Gila. A Pro is a Pro. Why is it different when the Pro Tour riders show up and race in the Pro cat (not a masters Cat) and do well? Out here in SoCal we Masters (I’m a Cat4/Masters 45+) get our asses handed to us every time Thurlow decides to race the Masters Cat instead of the Pro Cat.

-Scott Gilbert

I was in Silver City this year for the tour of the Gila, not racing but
as a volunteer driving neutral support vehicles. I agree with Burke
Swindlehurst; having the biggest guns racing there is good for the race
and the racers. The guy who beat Levi and Lance into Pinos Altos on the
final day would agree. They are racing in a Men’s Pro and Cat 1 race.
Any professional should be welcome. I saw a Cat 2 racer getting
autographs! Getting beaten my Lance, Chris Horner and Levi is good, you
know you have raced the best in the world. Some racers even switched to
the 40+ category to try to earn some money. I think it’s a great race
and having Levi there makes it greater.
Cheers, John Andrews

Boy I have to say I’ve been totally amazed at the amount of negativity I’ve heard about having the Mellow Johnny’s team at Tour of the Gila. I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions.

1) That somehow this appearance in a National level race like Gila is unusual, is simply not true. In the US and other non-European nations, where there are few UCI level events, it is common for local pros to ride in National events, as there is almost no other way for them to race without going overseas. Until Lance Armstrong decided to do it the UCI rule against it had, to my knowledge, never been enforced. The Pro Continental BMC team which had 8 riders signed up for the event, riders who just came from competing at Paris-Roubaix and other top level UCI events. Their appearance drew no comment at all, even though their participation was just as “illegal”, until Astana decided to come. Once attention was drawn to the rule they were forced to send 5 riders home and abide by the same ill conceived rule, and now this rule may jeopardize their entire domestic program.

2) The rule in question came into being at the same time as the Pro Tour, and we’ve all seen what a poorly thought out exercise in reorganizing bicycle racing that has turned out to be. All of the US Cycling establishment believes this rule runs counter to the advancement of the sport in the US and other areas where there simply aren’t enough UCI races for the locally based pro teams to enter. And for clarification the rule doesn’t allow 3 riders as competed at tour of the Gila, it allows one less rider than the number required to qualify for the Team competition. Had the team limit at Gila been 6 riders (as it has been previously) then all 5 Astana riders who were planning to come could have ridden the race.

3) The idea that these guys are here scarfing up the prize money that could have gone to smaller domestic teams or individual riders is also way off base. Unlike many of the domestic teams the Mellow Johnny’s riders didn’t ask for any subsidies from race organization to cover travel, housing, and entry fee’s. Despite their huge fan base and ability to draw in riders and fans they did not ask for appearance money. As for the prize money, they donated all the prize money they won back to the race to increase the prize list for the other riders.

I read Mike Shatzman’s comments about training and looking forward to Gila every year as their own local Tour de France, and how great it was to have a race they could ride in with a “real” caravan, and Neutral Support even for those spit out the back. I’m glad to hear those comments, I and my local Silver City riders were doing the same things down here, and talking about the same dreams. Despite the fact the race has been going on for 23 years now (of which I’ve ridden or helped promote 23 of) it is known inside the US cycling community but almost unknown otherwise. That has now changed, riders and fans all over the world now know about the Gila, they have heard it described as “perfect training”, and a “hard race” by some of the greatest stage race riders of this generation. It’s been on TV in Spain and Italy, and Kuala Lumpur. People flew from as far away as Australia just to watch their loved ones race with Lance, the only time in their life it may ever happen. How can this be bad for our race, or US cycling in general? What about the selfless work of the hundreds of volunteers who have put this race on for decades with little or no recognition, have you thought about what it means to them to have a huge worldwide celebrity in “their” race, talking to them, signing their volunteer shirts?

I’m retired from racing now, though I still work on race promotion and neutral support at races. When I was racing I always sought to enter the toughest races I could against the best competition because I knew it would draw the best out of me. It’s the epic rides, the suffering, and all that goes with it that made me love cycling. What I heard from the riders who were here at the race was almost universal agreement that having riders like Armstrong, Horner, and Leipheimer was a positive factor. I’m glad you published Burke Swindlehurst’s differing opinion. Burke is a multiple stage and GC winner at Gila, and I consider him one of the best US Climbers of his generation. Truth be told he might have added to his Gila win list this year if not for Mellow Johnny’s, but he wasn’t upset, he was happy to have the chance to ride one of his favorite races alongside, and test himself against, the best in the world. What competitive sportsman wouldn’t leap at the chance to just once compare himself with, and compete alongside the best in his sport? Who doesn’t dream about stuff like that when you’re out putting in the hard training miles?

I know there’s a lot of people out there who don’t care for Lance and are quick to pick at anything he does, that’s part of the territory I guess. I’d like to mention one other factor that not only brought Lance to Gila, but made us work to get him here. It’s the fight against Cancer. No one does more than Lance to bring attention to this massive epidemic that is slaughtering people by the millions. To a cancer survivor there is no more poignant proof that life CAN be better after cancer.

Our Tour of the Gila race director is in the middle of a fight for her life against cancer. She is one of the few female race directors in the world, a person who has sacrificed countless hours, dollars, and sleepless nights in the 21 years she’s worked on this race. She’s not a cyclist, has no family connection to cycling, she does it all out of the generosity of her heart. She’s the one person I know who everyone who knows her, loves her. If for nothing else having Lance here to give her support and hope was well worth all the work it took to have him here.

So I say that having the Mellow Johnny’s team here was a great boost to the race in all it’s aspects. It was a good thing for US cycling from every angle and I heartily disagree with those who see it otherwise.

Steve Farris
Silver City, NM

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