Love and Hate at the Tour of the Gila

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By Trevor Jackson — “I hate this sport.”

I’m lying on the ground in the bathroom, head by the toilet, laughing. It was Sunday 7:55am, in a cabin outside of Silver City, New Mexico. Cabin was a generous title for the overcrowded trailer my teammates and I had spent hours lounging, eating, and sleeping in over the last 6 days. The exact time seemed important, as at that very moment the last remaining 4 riders of our 8-man team were rolling out from the city park, to start the infamous Gila Monster stage.

Caliber-SBR Cycling Tour of the Gila Cat 1-2 team. Tanner Soelberg, Keaton Rich, Abraham Torres, Kyle Stoffan-Thornton, Joe Stewart, Trevor Jackson, Preston Weeks, and Mitchell Peterson. Photo by Clarissa Johnson

The Tour of the Gila had eaten us alive. It wasn’t even the pro race, “just the 1-2’s,” we’d say. Same courses, same conditions, but a smaller field without the power house teams of the US professional peloton. “Tour of the Gila lite”. During the twelve-hour ride down, there were undoubtedly hopes of maybe winning a stage, or more.

The first day was hot and windy. Mitchell attacked as soon as the race began. We wanted two riders in the break, but it seemed early and with only two other riders jumping across to him, we thought it would get reeled back soon. Tanner and Keaton flatted, chased, and caught back on. Only one missed bottle hand up in the feedzone and no crashes…a stage 1 miracle. The pace varied full gas, off, full gas, off, full gas; no steady riders or teams today. Death by a thousand cuts. Trash talking was strong; always a way to meet new people. Break was caught, counters ensued, and Kyle and I tossed all our chips on a move that had all the right ingredients, but would not outmatch the will of the chase. More attacks but no break. To hell with it. The group called a piss break, and then got back to slinging hammers. After face melting echelons, soul crushing splits and regroups, leg zapping rollers, poorly timed mechanicals, and poor positioning, we were left well outside any meaningful place at the end of the race. We drove 60 miles back to town in a van that was as nearly out of gas as we were.

Stage 2 rang nearly the same, but with a conservative bet of patience on the break. This time the break would stay. A hell of a ride by a single rider. Tour of the Gila; where the downhills go up, where the hot sun is hotter, where the high elevation is higher, where the rough roads are rougher, and where the fast guys are faster. We suffered on climbs, blasted through descents; hell, I nearly flew off the road in a hairpin, and we lost the race to better riders.

The time trial was bad. Joe rode well, but there were many others who were better. Our riders were coming down with the flu, legs were blown, minds were tired, and our times were bad, very bad.

Trevor following an attack during the Stage 4 Crit. Photo by Abraham Torres

The crit went as well as it could, for a while. Well represented in early moves. A dangerous break, that left enough fire power behind for an organized chase, for a catch in the final lap. We were all well positioned, perfectly, well perfectly for Keaton to crash and take me and few other riders with him. Just like the good ol’ days, man. I’m on the pavement at the end of a race after catapulting over Keaton. I even had a moment to tenderly look into Joe’s eyes as I slammed on my back on the pavement. Guys are screaming like they’ve never crashed before. Spectators seem panicked. I’m laughing. Same deal, different day. Time to pack up the lunch pail, go home, and go to work again tomorrow.

That’s when I found myself hunched over the toilet vomiting. Oh sweet Sunday morning. The absurdity of the moment, of the week, of the entire last four years themselves, takes over. The time, the energy, the money, the skin, the brain cells, the relationships, the academic/career opportunities, and at times the well being of my physical and mental health itself; much has been spent on and for racing. Immense costs; sunk costs really. Economic theory here would say that as the utility maximizing consumer I am, the only rational choice is to find the greatest value possible from expenditure of the lowest possible cost. The absurdity of the irrational nature of bike racing hits me. I know I will not race today. My teammates might win, but I know it’s extremely unlikely they will. I vomit the last of it, lie down, and laugh.

“I love this game.”

[Editor’s Note: The 2023 Tour of the Gila takes place from April 26 – April 30 in Silver City, New Mexico. Trevor’s reflections are from the 2017 Tour of the Gila.]

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