Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tour of the Gila, 2009

Tour of the Gila is one of the biggest bike races we've been to.  Out in New Mexico, Silver City area.  About 6,000 feet altitude.  High desert, Continental Divide, energetic old mining town gone a bit artistic and upscale.  Cliff dwellings, mountains, the mix.  Son Nathan flew out Monday, April 27, to race in Category 2 stage race -- five events, 323 miles, about 20,000' climbing.  Impressed by Nate's first two days' results and feeling hemmed in by DC, I made an impromptu decision to take a look. (Recession cheap airfares didn't hurt.) Packed camera kit, some clothes, caught Friday 7 pm flight from Dulles and got to race area about 3 AM MST (5 AM EST) Saturday.

Nate did awesome in Saturday's Cat 2 criterium in downtown Silver.  On about lap 5 of 30 laps (1.08 miles per lap) he broke away from the pack to form what became a 3 or 4 man breakaway.  Nate sustained this for just about the end of the race, and came across the line in eighth ... gained a few seconds in the overall classification, remaining at 13th slot GC (the second highest junior).  (During the crit, we learned at Sunday's podium time, he won a preme or two -- some extra swag with his check.)

Photography was pretty good, shot a range of speeds (1/320 candids, 1/800-1/1,250 for race shots, with either 400 or 800 ISO).  Big news was the Pro/1 race, a cohort one level above Nate's.  Stars Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Floyd Landis, Chris Horner and others entered.  So there was a large contingent of media -- and competition and performance was an amplitude higher.  I had a press pass and a good amount of time up near Lance and crew.  High altitude light was very strong.  And it was windy and dusty.  Am starting draft post processing (on laptop).  Will upload some samples tonight (Saturday).  Need to wait to get home Monday to do more refined work on Mac Pro (i.e., with color balanced monitor).

Some pretty cool stuff.  Young woman who played violin for her friend in race was striking.  Each time the peleton came around, she'd drop into some Bach or another.  Seemed to have been good effect: her friend moved-up in the standings.

Long, 103 mile road race tomorrow (Sunday).  7 mountain passes, some wicked descents, no guardrail, shear drop offs of 200 feet on curves.

Sunday, May 3 -- 102.6 mile Gila Monster race promised to be more than epic.  On top of four days' prior racing -- two long road races, time trial and a sapping crit, -- today's Cat 2 race had 8,943' of climbing, in dry mountains and swash.  Some nasty downhills, cliffs.  Unlike the shooting-fish-in-a-barrel crit, where the riders pass many times in many laps, the road race only had a few quick options to photograph individual riders.

Early morning I drove up to race mile-40, Emory Pass, the highest point at 8,156 feet, to check vantage points.  I settled to a stone box canyon about six miles below the pass, and waited for the Cat 2's to come through.  (Because riders U-turned at the top of the pass, I'd get two opportunities to shoot.)  Both going up and going down, I missed Nate, sitting in the pack, but I got the main group and a breakaway. 

From the box canyon, I drove 65 miles to the finish line area, at Pinos Altos (high pines).  I got some nice shots of the Lance Armstrong machine, with Levi Leipheimer and others as they charged to win the Pro/1 race.  Levi won, Lance got 2nd.  A bit later, a Cat 2 caravan vehicle came through but wasn't immediately followed by a group.  A smattering of racers straggling from other events (Masters 40+ and Women 3/4) came up.  Then a couple 2s charged in, followed in a few minutes by a breakaway with Nate. He looked fresh and called out "Hey Poppa" as he shot past. Nate finished 9th in the Gila Monster, the top junior for the event, and 9th overall (GC -- General Classification) for the Tour.  Awesome.

Posted a few preliminary images from my laptop while in New Mexico.  Total capture for the Tour was 1,397 images.  Using Mac Pro (with Aperture, etc.) at home, finished posting late Tuesday night.  About 176 images selected.  Some nice race pics, but favorites are candids and landscapes.

Extraordinary thanks to coach Sue Hefler for Nate's results, and NCVC's (my club's) great success with Junior racing.  (NCVC Juniors also won more than a few podiums in Sunday's Bunny Hop, a local event in Maryland.)  Sue -- Hefler Performance Coaching -- and Pierre Pelletier have not just been the special sauce behind much success, they have provided expert guidance in all aspects of racing, patient mentoring and care for a broad community of racers, novice to pro.  Pearls like these have no price.

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