20 years ago, I wrote an entry fee check, scribbled my signature on a USCF standard athlete release form, licked a stamp, and mailed it all off to Silver City, New Mexico to secure a spot in the annual Tour of the Gila stage race. We didn’t have Bikereg.com or any sort of online way to learn about races, let along register for them. The allure of Gila was mostly word of mouth. In 1997, the race was not early in the season, like it now is in April. It was late June, and my team mate and training partner Bob Radke and I prepared as best we could by doing long rides around the Wasatch Back with as much climbing as possible, sometimes wearing Camelbacks, because we knew it was going to be HOT in New Mexico in June, and we were privateers with no support.
I was racing mountain bikes back then, and the thought doing a big long climb-filled road stage race would be a great way to gain a fitness edge. I was also working for Arnette sunglasses in the sports marketing department, and one of the mountain bike athletes we sponsored was former road racer-turned-mountain biker, Paul Willerton, who at this time was still a pretty good road racer. When I mentioned to Paul that I had signed up for the Gila, he said he was trying to find a way to fit it in, and I offered to pay his entry fee if he raced in an X-Men jersey. I think local ski shop/bike shop Colesport has thrown us some money that year, so I was feeling flush. Radke and I drove down through Moab, and Paul flew down into Silver City, and after we met up, we shared a stinky hotel room with the AC cranked 24/7, and watched a lot of golf on TV, when we weren’t racing or eating Mexican food at Jalisco Cafe with Chris Doyle and Mike Janelle (RIP…Mike sadly passed away 10 years later).
Paul went on to win back-to-back stages: the Fort Bayard road stage, and then a sneak attack in the downtown Silver City criterium. It was pretty huge for our little X-Men club out of Park City, Utah to win back-to-back stages of a big time pro road stage race. We didn’t have Instagram, Facebook, or much in the way of “social” media, so most of memories of this trip are in the forms of yellow newspaper clippings, and a couple color prints from reporter Karen Boehler of the Sun-News, who was nice enough to mail me a couple prints, weeks after the event. Credit where credit is due.