The Tour of the Gila is one of the toughest, most grueling stage races on the NRC Race Calendar. The race runs for five days, crossing some of the most brutal terrain New Mexico has to offer. Wind swept, chip-seal roads keep the riders on their toes throughout the race, rarely providing any respite. At the same time, it is both a rider's paradise and hell.
We recently caught up with friend of Panache, Nick Traggis, to talk about his recent experience at the Tour of the Gila. Take a look at his perspective of the race, from inside the Gateway Harley Davidson team car.
Day Inside the Team Car with the Gateway Harley Davidson | Tour of the Gila Stage 5
by: Nick Traggis
So I’ve been directing for the Gateway Harley Davidson U25 team at select US Pro Road Tour events this season. The team is a blast to work with and we’ve been surprising folks with some great breakout results.
Panache asked me for some insider’s perspective from this year’s race, so I thought nothing would be more fitting than giving the play by play (blow by blow?) from inside the team car during the queen stage: Gila Monster Road Race.
To start with, a few rules every good director follows when driving in the caravan:
- Don’t hit any of the riders.
- Don’t crash the team car.
- Don’t get fined.
These are followed in order of priority. Our mechanic, Garret Suydam, asked me to include something about not running over your mechanic. I told him I would think about it…
A day driving in the caravan during is usually 4 hours of boredom combined with ~5 minutes of complete terror. The goal of the director and other support staff is to prepare as well as possible to minimize the latter!
The Boulder Sports Management / i25Kia.com 2017 Kia Sportage Support Car.
Here is how Sunday went down:
7:30AM: We roll into the start area and everyone jumps out to start getting ready. The team is a bit quiet this morning due to the combination of early morning starts and the fact it is day 5 of the hardest race most of the guys have ever done. I am pretty sure Bryan Gomez managed to sleep while still eating his breakfast this morning.
What would a stage race be without a team selfie?
8:00AM: I find a few minutes to call Mom and wish her a happy Mother’s Day. Still the perfect son!
8:10AM: A reporter comes by and asks for a quick interview with Sepp Kuss. Sepp has been in a tight battle for the white jersey all week and is definitely on people’s radar after a great Redlands Bicycle Classic as well. We’ve been talking a lot lately about next steps in his career and I look forward to seeing where he ends up!
Sepp Kuss in the best young rider’s jersey doing an interview before the start of stage 2. (Photo: Bob Simpson)
8:15AM: I track down some fresh batteries for the car’s radio, and get a few copies of the results from the timing official. – one for me and one for Garrett. Except in the rare case when there is a second director in the car, the mechanic will help me keep track of who is in the breakaway, intermediate sprint results, etc.
8:40AM: The flag drops and we are racing. Garret is already asleep in the back of the car. #Pro
9:20AM: It is starting to warm up a bit and George Simpson brings a bunch of jackets and extra clothing from the start back to the car. George was in a bad crash at Joe Martin and is a bit down on form as a result, however he has been a great teammate all week!
10:00AM: We come up on the first feedzone and quickly stop to give Faith some extra bottles for the next feedzone. The race will be shattered by that point so it will be tough to support everyone from the car.
10:40AM: The UHC car drifts back a bit and opens a gap while talking to their rider so I slot in front of them to do bottle service for George. Their use of the horn would indicate they didn’t necessarily agree with that. While there is a decent amount of mutual respect amongst all the directors on the circuit, we all still drive like we are in a bike race…
Despite the Difficult Riding, The Scenery in the Gila National Forest is Beautiful!
11:10AM: We are on a very tricky high speed descent, so Garrett decides to film a Mother’s Day video card for his Mom. Dear Garrett’s Mom, I promise we didn’t crash once and Garrett only had to hang out of the window at 40 mph to fix a bike once all week!
11:30AM: We are coming into the last stretch of flat road before the Cat 1 climb out of the Cliff Dwellings. That means that every team is trying to get their riders serviced one last time before things blow up on the final climb. While handing bottles to Bryan, the Guatemala National Team director cuts us off to get to his rider forcing me to drive off the side of the road and putting some fresh scars on the wrap of our Kia. I am pretty livid, but Bryan barely notices (See rule #1.)
11:45AM: The climb starts in earnest and Sepp can be seen on the front driving the pace and pulling a small group clear of the field. I told him to have fun this morning and he seems to be taking that to heart!
12PM: Sepp is in a small elite group of 11 leaders at the front of the race. Unfortunately it is going to take us another 20km to safely get past the various barrages to get up to them. (A “barrage” is used by the officials to keep team cars from helping dropped riders from rejoining the front of the race, by holding them back until the gap is large enough.)
Boulder-Based Tom Zirbel Drives a breakaway early in Stage 5
12:30PM: Sepp cracks a bit and loses contact with the lead group. We load him up on Coke and shout some encouragement as he tacks on the back of the chase group coming by.
1PM: Finish Line! We park the car and wander over to our amazing hosts Susan and Brian who have a giant BBQ going. Garrett and I load up on steak and beer while cheering on the stragglers as they finish who quickly join us to do the same.
The Overall Race was Won by Boulder-Based Rider, Lachlan Morton.
9AM the next morning: Officer Martinez let’s me off with just a warning for exceeding the posted speed limit while leaving town. Possibly the biggest victory of the week!
Team road Capitan Dennis Ramirez, comes back to the car to discuss tactics with Nick during Stage 2 of Tour of the Gila.
A category 1 cyclist, USAC licensed coach, and UCI licensed Sports Director, Nick has been racing at the elite level on the road and track for over 15 years. He is most often found training in the foothills of Boulder, CO or teaching people how to ride the banking at the local velodrome. Nick enjoys working with professional riders/teams as well as riders looking to balance school and/or work commitments with their cycling goals- as he has had to do the same for his entire career!
In 2014, he led the Horizon Organic/Einstein Bros cycling team to a National Championship and to be the best ranked amateur team in the U.S.
He has directed for professional teams SmartStop Pro Cycling and Champion Systems at events such at the Tour of Utah, U.S. Pro Challenge, and UCI World Championships.
Nick has also enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur and technologist. He currently works with high-tech manufacturing companies as a consultant with Boulder Technology Advisors.
When he isn’t at his “day job”, working with his athletes, or riding his bike, Nick can be found hiking, fishing, or snow-shoeing the local mountains with his wife, Faith.