If there is anyone who can claim Tour of the Gila as their race, it’s Mara Abbott.
Climbing. It’s her thing.
She’s sailed away from her opponents up the most challenging elevation gains in U.S. professional bike racing and won Tour of the Gila not once, but six times. (She’s also a two-time Giro de Rosa champion, national road champion and an Olympian, but who’s counting?)
Abbott has left her mark exclamation point on pro road cycling and although she’s retired, she’s decided it’s time to return to Silver City, this time for the Gila Monster Gran Fondo.
What the heck is a gila monster, you may ask?
If you chose B, you are correct. It’s 10,033 feet of elevation gain and 111 miles, to be exact. The course follows the iconic Tour of the Gila “Gila Monster” road race, covering some of the most stunning and remote routes in New Mexico.
Ride like a pro
It’s also the same course as the final men’s stage of Tour of the Gila – the pro road stage race that takes place in the spring over five days. During that series, the Gila Monster is the kind of stage that makes you question life itself. It’s relentless climbing after four other days of pedaling brutality. It covers five KOM climbs and almost none of it is flat. In past years, most of the field gets dropped by the first or second KOM, and many choose to abandon the race.
The Gran Fondo is a chance for riders to single out the Gila Monster stage, challenge themselves and “ride like a pro” for a day by conquering this iconic course. The ride offers other course options as well – 77 miles with 5,700 feet of elevation gain and 41 miles with 3,100 feet of climbing.
We asked Abbott what her plan is for the Gila Monster Gran Fondo.
CI: As the celebrity rider this year, do you have any personal goals for this event like getting the best time overall, or do you plan on chilling alongside other riders? (Read: Are you going to smoke everyone up these climbs?)
MA: I’m just planning on relaxing and enjoying Silver City!
Riiight. Only Abbott could think of a 10,033-foot climbing ride named the Gila Monster as the equivalent of Silver City and chill.
But Abbott represents something more than just Gila royalty and this year’s celebrity rider. She has shown what you can accomplish from hard work, dedication and a love for riding bikes.
“Mara has accomplished so much,” said Tour of the Gila and Gran Fondo organizer Jack Brennan. “When she was racing, she was considered the best climber in the world. No wonder she did so well at the Tour of the Gila. The best thing about Mara is that she is so fun to be around. The folks riding this year’s Gila Monster Gran Fondo will love riding with Mara and hanging out with her. I love Mara Abbott.”
How you should ride the Gila Monster
Abbott had this advice to give to riders:
But we asked Abbott to get more specific depending on your approach to the Gran Fondo.
If you are going for it:
CI: You undoubtedly know Tour of the Gila and how best to attack any of the stages better than anyone. If someone is looking to “Mara-Abbott” the Gila Monster Gran Fondo, what advice would you give them?
MA: In our race, the trickiest part was always the lead-in to the final climb. It was very aggressive with everyone wanting to be right in front at the base. You have to attack from the bottom – that’s the steepest part of the finishing climb.
If you’re just trying to survive:
CI: Conversely, if someone is attempting to just survive the nearly 10,000 feet of elevation gain during this ride and is questioning why they signed up for this at all, what survival tactics would you say are important?
MA: Eat and drink! And don’t be worried about choosing a shorter loop if you think you won’t be able to enjoy yourself.
Highs and lows
Having been through everything, the good, the bad, the ugly with cycling, Abbott said her best moment at Tour of the Gila was winning in the snow circa 2010. The worst?
“The Inner Loop Day the first year I tried to do Gila,” Abbott said. “I had food poisoning and couldn’t eat breakfast and ended up getting dropped before Pinos Altos and riding the entire stage alone.”
One thing the Gila Monster Gran Fondo or any of its shorter-distance options can promise is being one of the most memorable cycling events you can do in the U.S. This year with Abbott as the celebrity rider makes it a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The real treat for Abbott, who said she has been riding for commuting purposes and has done a few other fondos in retirement, will be to do the ride without being in race-mode.
“I think that Silver City and the terrain in that area are really special,” Abbott said. “It’s an incredibly unique opportunity to get to be a part of the community there, so I love that it can be shared with people who aren’t elite racers.”