Heading into the 2018 edition of the Tour of the Gila the Pacific Premier Bank Cycling Team had much to be excited about. Not only would this be the team’s second appearance in the UCI race, the boys would also be welcoming guest rider Cory Lockwood to the squad. Winner of both the San Dimas Stage Race and the Chico Stage Race earlier this spring, Lockwood’s addition promised to boost the team’s stock in the peloton for the 5-day competition in Silver City New Mexico.
In Wednesday’s opening stage the field remained mostly intact until the final 10 kilometer climb to the finish in the ghost town of Mogollon. With an average grade of over 10%, the final 5k of the stage shattered the 130 rider field with the top 10 finishers trickling in over a span of over 2 minutes. Coming in just outside the top 10, Lockwood finished the stage 12th just 2:19 back from the stage winner.
Day two presented another long and challenging road stage of 76 miles and nearly 7,000 ft of elevation gain but in the end would do little to alter the overall classification. Once again Pacific Premier Bank’s top placed rider Lockwood cruised in with the main group retaining his high placing in the race for the GC.
During stage 2 most of the peloton’s thoughts seemed to be focused ahead to Friday’s time trial likely due to forecasts calling for extreme winds throughout the day. The 3rd Stage, which would be contested on the wide open roads of highway 90, promised 16 miles of pain starting and finishing in Tyrone, NM. As if sweeping cross winds weren’t enough the course also featured a fierce climb heading out of Tyrone, and another shorter, steeper climb on the return trip. Lockwood, a time trial specialist, put in a tremendous effort fighting through the winds to finish 11th on the day with a time of 35 minutes and 32 seconds just over 2 minutes off the winning time set by Serghei Tvetcov of the United Health Care Professional Cycling Team.
Saturday’s stage, a 40 lap criterium up, down and around the streets of Silver City, provided a great opportunity for cycling fans and locals to come out and cheer the riders while enjoying what was a picture perfect day for a bike race. With the final day’s infamous Gila Monster stage on the horizon, the field was predictably subdued for most of the race while still maintaining an average speed of nearly 30mph.
The final stage, dubbed “The Gila Monster,” demanded the riders complete 101 miles of twisty roads that included over 10,000 feet of positive elevation gain. With the vast majority of the uphill designated at the far end of the profile, racing was fast and furious for the first half of the stage. An early flat for Lockwood led to a hard chase back for three Pacific Premier Bank riders after teammate Enrique Aldapa stopped to provide his wheel to the team’s GC leader. A third teammate, Joseph Garey, also dropped back to assist and the three worked together for several miles before eventually rejoining the group.
On the lower slopes of the initial climb riders quickly began to slip off the back, and as the group reached the first summit only 45 riders including Lockwood and teammate Thomas Wavrin remained. With 25 miles to go the elevation and 4 days of hard efforts began to take their toll on Lockwood and he slowly began to drift off the back of the pack, which had been reduced to just 30 or so riders. Wavrin, now in position to log the team’s best finish on the day, forged ahead as the group continued to dwindle in numbers.
Trying to stay within his limits, Wavrin would maintain his position for the final 25 miles finishing 31st on the day. Unfortunately behind Lockwood had flatted shortly after the team support car had passed leaving him waiting several minutes for a teammate to provide him with yet another replacement.
Completing the top level event with two top 15 placings and 6 of the 7 riders who had lined up at the start 5 days earlier was yet another major step forward for the team.