Os Assem, one of the registered amateur riders in the 2016 Tour of the Gila, traveled a long way to participate in the race. Here’s his impressions.
During the latter part of 2015, my good friend and team mate Dermot Kealey provided me with such a glowing report of the U.S. stage race, the Tour of the Gila, that I decided that there was only one way to validate this: I booked my entry for the race, and return flights from London totaling over 10,000 miles of air travel.
In between these bookings and the start of the race, I indulged in a tough training regime factoring in the English winter weather, this entailed sessions on my static bike in the garage before dawn.
Come the start of May, I was ready and made the long haul trip from the U.K to Silver City, New Mexico. On arrival, I was immediately grabbed by the city’s complete embrace of the Tour of the Gila: just about everybody was either involved in assisting with the race or knew all about the race, in both cases welcoming us to Silver City with open arms.
I was registered for the Amateur Master Men B category of the race, the schedule allowing me to watch and meet some of the UCI Men’s and Women’s riders before they set off for their races. Never before have I taken part in a race with so many categories catered for: this allows for every level of racer to be competitive, racing against peers of a similar standard. I never felt there was any favoritism, in fact I would say each level of racer was treated equally, regardless of category, making all riders feel they were an integral participant in the Tour of the Gila. Rubbing shoulders with the UCI riders, while being able to be competitive at my own level, is something no other race offers.
During the four days of racing, my eyes were opened to the stunning state of New Mexico. From the heights of Pinos Altos, to Lake Roberts, across the Continental Divide, through panoramic plains, under the shelter from the trees in the glorious Gila National Forest, riders were treated to a moving post card capturing these amazing images. We were also greeted with the waves, and warmth from the numerous towns we passed through ,as well as the loud cheers from school children. When we weren’t racing across the state, we raced around the streets of Silver City in the criterium. Not just any criterium, this was a celebration with every local person seemingly equipped with cow bells that they rang to encourage us riders, while they smiled with pride for their very own city of silver.
The state of New Mexico seems to have taken the Tour of the Gila to its heart, and I felt that throughout our time there, the locals wanted nothing more than for the racers to share in their pride for N.M. This was contagious, i certainly feel an affinity with N.M now.
In summary of why the Tour of the Gila is unique to me: there is so much pride in how it is run by the organisation team and the volunteers, that each rider is made to feel very welcome, and valued; and this, coupled with the stunning backdrop of N.M, made the event one that will live me with me.
I’m delighted I made such a long journey, and having returned to the U.K, I have already started making plans to bring my family with me on my next trip over to New Mexico. I’m certain my wife and daughter will love this as much as I did.
Many thanks for a wonderful, unique event.