Tour of the Gila race director Jack Brennan hopes to take his annual event to the next level, but the recent economic downtown nearly thwarted the 23-year-old race. The Tour of Georgia is on hold, leaving only the Tours of California and Missouri as the big American stage races.
The Gila, which starts April 29 in Silver City, New Mexico, where Garmin-Slipstream recently held its final pre-season training camp, is renowned for its tough climbs, hot weather, and fast professional fields. According to Brennan, the 2009 version is expected to be no different, now that SRAM has stepped up as title sponsor.
"For 2008, we had a total of 475 riders, 95 riders in the Men Pro/1 field and 63 riders in the Women Pro/1/2 field," Brennan said. "I expect that we will have a much larger Men Pro/1 field in light of the SRAM title sponsorship and with the absence of the Tour of Georgia."
According to SRAM's spokesman David Zimberoff, the financial terms of the agreement are confidential. The event's annual budget is around US$165,000, according to Brennan.
"I am comfortable telling you that we are committed for the next three years at a minimum for the title (sponsorship) level," Zimberoff told BikeRadar. "We're really psyched about this event. Glad to be a partner with Jack, and optimistic that we can lift the event together with the athletes to become the next big thing on the map."
Zimberoff understood the tremendous grass-roots support for the Gila, and decided SRAM wanted to come onboard and give the race a secure place in the calendar for the next several years.
“SRAM has given this race security for the next several years and, with their increasing popularity in the peloton, we can only anticipate growth for our event," Brennan added. "And SRAM’s professional neutral race support, along with their great team relationships, make them a perfect long-term partner.”
The 2008 event was won by Columbian Gregorio Ladino Vega (Tecos); American Burke Swindlehurst (Bissell Pro Cycling) finished second by 46 seconds after five days of racing.
For more information, visit www.tourofthegila.com.