303 Project shines at Tour of the Gila; Eagle-Vail’s Cristhian Ravelo hoping for invite to Colorado Classic | VailDaily.com

303 Project shines at Tour of the Gila; Eagle-Vail’s Cristhian Ravelo hoping for invite to Colorado Classic

Eagle-Vail cyclist Cristhian Ravelo faced off with the Gila Monster and came out on top.

Translation: Ravelo helped a teammate earn a slew of top 10s in one of the most competitive road races in the U.S., the Tour of the Gila.

The team, called the 303 Project, is new to the cycling scene, but made a big splash last year when they punched above their weight class as a domestic elite squad. Domestic elite teams are not professional, but can race in pro races. Racers from the 303 Project, aided by Ravelo, were regulars in the pack at some of the difficult races around the country.

As a result, they made it into the continental professional designation for this season, and started the season off strong by claiming top 10s in all five stages of the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico from April 18-22.

Isaiah Newkirk, from the 303 Project, finished seventh in the general classification.

"We showed that we deserve to be a pro team, which is important," Ravelo said. "I think we may have surprised some people, but every day things were going in our favor."

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The 303 Project was feeling some pressure heading into the Tour of the Gila. A lot of the toughest riders from around the country were there, representing big teams such as Rally Cycling, United Healthcare and H&R Block.

"Every major U.S. team was there, using this race as a team selection and preparation race for the World Tour event," Ravelo said. "There was a team from Mexico, a team from Australia, and the Costa Rican National Team was there, as well, so it was somewhat of an international field."

FOR THE TEAM

Ravelo's job throughout the five stages was to lead the team's top riders into the tough climbs and final sprints.

"I'm just basically sheltering them, protecting them so they can be as fast as they can be for the final climb, or for the finish," Ravelo said.

Throughout the Tour of the Gila's five stages, Ravelo was trying to do well enough to make it to the next day's race, but not so well that he isn't ready to fight it out for his teammates the next day.

"You're essentially putting everything on the line for your teammates, and hoping they deliver," Ravelo said.

Those teammates did deliver, each day, notching multiple top 10 and top 20 finishes and showing the bigger teams that the 303 Project's riders belonged there among the continental professional teams.

"When you see these guys do great, and then they come back and tell you they did it because you helped them get there, it really makes you ready to do it again the next day," Ravelo said.

The Tour of the Gila built up to the final Stage 5, which has earned the nickname the Gila Monster due to the intense amount of climbing on the stage.

Ravelo said there were moments while facing off with the Gila Monster when he was certain it would get the best of him.

"There was a moment where I had a crisis," Ravelo said. "I was coming off the group, and at one point my teammates were thinking 'It's not his day; he can't execute.' I fought it out and just suffered to catch back on and was able to come back and lead them out to the final climbs."

In the end, he considered it a hard earned victory over the Gila Monster.

"It was a big relief," he said.

Stage 5 winner Rob Britton, with Rally Cycling, credited his teammates in his victory.

"They kept me safe, protected and did exactly what I needed to put me in a safe position," Britton said. "This is probably one of my favorite races."

HOPING FOR COLORADO INVITE

The 303 Project now heads out to the Southern California snowboarder's paradise, Big Bear, for the first stage of the Redlands Bicycle Classic. The five day, five stage race will have three road races and a criterium following the Wednesday, May 2, time trial at Big Bear.

Ravelo said the 303 Project is heading into the Redlands races with a good bit of confidence following its performance at the season opener in New Mexico.

"We're hoping to just keep the momentum going," he said. "One of our big goals at this point is just to get an invite to the Colorado Classic."