By Mary Alice Murphy

Michael Engleman of Mission Sports Group LLC said his first encounter with the Tour of the Gila was when he raced it in 1987 in one of his first years as a cyclist.

Since then he has been a pro team director and/or team manager at the Tour of the Gila for women's pro teams, including Team T-Mobile and Twenty16. He also worked with development teams, such as the US Women's Cycling Development Program and the Amy D Foundation.

"I was lucky enough to work with amazing athletes like Kristin Armstrong, Clara Hughes and Mara Abbott," Engleman said. "Teams I worked with have won the women's pro individual Tour of the Gila Title five times."

He said long-time Race Director Jack Brennan in 2014 asked Engleman to come on board as the competition director for the women's and men's UCI (Union Cyclistes International) races. "I have been proud to be part of the Tour of the Gila family ever since."

The Gila Community and Tourism Development Board has become a close teammate with Tour of the Gila, he said. "When the Board offered me the Race Director position I actually declined saying that I really believed the Race Director for the next 36 years should be someone from the Grant County area."

But after a few months of the Board searching, "I became worried that we were missing some planning time so I agreed to accept the position of Interim Race Director."

Engleman hopes someone will step forward soon, even if it is in the buildup to the 2024 Tour of the Gila, "so that we can all work together for the future."

To a question about substantive changes that he might make, Engleman replied: "The women's and men's UCI races will stay the same five-race format that has made Tour of the Gila famous. We are looking at possibly reducing some of the amateur races to four and three days, although we are very dedicated to the amateur races, too. It is unique that the amateurs can race the same courses on the same day as the pros, and we also want to support development of athletes that are looking to test themselves and perhaps even go on to the pro peloton."

He answered that he hopes the race can attract new sponsors in order to be able to offering streaming of the races in the future, but it's expensive and "for now we get a pretty good following through our up-to-the-moment race updates on social media."

Engleman said Silver City has always served as a remarkable host to visiting cyclists, and he hopes to expand the hosting possibilities in 2024. "As a women's and men's UCI race, we are required to make all efforts to find housing for all teams in our UCI races but there is actually a long history in the USA of races hosting teams. With Tour of the Gila being an international race, there is a unique opportunity to host and mingle with athletes from all over the world and with 2024 being an Olympic year, we may well see a number of the visiting athletes in the 2024 Paris Olympics."

He also answered questions on the controversy of last year's winner of the Women's race.

"Yes, the world's attention showed up in Silver City this past April," Engleman replied. "We were as prepared as we could be for the possibilities of what happened but with the issue being so global, controversial and contentious there was no way to 'win' except that we knew we would act professional and with kindness. This has been something all the world and all sports have been struggling with and in my view, and now much of the world's view, is that Tour of the Gila handled it as best as possible. The reality is that it was going to happen at some race somewhere, it just happened to be at the 2023 Tour of the Gila. and you may just have to take my word for it, but Tour of the Gila and Silver City gained a ton of respect for how we handled ourselves in a remarkably tough situation."

He also noted: "The UCI rule change does not allow trans athletes to compete with women in Elite category races so that would be all UCI races. USA Cycling still allows trans athletes to compete in amateur races of their choice."

He continued: "A couple additional things that I don't think most understood:

"-All sports events run under the sanction of a sports governing body are required to act fully under the rules and regulations of that governing body. As a UCI race and a USA Cycling race for the amateurs we strictly have to work within UCI and USAC rules so UCI and USAC approve racing licenses to each athlete and it is those licenses that state in what events that athlete is allowed to compete in.

-A second point is that as a UCI race our women's and men's teams attend by invitation only so we do not invite individual athletes, we invite teams and those teams set their own rosters."

Engleman also explained: "The UCI implemented on July 17, 2023 their new policy that 'female transgender athletes who have transitioned after (male) puberty will be prohibited from participating in women's events on the UCI International Calendar.'"

Although trans athletes will not be able to compete in the women's field in UCI races, USA Cycling still allows a trans athlete to compete in amateur women's races. "We will be required to allow athletes to compete in the category that is stated on their USAC license."

Here is the link to USAC transgender policy: 

Engleman said he has participated in the sport of cycling at the international level for nearly 37 years. "I have raced all over the world including representing Team USA at the Professional World Championships, I have known the most remarkable athletes and events across the world. I have witnessed stories of failure and triumph, stupidity and brilliance and wonderful actions of vision and progression and hope. Cycling is truly a magnificent sport, and it is so much a part of lives all across the world. I truly feel Silver City should be incredibly proud of what it has created with the Tour of the Gila, because it is very much a race, and life experience, that matches any race all across the world. And It has been done from a small but remarkable town in Southwest New Mexico. Tour of the Gila, so Silver City too, has a global reach, and I hope that reach can help accomplish incredible things."

As he lives in Colorado, he said he will make a number of trips to meet with "as many people as I can, and also eat good food and buy some used books! Really though, I am the race director only as we transition into the future of the Tour of the Gila, so while I may be a voice sometimes, I am not wanting to be the face of the race. The face is Silver City, and there have always been so many locals that help make the race happen each year so we are working on ideas and structures to bring those people into more years around positions with the race. I do work in sports management so I work with events, teams and athletes all across the world, and while I can bring some benefits to Tour of the Gila with those connections, I will in no way pretend to be the one who leads the race. It is the team and families of Silver City and Grant County that make it all happen, and I am at their service."

Tour of the Gila 2024 will take place April 24-28, 2024.

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