El Tour de Tucson, November 20, 2010

by Lisa Donneson
(New York)

Arizona Saguaro Cactus

Arizona Saguaro Cactus

I rode in a 109-mile bike ride around the perimeter of Tucson this past Saturday, where a strong wind blew from the southwest (average for the day: 7.4 mph, highest wind speed: 23, highest gust speed: 31). Since there is a 30º temperature variation between the start in the morning and finish in the afternoon (50º – 77º), I arrived at the start in downtown Tucson with warm layers that could be peeled off and jettisoned between the Star Spangled Banner and 7 AM mass start — an extra t-shirt over and a magazine under my bike shirt. This was my fifth time doing this ride, and my goal was to ride my personal best. I have built up endurance over the past few years and 109 miles no longer intimidates me. So, I had to think of new ways to cut my time – stay in a good pace line as long as possible, aim for negative splits, stop less frequently and hold it in. The first half was fast and easy, the second half a fight against the wind.


The initial 10 miles to the first wash is very exciting, even if the sunrise is blinding. Everyone is fresh, optimistic, eager, and full of adrenaline. We saw a crash, and everyone veered to the right. The wash was congested with cyclists when I arrived, the roadbed well-packed, and I didn’t get sand in my shoes. After that, I rode with a terrific bike club of young women who I hoped to stick with for the duration.

Unfortunately, they stopped at the next rest stop, between 20 and 30 miles, and I kept going. Sorry to have lost them. Then I rode with a perky woman wearing a pink Xoom outfit and we attached ourselves to various other groups. She was freaked out by blinking ambulance lights – another crash. Before I knew it, I was halfway through the ride at the second wash, which is quite sandy (a minor nuisance because the sand falls into the bike shoes) and staffed by volunteers who quickly filled my water bottles. I was still feeling chipper, pretty optimistic about my time, and pleased that the short steep hill just after Canyon Ranch was no big deal this year.

Then I hit the wind. Tumbleweed blew across the road in front of my bicycle – it just missed me. I had to hold onto the bike more forcefully to keep it steady when sipping from my water bottle. Sometimes dry dusty dirt road blew sideways at me. Someone riding near me moaned, “Mommy, when are we gonna get there?” LOL. I told her not for a while yet, but we were about to enter a beautiful cactus-covered hillside. Fact: the scenery is breathtaking. OK, I’ve ridden in plenty of wind on 9W in Rockland County, nothing new. Just stay with a group and tuck down. I was all right until the last hour. Then it became painful to stand on the pedals to accelerate, and I had to stop and stretch. Did I drink enough water? I had a package of coconut water at the start and five bottles of Heed through the ride and had acclimated myself with numerous bottles of water pre-race, but this is the desert. My time was slower this year than last year. Too bad the wind wasn’t behind us at the end instead of the beginning!

It’s always exhilarating to turn into downtown Tucson with a half mile to go and arrive at the finish line. I do love the start and the finish! I called my husband to say that I arrived, and he showed up in jeans rather than bike clothes. At first I thought that his time had been so good that he was able to return to the hotel and change. Unfortunately, that was not the case. A spoke on his wheel broke and he had to drop out. How frustrating and disappointing to train so hard, travel across the country and not be able to finish. He got a ride back to downtown Tucson in a pickup truck with the wife of the man I had seen crash before the first wash, who apparently slipped on a seam in the road. During the ride, I heard local cyclists complaining that they paid all their taxes, and wondered why the roads weren’t in better shape. While waiting for the pickup truck, my husband noticed how many volunteers were monitoring the race and calling info into headquarters, such as “Number XYZ is riding with aerobars.” (DQ) My friend, a second-time participant, did slightly better than last year because he stopped less frequently en route. Our coach did exceptionally well, in the top 40. He said that his group did the first 100 miles in 4 hours and the last 9 in a half hour because of the wind.

Moral: when the wind’s at your back, you have to work extra hard and make tracks because sooner or later it will be in your face. Somebody I know quite well told me that the wind is my best training partner.

By Lisa Donneson
Bourke & Wine
www.boukewines.com

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