On Saturday I rode the 109-mile El Tour de Tucson on my road bike. This is a major event, which this year drew over 9150 riders, including Greg Lemond (whom I passed during the second river crossing 8-).
Leading up to the event, I had been mostly riding with Chris Z doing 50ish mile road rides. Since my training rides were a bit short, I wasn’t sure what to expect from myself in this event. The 52 miles I did at Show Low in October on my mountain bike was more comparable to this ride, but I really should have done at least one 75 mile ride in preparation.
Going in to the ride, I had set as a goal the same time I had done in Show Low: 6 hours 45 mins. I figured I’d ride at around 18 mph, taking 3 or 4 breaks, and thus 6:45 seemed a reasonable goal. Since I was there with Chis Z, I wasn’t totally sure if I was going to ride with him the whole time, or if we would seperate. But 9 minutes into the event, I threw caution to the wind, caught on the wheel of a group that had just passed us, and pretty soon was humming along at 20+ mph, a good bit faster than I expected to be able to sustain. Before the first river crossing, which was at mile 8, I had left Chris well behind, and was completely on my own.
This event is unique for a road bike race, in that it has 2 river crossings where you have to walk your bike across. Actually, I carried my bike across, because I didn’t want to get a flat tire as a result of it being in the desert sand. The first river crossing, which was the shorter one, took ~8 minutes to walk across. The second crossing, took ~9 minutes, and allowed for a bit faster walking, since it was around mile 47, and riders had spread out much more.
All was going far better than I expected until 3 hours 20 mins in, when I had fallen a bit off the pace of a group I had been riding with. They were just going so fast, and I was starting to fatigue so I slowed a tad, and was riding along side another rider. That’s when I flatted. It was mile 67. About the time I had the new tube in the tire a bike patrol guy came by and asked if I was ok. I said “yep”, and he continued on. 30 seconds later I realized I wasn’t ok, as I didn’t have any CO2 cartridges to blow my tire up with. Suddenly I was stuck. I sat there for 12 lonely minutes waiting for the next bike patrol guy to come by and save my sorry butt. About 1 minute before we had it fixed, Chris rolled past. Turns out I had built a 17 minute lead on him.
With the tire fixed, I headed to the very next SAG station, needing water, as my bottles had been empty for the last 10 miles or so. After this stop, I noticed that the riders I was now riding with had changed. Falling back just enough where I noticed the typical rider wasn’t going as fast as I wanted to go. I was finding it difficult to “group up” and find a pace line that was travelling at the right speed.
Eventually, a bike patrol lady and a 67 mile rider (he was signed up to ride 67 miles, and thus started 42 miles closer to the finish than I did.) passed me. Being fresher, they were riding at just the speed I was looking for. Eventually our little group became 8 or 10 riders, and we moved along at a nice clip. Of particular fun was a slight downhill stretch where we averaged over 25mph for 10 miles. I must say, it was perhaps the funnest 10 miles of road riding in my life. Being the rider with the most miles, I let them set the pace initially, but when 4 of the leaders had all taken a turn, and all seemed a bit tired, I finally took my turn. We had been doing 27 mph, and I kicked it up to 29 mph, pulling hard for 3 strong miles, which was a real blast. I wasn’t sure if the group was going to be able to keep up, but sure enough, our core group was right there behind me the whole way. I think everyone enjoyed the opportunity to go that fast. I know at my size and weight, I have an advantage in these circumstances, but I pushed my heart rate up over 160 bpm, which was amazing for me to phathom some 84 miles into the ride.
A few miles later, there was a crash a short way ahead of our group, and the bike patrol lady had to stop and offer assistance. It was really too bad, because it tore our whole group apart. For the last 20 miles or so, I would essentially ride alone, catching a wheel here and there, but rarely hooking up with any group for even a mile before a SAG stop or something caused it to bust apart.
At mile 103, just 6 miles from the finish, my rear tire flatted again. I knew I was riding on low pressure, but I was so close to the finish I didn’t want to stop. Plus I didn’t have a pump. Unfortunately, I hit a pot hole and pinch flatted. Fortunately, the guy riding right behind me asked if I was ok, and then stayed to offer help when I said I had no air. He said he was tired and needed to stop anyway…just 6 miles from the end! The second flat took under 4 minutes to repair, but once again, Chris rolled past me while I was broken down.
In the end I finished with a measured time of 6 hours 20 minutes. My event official time was 6 hours 24 minutes, because it’s not a race, and they only measure when you cross the finish, not when you cross the start. It took 4 minutes for me to cross the start, with so many riders. I’m really happy with the result. Having expected to take close to 7 hours, and then being able to ride at a sub 6 hour pace was certainly beyond my expectations. In the future, I’ll be better prepared, and next year, it will be my goal to finish in under 6 hours.