Archive for November, 2008


Endangered Species

Nov 26, 2008 by Steve Belt in iPhone photo

A Circuit City umbrella in Phoenix? I’ll probably never see another one.

Final Random Thoughts about el Tour de Tucson

Nov 25, 2008 by Steve Belt in Cycling

I thought I’d share just a few more random thoughts about the experience riding el Tour de Tucson, not so much related to my ride, but all of the many, many things surrounding it.  These will appear in no particular order, but just musings and stuff that come to mind.

  • Next year I’m setting a goal of 5.5 hrs elapsed time.  That’s going to require serious training to attain.
  • Throughout the ride, it was amazing that every single intersection is blocked off and made safe/ready for riders.  I said thank you at least 30 times to various officers and feel sad that that was a tiny fraction of the number of people I would have liked to say thank you to.
  • I can be faster in the wash crossings…I don’t know why I walk so slow through them.
  • It will be nice to have teeth and no Invisilign braces next year.
  • I need to ride during the week next year…even if it’s just quick 1 hour mountain bike rides from my house.
  • Pizza and beer after a 6 hour ride taste better, even if the beer is only Michelob Ultra and the beer comes from Pizza Hut.
  • Having a non-riding friend (or two) there to see you start/finish is really cool.  Thanks Lori and Chrissy!
  • There was a crash at some point along the race in which a car pulled out in front of a group, and caused 10 cyclists to crash.  One of those cyclist was still in critical care on Sunday.  The driver got out of the car, saw the carnage, and sped off.  Police are still looking for him.  I hope the police find him.
  • My bike amazes me for how comfortable it is over such a long ride.  My right foot was falling asleep a little, but overall, very little road vibration transmits through the bike to me.  Thanks Orbea!
  • I made 3 last second changes to my gear/bike.  For all 3, this was their maiden voyage:
    1. I rode a tubeless tire up front from Stan’s.  It worked perfectly. I wasn’t feeling brave enough to go tubeless on both wheels, but I will before my next ride.
    2. I used a brand new Giro road helmet, which worked perfectly.
    3. I used brand new Pearl Izumi full finger gloves, which worked perfectly.
  • A bit of a clunk developed when coming off a freewheel spin as I hit the pedals to crank.  I think my bottom bracket may finally be worn out, which isn’t bad after 6+ years of riding.
  • I don’t know where they get all of the volunteers, but my hat’s off to each and every one of them.  Thank you.
  • I was a bit sore the next day, but by Monday I could easily have ridden again.  I expect to get on the mountain bike this weekend for some fun on the dirt, as the initial preparations for the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo begin.

Ride Report for el Tour de Tucson

Nov 23, 2008 by Steve Belt in Cycling

For the 109 mile el Tour de Tucson, the day started early, with the alarm clock going off at 4:15am.  Getting ready, the only mishap initially was finding out that the local Starbucks wasn’t open at 5:00am when we arrived.  Fortunately, Bruegger’s Bagels was open.

We arrived at 5:20am, and were one of the very last riders allowed to enter the gold starting area.  I was happy just to be in gold, so that was fine by me.  Many people arrive as early as 4:00am to line up closer to the start, staging their bikes, and then heading back to their car or hotel to get a final bit of shut eye.


The Start

At 7am, the ride starts.  Being about 200 yards back from the start line, I roll past the start at ~7:05am.  I wouldn’t know at the time, but it turns out that 5 minutes would prove to haunt me later.

The first couple of minutes I roll very easy, trying to avoid any crashes, and just looking to find someone that seemed to be going at a speed that I liked.  I was there with my friend Chris Z, and in the start/finish area we had talked about trying to stick together this year (unlike last year).  Once a race starts, however, my stick together plan always seems to go out the window.  I had a goal to finish in under 6 hours (and be a gold finisher), and if Chris was right there with me, that would be awesome…but if not, well, I know he’s having fun whether my wheel is around or not.

River Wash #1

I get to the first river wash crossing (about 8 miles in), and look back and it seems I’ve left Chris behind, even though I was trying to ride smooth and steady.  They had “rolled” the sand of the wash, packing is down nicely, so getting across the 1/4 stretch was pretty quick.  Then a cool thing happened…as I mounted my bike, Chris rolled up right next to me.  He had kept me in sight all along, and so we rode together again for a few minutes.

At this point, more than ever, I’m on the lookout to keep up and draft behind anyone and everyone that’s moving fast.  We take a turn and head south into a strong wind, and someone comes around me, making great time.  I get on his wheel, and the race is “on”.  For the next 30+ miles, I average over 20 mph, and whenever someone faster comes from behind, I get on that wheel, and lay down some amazing (for me) miles.  Essentially, I didn’t let anyone pass me, which as I sit here now, is stunning to think about.  Primarily what worked, was getting behind a few tandems.  There were 3 really strong tandem crews that seemed to be jockeying around, and by letting them do the work to break the wind, allowed me (and many others) to hang back and just enjoy the ride in their slick stream.

40 miles into the race, at around 10am, I realize that I am just flying.  I’m well under the 6 hour pace, and I begin to question just how fast I’m riding.  I’m not exhausted, but signs of fatigue are indeed setting in.  I know the second river wash crossing isn’t much farther ahead, so I slow down for a couple of miles and kinda coast in.

River Wash #2

The second river wash has deeper sand, plus it’s much narrower, so that crossing is considerably slower.  At the exit, I refill my water bottles and eat a couple of oranges.  I’m not feeling hungry, but it just seems like the thing to do.  I know the next section is the make-or-break area, as the majority of the climbing is about to begin.

The next rolling hill section has a number of short steepish climbs, each a little higher than the last, with super fast down hills in between.  By the time we turn north toward Oro Valley I know I have to be extremely cautious with my energy.  I can feel just how close to the point of exhaustion I’m at, but there are still 10 more miles of climbing before the fastest and funnest portion of the course is found…the descent from Oro Valley to I-10.  By the time I get to the high point in Sun City Vistoso I am really struggling, averaging less than 10 mph.

Cruising over 30 mph

As the descent begins, I’m just rolling, hardly pedaling, waiting for faster riders to come from behind and sweep me up, and sure enough, they indeed do just that.  I get swept up by an awesome group, led once again by a tandem crew, and we start making some really good time.  For the next 10 miles, we average 33 mph, which does an amazing thing for my morale.

Just before we arrive at the aid station at the end of Tangerine Rd, I move up to the tandem crew and politely tell them thank you…and in a joke that only a tandem crew can offer, they say, “You’re welcome.  That’ll be $10.”

Stopping at the aid station, I refill my water, and eat bananas, oranges, saltines, and a granola bar.  I know I need food, as my stomach is grumbling.  There are just 19 miles now to the finish, and it’s 11:45am, so I’m feeling pretty confident I’ll finish before 1pm.  I do the math in my head, and 15 mph will get me home in time, which seems “easy” as my recollection is that it’s fairly flat from this point on.

Leaving the aid station, we turn and head south, and I’m again reminded there’s a bit of a wind blowing this day.  It’s probably only 10mph, maybe 15mph, but having departed from the last great group, I’m suddenly alone, and having to do all of the work into the wind.  Being alone, in a race with 10,000 participants is just a strange feeling…even if only for a few minutes.  I want to go faster, but I know that it doesn’t make sense to be riding solo into the wind, with my energy levels this close to fully spent.

Struggling to Finish

Eventually I get swept up and we start making really nice time headed into the final significant hill of the day.  This hill seemed easy to me last year, but this year it threatens to break me.  I struggle to the top and lose touch with the group.  With just 10 miles to go, I’m again alone, and again struggling to keep even a 15 mph pace.

The final 10 miles is surprisingly hard.  It’s slightly up hill the entire way, and headed south, it’s into the wind as well.  Even more discouraging, it’s a kind of rolling section, where you continue to roll up small hill after small hill, each time thinking, “ok, this will be the last one.”  Except it’s never the last one, and I mean this happens ~20 times…every half mile, like clockwork.

During this section, I somehow convince myself that although a gold finisher finishes in under 6 hours, surely, they don’t mean finishes at exactly 1pm…since it took me 4 or 5 minutes to even cross the finish line, I’ll be a gold finisher even if I cross a minute or two after 1pm, right?  So I worry less and less about getting home before 1pm, and just focus on finishing in a relaxed manner, without killing myself.  A number of times I let people go by that are going just a tad faster than me — people I should be drafting behind, but due to fatigue, I let them go.

The Finish

I rolled over the finish line at 1:00:26 for 1159th place of 3817 finishers.  Just 26 seconds after 1pm, and for my effort…I get a silver.  They don’t care when you start…just when you finish.  It’s a ride, after all, not a race.  I won’t pull punches, it hurts just a little bit to know that I worked that hard to come up that short.

I had 2 major goals for the day:  Ride faster than 6 hours and get a gold.  I did ride faster than 6 hours, but not fast enough to get the gold.  Still it was an amazing day.  Times this year were slower than last year, with the winning time 10 minutes slower and 400 fewer gold finishers.  That tells me there was a pretty significant wind we had to deal with.  Based on my energy level at this finish, however, I was probably stronger last year.  I just didn’t have the flat tires and the stop lights (I was never stopped at a stop light this year), that cost me so much time last year.  And this year, I think I rode much smarter.

Needless to say, it was a great day, and I can’t wait to be back next year.  One change of plan is readily apparent:  we are going to line up earlier at the start.  I’m thinking 4:45am would make a HUGE difference.

A few of the bikes staged to start El Tour De Tucson

Nov 22, 2008 by Steve Belt in iPhone photo

Tucson Civic Art

Nov 21, 2008 by Steve Belt in iPhone photo

Making final preperations for el Tour de Tucson

Nov 16, 2008 by Steve Belt in General

This year, I am again riding el Tour de Tucson.  The event is now less than a week away, on November 22, starting at 7am for those of us riding the 109 mile distance.  For the last couple of weeks, it’s been the #1 thing on my mind.

I’m having a hard time determining if I’m as fit as last year.  This year I’ve been riding more rides that are 50ish miles in length, while last year we mostly rode 40ish mile rides.  Last year, I rode the around the mountain ride (Fountain Hills->Rio Verde) just once, and it almost killed me, which put strong doubt in my mind about the Tour.  This year, I’ve done that ride twice, on back-to-back days, and felt really good the first day, and as good as could be expected the second day.

I’m going to give myself credit for being in about the same shape.  Perhaps a little better or a little worse. If so, being a gold finisher and finishing in under 6 hours is within my reach.  Hopefully I don’t have any mechanicals, the weather is clean and clear, and I at least have a chance.

Anyway, because I’ve been feeling pretty good about the around the mountain ride, yesterday I decided to attempt the Bartlett Lake ride that Lance Armstrong used to do.  It’s 68 miles.  The ride starts by heading north up Pima, which is a mild gradual climb.  Then in the town of Carefree the climbing gets more difficult before reaching the high point at the turn off to Bartlett Lake at mile 20. At that point, you drop down significantly over a 14 mile distance to the marina.

Yesterday, it was pretty breezy.  In fact, it’s been windy fairly often recently, and it’s been frustrating to train in.  The wind was coming from the east, and thus all the way up Pima there was a strong cross wind, making the climb all that much harder.  Turning east in Carefree took me right into the teeth of the wind, so by the time I arrived at the turn off to the lake, I was pretty wiped, and just 20 miles in.  I began to drop down the hill toward the marina, when after 3 miles I went through a wash that causes a climb similar to the previous descent.  Just 1/4 mile up, I realized that 14 miles of this type of climbing just might kill me.

Riding alone, I did the smart thing and turned around.  Back at the wash, I stopped for a couple of minutes, and prepared for the 6-8% grades that the next 3 miles were about to present.  The climb out wasn’t actually as bad as I had feared, and then I was rewarded with the 35 mph descent back to Pima with the wind at my back.  The ride down Pima, normally the dessert of any ride, was no joy ride at all.  Again, the strong side wind meant I was unable to get over 28 mph, and there was a lot of work getting down the hill.  Total distance was only 48 miles in 3 hrs 25 mins, but it felt a lot harder than the 50 mile around the mountain ride.

Today, is my final training ride, I’m going to do the around-the-mountain ride in reverse (clockwise).  I’ve never gone in this direction, but it’s the direction that the Tour de Scottsdale does.

For the race next weekend, I’m going to try to ride smarter, attempting to save energy, while at the same time riding faster.  My basic plan will to be to avoid leading any pace lines whenever possible, and just stick to the wheels of faster riders.  Hopefully we can start a little closer to the front this year, which will allow me to be around strong riders that pull me around the course.  Anyway, that’s the plan.  We’ll see how it goes.  The only hitch in the plan will be riding with Chris Z.  He’s a slower starter, due to asthma and how long it takes his lungs to expand.  Once he gets going though, he’s at least as fast as I am.

Saying goodbye

Nov 07, 2008 by Steve Belt in iPhone photo

For 42 months this was my ultimate driving machine. With the lease over someone else will now get this opportunity.

I Voted Today

Nov 04, 2008 by Steve Belt in General

I voted today, and the experience taught me something very important about myself. I’ll explain:

I arrived at the polls at 7:30am. There wasn’t much of a line, and I quickly moved to present my drivers license. My address on yge licrense isnt up-to-date (thank you DMV), so they told me, “No problem, you can still cast a provisional ballot.”

As I waited in that next short line I began to get nervous. Would my vote count? They were handwriting information about each voter, and what if there was an error? So I left the polling center, went to my car and retrieved my car insurance and registration. Returning to the sign-in, they then noticed I had received an early ballot and again directed me to the provisional balloting line.

I took another look at the carbon copy registration sheets and with my anxiety mounting, returned home and dug my ballot out of the trash. To this point I hadn’t given my early ballot much thought as my wife had ordered it for me. I procrastinated voting by mail and missed the deadline. Now I know why. I want my vote to count. And not just a little bit. I really want my vote to count, and there’s something about watching your vote go into the counting machine that’s comforting. It’s an acknowledgement that my vote has been counted.

Today, I didn’t get that satisfaction. Returning for the third time to my polling location, I was directed to drop my ballot in a bin to be counted later. I’m sure it will be, but I really wanted it counted now.

This is the first, and it will be my last attempt at mail-in or early voting. If (or should I say when) we progress to online voting that won’t scare me. But until then I’m going old school.

And funny enough, when I arrived at Starbucks this morning for my free coffee, a neighbor and I shared consenting sentiments, as she too had voted early by mail, and very much missed her trip to the polls.

What about you? Does early voting scare you? Or are you confident it works flawlessly?