Sunday, November 20, 2011

El Tour de Tucson

8,700 riders lined up for the start. Photo complements of Arizona Sta
 Perfect weather for the 29th riding of El Tour de Tucson, a race that attracts ranked riders from all points N, E, S, W, and even internationally. Of course the elite riders are protected from the mass of 9,000 riders by being given a place up front, tucked safely behind the pace vehicles.

It's a chipped ride now, so no more having to line up at 3:00 a.m. to shiver in the chill of the moon to assure a desired position on the start line waiting for the 7:00 start. What better way to inaugurate my being a Tucsonian than by riding El Tour.

My garage door woke the neighbors at 5:15 a.m. who had arrived home only an hour before.  Lights on, I rode down the dirt path from my garage to the Rillito Wash Path, to Mountain Ave, through the University of Arizona that still slept, through the heart of downtown Tucson and finally to the start line at 6th Ave. and 13th St.--7.5 miles from home. I lined up with the other riders who were planning to complete the ride in the 7's.

A male quartet from the U of A sang a stunning rendition of the Star Spangled Banner and the mass began to roll out. Couldn't put both feet in the pedals for at least a block, going so slow compressed by carbon, steel, titanium, passion, and adrenalin. But when I did clip in with both feet there was clearly something amiss. But of course, it was at least my 10th flat in two weeks, despite Mr. Tuffy kevlar rim strips. Off the course, onto the sidewalk to change my flat while 4,000 riders left me behind.

The upside: well, I didn't have to jockey for position in the throng those first few miles; the downside: by the time I was rolling again all the police had left their positions at traffic intersections so I had to obey the traffic signals losing precious more minutes waiting for lights to change, etc.

As many of you know, El Tour features the crossing of two dry river washes for a total of about 0.8 mile. I caught the tail end of the 4,000 at the Aid Station on the far side of the Santa Cruz Wash.
Crossing the 1st Wash: Photo by the Arizona Star
Topped off my tube with the floor pump and spend the rest of the day passing as many riders as I could. Having ridden the course a week before paid off in spades knowing where my favorite Convenient Stores were, where the climbs were, and where the speedy descents were and whether I would want to have my windbreaker on or off.

The 85 mile riders folded onto the course at about mile 26 of the 111 mi route. The 85 milers only had to off-road through one Wash, the one through Sabino Creek (dry) which skirted Canyon Ranch through their parking lot.

Bill Walton, of basketball fame, was riding El Tour; I bumped into him in the Sabino Creek Wash, both of us sucking down some Gu Gel. I had a deep conversation with my first celeb: "Bill, I just gotta ask you, what size is your frame?" His response was thorough, but hardly expansive: "72". And then we were both off into our own rides.

At mile 50 I was back on roads that I ride weekly; so good to be on familiar roads. The 60 mile riders would fold in shortly on Sunrise Dr.; and finally the 42 milers folded in Rancho Vistoso near Catalina State Park.

The good news was that I had no more tire issues and the strong headwinds that had been predicted for the last 20-30 miles were not all that bad and the dropped cell phone I found at mile 90 was able to be returned to its rightful owner at the finish park.

El Tour by the numbers:
  • 8,700 riders, about 50% rode the 111 mi route
  • temps ranged from 60-72
  • I was the only female recumbent rider on the 111 mile course; there were 8 male bent riders who ranged in age from 47-68 on the 111 mile course. I finished in the 44th percentile among All the bent riders--7 hrs 42 min
  • There were 16 women riding upright bikes in the 61-70 year old category, my age group (age 66).  I finished in the 75th percentile among all the women in my age category, although I was really my own category of 1: a bent rider in the 61-70 year old category. 
Take aways:
  • It was a GREAT day. Loved every minute of it, except the flat
  • It would be fun to be more competitive, but given my age and classification of the bike I ride, I turned in a respectable showing.
  • Wonder why it is that out of nearly 9,000 riders on 17 women in my age category toed the line? Don't know the true answer, but what works for me is to smile one of gratitude for the gift of being able to put my wheel on the line and ride the distance
  • Next year I think I'll ride again, but do so as a Bike Patrol giving back so others can have a glorious El Tour.
Eric Marcotte of Scottsdale,  left, men's winner in the 111-mile race
Photo by Arizona Star

Jennifer Wheele of Tucson, women's winner in the 111 mile race
Photo by Arizona Star

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