Another year has passed since my last ride in the El Tour de Tucson. This year is the 34th anniversary of this annual fund-raising event, and once again I signed up to ride the full distance - which was 106 miles this year. This year was thankfully warmer than previous years, but holy cow - the wind was terrible. But I'll get to that in a minute.
The night before the ride I packed up my bicycle gear, and I made sure that I wouldn't repeat last year's mistake and forget my helmet. As I was putting my things together, I discovered that my bicycle had a flat tire. It was no fun changing it, of course, but it was so much better to have fortuitously discovered that problem the night before rather than the morning of. After that issue was resolved I set my alarm for 4:30am climbed into bed around 10:30pm. However, for some reason I could not fall asleep, so I probably did not drift off until sometime around 2:30am, which meant that I was hauling my exhausted self out of bed after only two hours of sleep. (Would someone please remind me why I do this every year?)
Anyway, I was on the road by 5:00am, and after a brief stop at a McDonald's for some carb loading via an Egg McMuffin, I headed off to Armory Park in downtown Tucson where the ride was scheduled to begin. I had studied the map before the ride, and I noticed that the route had changed for this year. First of all, the long, uphill ride on La Cañada Drive was gone, but it appeared to be replaced by an even longer uphill ride on Oracle Road. In addition to that change, the end of the ride had been changed from the 20+ miles riding Tangerine Road and the Frontage Road along I-10 to Avra Valley Road and Silverbell Road. This was all new territory for me, so needless to say - I did not know what the the day would have in store for me when I would arrive at those sections of the route.
Sometime shortly after 5:30am I arrived at the Tucson Convention Center (TCC), which is where I always park my car for the day, and after a few minutes putting the last of my things together, I hopped on my bicycle and rode over to Armory Park to get in line for the ride. I arrived around 10 or 15 minutes before 6:00am, and there were perhaps a couple hundred riders in line before me. (That number includes the "Platinum Riders," who must have had a ride time of less than five hours during a previous year.)
|Arriving near the start line.
|The group of cyclists in front of me.
(The banner in the distance is the actual starting line.)
As I waited for the ride to begin, I talked with the cyclists around me, and I met a guy whose wife had inadvertently cheated on one of the shorter distances during the previous year's ride. It seems that she didn't want to deal with the large crowd at the start line, so she began her ride 1 hour earlier than the rest of the riders. This meant that she wouldn't have an official time for the ride, but she didn't care. However, she was the first woman to cross the finish line for her distance, so they erroneously listed her as the winner. This isn't an actual race, so it's not that big of a deal, but nevertheless she registered for this year's ride under a different name. ;-)
|A quick panorama of the crowd of cyclists around 6:30am.
As I mentioned earlier, the temperature was a little warmer than in past years; it was somewhere in the low 50s while I was waiting. But I had learned from some more-experienced El Tour participants during my 2014 and 2015 rides to wear something disposable like pajama pants while waiting in line, and any clothes that are abandoned near the start line are donated to charity once the riders have left. With that in mind, I had bought a large set of black pajama pants to wear over my legs as I waited, and I had made sure to leave the tags on to show that they were new. As the start time drew near, I removed those, folded them nicely with the tags showing, and placed them on the side of the road. (Other cyclists simply threw jackets and pants over the barriers that lined the street.)
As has happened in previous years, in the last few minutes before the ride begins, all of the cyclists don the last of their equipment, and then all the riders bunch up toward the start line, thereby filling up all the gaps in the crowd.
|Cyclists pushing toward the start line in the last few minutes.
Shortly before 7:00am we all sang the National Anthem, and after a few perfunctory words from local politicians, they sounded the horn that announced the start, and we were off. I will admit, it always fills me with a small amount of nervousness before arriving at the starting line when I think about heading out as a lone cyclist within a sea of thousands; I am always afraid that I will fall over and get hit, or someone else will fall over and I'll crash into them, but every year it is an orderly affair as the cyclists cautiously start out in unison. (It seems that everyone else is also concerned about avoiding an accident.)
|106-mile riders starting out for the day.
30 minutes after the ride had started I found myself at the Santa Cruz River crossing, where all of the cyclists are required to dismount and hand-carry their bicycles across the dry river bed. Once again, a Mariachi Band was playing music for everyone as we arrived on the other side of the river.
Once across the river, I climbed back on my bicycle and headed off. However, this is where I need to mention the wind that I had alluded to in my opening paragraph; the first 35 miles of this ride is predominantly uphill as we rode south, and we had a great deal of wind blowing to the north, which meant that the first several hours were uphill into the wind. There were brief downhills and a few respites from the wind here and there, but for the most part the beginning of my day was spent tucking my head down and riding into the wind. One of the biggest sources of relief for everyone was around the 25-mile point when we turned north onto Kolb Road and had the wind behind us for a change. It was only for 2½ miles, but still - I heard dozens of other cyclists verbally reacting to the difference, and throughout the rest of the day I heard cyclists complaining about how awful that wind had been.
Of course, one of my personal demoralizers is when I hit the 30-mile mark; that is when the route passes Pima Community College, which is the start of the 75-mile route. I always think to myself, "If I had done that ride, I would be starting from here, rather than having just ridden 30 miles."
As we turned off Kolb Road onto Irvington Road, we entered my section of town, where I train all the time. In fact, I had ridden the northbound climb on Houghton Road and Escalante Road a couple of times that week, so I was quite used to that terrain and the climbs did not bother me. Shortly after reaching the end of Escalante Road, the route turned north onto Freeman Road, where we were all treated to several miles of fast-paced, downhill riding. (With no winds!)
At the bottom of Freeman Road the course followed the familiar route of Speedway to Houghton to Snyder, which took about 30 minutes to negotiate, and then it was time for the second river crossing. By this time I had been riding for over 3½ hours with no breaks, and I was running low on water, so I stopped to refill my water bottles, eat a few snacks, and remove the last of my cold weather gear.
After a brief 20-minute rest stop, I was back on the road. My next obstacle was the steep climb up East Snyder Road near North Rockcliff Road. I have mentioned this hill in my other blogs about riding in the El Tour de Tucson, so I won't go into detail here, except to reiterate what I have said in the past - thankfully this climb is only a few hundred meters in length.
Once I had put the Snyder Road climb behind me, I had a short ride to Cowbell Crossing, where my wife, Kathleen, was cheering on passing cyclists around the 52-mile mark with a group of her coworkers and our dog, Boudicca. Kathleen had been watching my progress via my Garmin Live Track, although what she was seeing was a few seconds behind my actual location, so she barely had time to run to the side of the road with Boudicca and wave as I rode by. (I had thought about stopping, but their group was set up on the opposite side of the road so I chose not to stop. In hindsight, I probably should have at least stopped to say "Hi" to everyone.)
The route meandered west along Sunrise and Skyline Drives, then we climbed north on Oracle Road, which was a departure from previous years of climbing north on La Cañada Drive. This extended the length of the climb by a couple of miles, so I'm still not quite sure if I approve of the changed route.
Around the 60-mile point I ran into an interesting predicament; my Garmin Cycling GPS announced that it's battery was almost depleted and it was going to shut down. I had fully charged it the night before, and I had used my Garmin GPS on several 100-mile rides with no problems in the past, but this year I had more devices connected than in previous years. For example, my GPS was linked to my cell phone for Live Tracking (which was constantly updating my location for family members to watch), and my GPS was paired with a Garmin Varia Radar that helps me know when vehicles are approaching from behind. Fortunately I had planned ahead; my cell phone was already attached to a spare battery and was still fully charged, and I had brought a spare USB battery pack in case of emergency. With that in mind, I quickly pulled off to the side of the road, and then I attached a USB cable from the battery pack to my GPS. Once I had all of that connected, my GPS showed that it was charging and I hopped back on the road. (Note: By the end of my ride, the GPS was fully-charged once again and the battery pack was still half-charged.)
I was running low on water as I reached the 75-mile mark, so I pulled off the road with dozens of other cyclists. I quickly refilled my water bottles, and I also availed myself of the Girl Scout cookies that the volunteers had provided. (No Thin Mints, of course, because those would have melted in the heat.)
After a 15-minute break I was back on the road and heading west on Moore Road. Thankfully the worst of the climbs were behind me, and the next 10 to 15 miles were predominantly downhill, which was a welcome change after the miles of climbing earlier in the day.
As I rode by a family that was cheering on the riders, their boys were all holding out their hands for high fives; most riders passed them by without obliging, but I held out my hand and swatted them all - thankfully without losing my balance in the process.
As I have seen on other long rides, I encountered a variety of interesting bicycles throughout the day's ride; most cyclists were on road bikes, of course, but there were a lot of mountain bikes, several single-speeds, a bunch of tandems, a smattering of recumbent bikes, and a couple of complete novelties - someone was riding a an ElliptiGO for the full 106 miles, and another guy was riding a unicycle. (I have no idea what distance the unicyclist was riding, but it was before we had merged with the cyclists riding for 28 miles, so the unicyclist was riding at least 37 miles.)
The route headed down Avra Valley Road and then onto Silverbell Road, which I mentioned earlier was different than riding down the Frontage Road in previous years. There were a few things about this new route that were a welcome change; namely that the ride was nowhere near as boring as 20 miles of riding along a frontage road next to an Interstate. The biggest drawback was, however, that riding south meant facing into the wind - again.
Nevertheless, after an hour's ride south on Silverbell Road, the route turned east on Speedway, then shortly after that the route briefly turned onto Mission Road and then 22nd Street, thereby retracing the final miles of the route from previous years. After that we turned onto 6th Avenue for the final stretch to the finish.
|Turning onto 6th Avenue for the final mile.
|Approaching the finish line.
I crossed the finish line around 8½ hours after I had started, although my actual riding time was just shy of 8 hours. (The remaining half-hour was spent on my two stops and the several intersections where I had to wait for the street lights to change.) It should go without mentioning that I was exceedingly happy to be done with the ride, and after picking up my silver medal for my time category, I found a quiet place to stash my bicycle for a few minutes and I bought a slice of pizza with a bottle of Gatorade to celebrate my successful completion of another "Century Ride."
Looking over the miles that I rode, my ride began with 25 miles of riding uphill into the wind, and it ended with 20 miles of riding uphill into the wind; so just shy of 50% of the ride was spent riding uphill while enduring a steady wind in my face. That was subpar, to say the least, but there wasn't anything that could be done about it. I would estimate that the wind added at least an hour to my ride time, although it would probably be more accurate to say that it added 1½ hours to my ride time.
- Primary Statistics:
- Start Time: 6:58am
- Distance: 106 miles (105.6 miles on my GPS)
- Duration: 8 hours, 36 minutes (7 hours, 52 minutes on my GPS)
- Calories Burned: 3,074 kcal
- Altitude Gain: 4,259 feet
- Average Speed: 13.4 mph
- Peak Speed: 32.7 mph
- Average Cadence: 73.0 rpm
- Average: 72.1 F
- Minimum: 48.2 F
- Maximum: 86.0 F
- Heart Rate:
- Average: 147 bpm
- Maximum: 183 bpm