Tuesday, November 20, 2007

2007 el Tour de Tucson

Last weekend BalticTiger, Gogan and Howard flew down to Tucson for his last big bicycling event of the season -- el Tour de Tucson. It's a 109-mile timed race that circles Tucson counterclockwise every mid-November, and Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, and Greg Lemond all rode in it in recent years. Lemond, as a matter of fact, was a participant THIS year. None of them has won it though as it's usually won by someone more local who knows the extraordinarily challenging route better.

This year, about 5,000 cyclists entered the 109-mile race (over 4,000 also participated in shorter distance rides), which started in downtown Tucson at 7 a.m. on Saturday. Only 4,233 cyclists finished by 6 p.m. My goal was to do it in 5 hours or less. Unfortunately, I had THREE flat tires during the race, the first one occurring while riding through the second of two dry washes on the route. Most of the riders carry their bikes through the washes, but if there's room and motivation, cyclists can TRY to ride through them too. Skinny tires through three inches of soft sand filled with rocks and thorns is not a promising riding surface.

A guy in front of me was riding when we heard, "pssssssssst". Then a guy next to me got one. Then I heard from my own rear wheel, "pssssssssssssst". A pinch flat, meaning the hidden rocks in the sand compressed the tube and pinched it. So I got to stop and fix it. While installing the new tube, I noticed it had a twist in it, which meant it had another twist in it somewhere else. But I couldn't find it, so I just finished putting it all back together, hoping for the best. Minutes later, one of the el Tour photographers was doing his thing. I saw the picture Monday and boy do I look pissed off!

I climbed out of the wash and started riding the bike again. I had been told that the steepest climb of the day was right after the wash and I saw a hill straight ahead and climbed it. However, near the top someone yelled up to me, "you went the wrong way!" Looking back, everyone else was turning right before the hill! So down I went, said a few words to the "fans" standing at the intersection about speaking up a bit sooner, then began to hammer towards the "real" hill. I climbed it much too quickly, putting it in my granny gear and standing on my pedals, but I was mad, which helped, I suppose.

I headed west on Sunrise Road towards a pre-arranged spot at the resort where we stayed in Tucson and where BalticTiger was waiting to give me a couple of fresh bottles of Gatorade. Took me about 30 seconds. Then on I went. Still annoyed, I led a paceline of riders at a pretty fast pace... until I felt the tire getting soft again! So I pulled over to fix the second flat.

Riding even faster after the second flat, I started to push it too hard, until another paceline came along and absorbed me, probably saving me from "blowing up", I'm sure.

Just a minute or two to talk about pacelines...

About 70-80% of the resistance a cyclist has to overcome is due to wind resistance. That's why aerodynamics are so critical to cyclists. The weight of the rider and bicycle are much less important on level ground. However, weight becomes the primary difficulty to overcome on long or steep climbs. Fortunately, most of the 109-mile route in Tucson was relatively level, so the biggest obstacle was wind resistance. When one rides alone, you have to push all the air yourself. However, when part of a paceline or group or even one of two bicyclists, the amount of wind resistance decreases substantially. For example, when I ride alone or at the front of a group on flat ground, I can sustain a 20-21 mph pace for hours and hours. Of course I can go faster, but I can't sustain it for very long. BUT, when in a paceline of riders, it's not uncommon to move along at 25-26 mph with very little effort, even coasting every few seconds.

On Saturday, I found myself at the front of the pack a bit too frequently. Particularly after my third flat tire! Fortunately, the third flat tire happened just as I was approaching one of the 20 or so aid stations along the route, so I was able to borrow a tube and got a guy with a frame pump to help me out. I only brought two spare tubes with me that day, so they saved my bacon.

After fixing the flat, with a guy taking my picture the whole time, I grabbed a handful of grapes and went on my way, going waaay too fast once again. Along the way, I picked up about 30 other cyclists all taking it easy behind the big guy -- me! Yeah, I led a long paceline for about 15 miles with nobody riding up, offering to take over. One guy behind me kept asking me how I was feeling. My answer: "I feel great after all the 'breaks' I've taken!"

Finally, we could see the downtown of Tucson less than 10 miles away and I pulled over to the left side to slow down and let someone else pull the paceline for a while. Everyone thanked me. Cyclists are very polite and decent people. They're also lazy at times, especially when a big guy is willing to pull the pack along at a fast pace.

Shortly after that, a really huge and fast paceline passed and absorbed us, and the race to the finish line was on. I was pooped, but kept the 26-mph pace going for the final stretch. At the final right turn before the finish line, I sprinted ahead of about five or six others around me and finished first in our little bunch, raising my hands and arms out as I crossed the finish line -- way cool!

My goal was 5 hours or less, but because of the flat tires I had to settle for just a bit under 5 1/2 hours. Out of 4,233 finishers, I was in the top 20% -- not too bad considering the flats and my age. Here's a link to the final results.

My Average Speed overall, including the three stops to fix flat tires and the 30-second stop to get more Gatorade from BalticTiger was around 20 mph. However, my Ride Time, which doesn't include the four stops, was 5:03:30 at a pace of 21.7 mph. Still not quite under 5 hours, but I was happy with my effort as I've never ridden anything this long or fast with so few stops, let alone ZERO stops as was my goal!

If anyone is interested in reading more, you can check out my best girl's blog here and also here. She has some funny things to say about the race and about Tucson from a spectator's viewpoint.

I'll be running a 5K race in Loveland on Thanksgiving morning -- the annual Turkey Trot Race to benefit the McKee Foundation in Loveland. It's supposed to be 17F degrees at 8 a.m. when it starts! Yikes! Plus, I'm still about 750 miles short of 10,000 bicycling miles for the year, so I'll continue riding my bike(s) until I get there. I have a hybrid bicycle that I put studded snow tires on so I can ride in the winter months.

Not sure what goals I'll set for myself (and what goals BalticTiger might set) for 2008, but it should certainly be an interesting year!


Blogger Company XO said...

Way to go Howard, next thing we know you will be signing-up with a Tour de France cycle team.

1st TIR XO

7:51 PM, November 21, 2007  
Blogger HRlaughed said...

Well, thanks for that bit of heart-felt sincerity, but let's discuss it for a second.

My time (with 3 flat tires) was a bit under 5 hours/30 minutes while the winners finished at 4 hours/10 minutes. Second, I'm 47 years old, emphasis on OLD. Third, it's taken two years of hard work just to get where I am today. I'm getting weary of hard work. Now I just wanna shift it into the big ring and kick back.

At least until next April!

8:17 PM, November 21, 2007  

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