A Weekend in the Tucson Desert
When the top riders in North America converge in the Tucson Desert, the sounds of freewheels and changing gears bounce off the cactus covered mountain faces. Today, my home roads will play host to the Tucson Bicycle Classic, a three-day stage race featuring the top riders from the USA, Mexico, and Canada. A weekend long shootout is on tap - 3 days, 3 stages, scorching sun, and an international field ready to try to rip each other’s legs off. In a nutshell, a weekend of fun… from a cyclist’s point of view!
I started the stage one time trial close to 5pm and though the sun had stopped beating down, the thermometer still read close to 90F (32C). I warmed up a bit on the trainer before heading over to the 5km course on Tucson's famous McCain Loop which features a 70km/hour (40mph) descent and a series of short, but leg-breaking, rolling hills in the mountains south of the city near the filming set of pretty much every western movie ever made. I gave the TT my all, but still came up short of Canadian national TT champ Ryan Roth by about a minute. No shame there, I suppose. No worries, tomorrow is another day, but for tonight: Tacos at the Mercado San Augustin to top up for tomorrow’s road race.
Waking rested and wondering if any riders in the Tour or the Giro have ever eaten tacos to recover between stages, my mind wandered to the coming stages. Today, I’d be racing against this same top North American talent like sprinter Travis McCabe of the Professional Continental Team United Health Care (UHC), Chad Beyer from Canyon and the winner of the previous night’s TT, Ryan Roth of Silber cycling. Anyone familiar with the Arizona heat can attest to the fact that on almost any given day, the heat is one of the biggest adversaries for each and every rider. The incessant, searing attacks combined with the high temperatures were almost unbearable at times, but I hung in there, remembering the saying “cycling is a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired.” This got me through a very very tough day, and I survived yet another stage ready to fight in Sunday’s last stage.
Saturday was an 82 mile road race that followed the reverse of the Saturday Shootout ride. We started a little after 9:00. The peloton was made up of over 60 riders featuring some world class talent, such as Travis McCabe (UHC), Chad Beyer (Canyon), Ryan Roth(Silber), and many other talented cyclists from the US, Canada, and Mexico... Lots of attacks went off in the first lap trying to establish a break. The final two laps seemed interminable due to the constant, searing attacks and high pace combined with the desert heat. It was like having two races at the same time - one against the other competitors, the other against mother nature and my inner resolve to push further. I didn’t win the first, but fortunately my resolve to finish and fight on again tomorrow prevailed.
The final stage on Sunday featured an 80 km circuit race with 9 laps of a 9km course. Though the distance was relatively short, the constant up and down nature of mountain terrain meant that there would be no place to hide. Add in a scorching sun and temperatures already around 35C at 10am and the recipe for suffering was set. As predicted, the Canadian Professional team Silber pushed the pace all day to protect the yellow jersey. I managed to hold on until the last lap, when I was finally dropped by a hard charging peloton headed by the UHC. Unable to contest the final sprint won by UHC’s Travis McCabe, I finished, beaten, but proud of having completed a challenging race against top international competition. Each day a step forward, challenging myself to get just a little bit better, to get a just a little bit stronger, to hang on just a little longer, that is what this journey is about. I don’t know if I’ll ever be fighting for a stage win against top pro riders, but I sure am going to try my best to make it happen.