After a more than 10-year hiatus from road-biking tour events, I made my return at the 2016 Tour de Scottsdale. In the meantime, I’ve ticked the box on some 12- and 24-hour mountain bike races. Why the hiatus? Road bike tours tend to have a rather mixed bag of skill levels -- and some of them freak me out (like the guy who crashed and slid shoulder-first into my front wheel at the Taylor House Century â€“ how I didn’t crash, I still can’t figure out).
Anyway, that brings me to the Tour de Scottsdale. Here’s my rundown of thoughts and observations. Let me frame this by saying I ride once a week, either road or mountain depending on the time of year. The rest of the time, I lift weights, do hot yoga and various other odd exercise. I’ve done a few 12- and 24-hours races. When I’m solo or duo, the goal is to not be within 10 spots of DFL.
OK, onto the ride report. I didn’t get to pick up my race packet in advance. My wife ran a half-marathon the day before, and I didn’t want to cart the little person all over. I wasn’t able to get the pick-up point, so I figured I’d just grab my packet and stash it in my car.
Except that most of the parking was a few miles from the race start, and they were running trolleys. Fortunately, the nice people at the info tent were nice enough to let me stash my t-shirt (which I probably won’t wear outside my house, to be honest). That’s why I really don’t like busing to the start line – things can go wrong. I did find out that there was at least some parking near the start. Show up early!
Scrambling for my packet had another ill effect: I got stuck behind the 30-mile riders -- which included a multitude of fluorescent-yellow-clad people clearly from some sort of organization. They struck as some sort of group from a bro-y sort of church where the pastor wears a trilby and quotes the network TV version of The Big Lebowksi. They filled me with dread, and they demonstrated handling skills and a lack of situational awareness that fully lived up to my expectations.
Once the yellow spazzes and others like them cleared, I was having myself a grand old time. I tucked in with a few smart riders, including this one older women with silky-smooth skills, all sorts of energy and the manner of a peloton patron (I was sad later when she broke off on the 30-mile course).
Let me diverge for a moment to talk about earbuds and headphones. They are stupid, stupid and stupid. That is stupid to the third power. So many riders cluelessly weaving along listening to Nickleback or whatever, absolutely oblivious to what was happening around them. My favorite was the guy with full headphones – his rear derailleur cage was pinging into his spokes, making it a very real possibility that he’d break a bunch of spokes, twist his derailleur hanger and blow the derailleur itself into shards. Do you think he heard? Nope.
Still, I was feeling great!
I screamed past the first rest stop. Then the second, even though it had Gu -- the crowd of 30-milers was a bit thick, and my groove was fully on. I turned up Dynamite, where another rider pointed to one of those electronic speed signs that was totally demoralizing us as we headed uphill into the wind. Near the top of the hill, we were rewarded with the third aid station.
But wait -- no Gu. Just bananas, pretzels and Gatorade. At this point, I barely had any of my Nuun-Skratch Labs mix in my bottles, though I still had a few of my own Gu packets. A twinge of concern lurked in my gray matter because Gatorade absolutely sucks â€“ more accurately, it blows right out my backside after souring my stomach. I started kicking myself for not bringing a tube of Nuun and a boatload more Gu.
Back on the bike, things were still going swimmingly. We ripped down Nine-Mile hill, and then turned south to have the wind at our backs. Having the wind at my back and riding on the tops always makes me feel like a pirate ship – arrrrr!
I figured Aid Station Four would be the place to grab some Gu. I was still ripping it up, nearly 40 miles down at a pace I haven’t maintained before. I was feelin’ it!
Then, Aid Station Four. No Gu. I didn’t even bother stopping since my bottles were still pretty full, and I barely needed anything on the long descent.
The terrain started rolling, which seemed to just make everything even more enjoyable.
The miles ticked, and I started to feel a few little twinges in the legs. Nothing too big. Just that little electrical current-like feeling of muscles saying "Dude, you need to relax."
This morphed into a serious problem on the last incline before dropping into Fountain Hills. The small twinges turned into multiple “check engine” lights. My left quadriceps seized. I tried to come to a stop with dignity and not freak my right leg out, too. That required my to fall over on my side.
It took a few minutes of smacking my leg to get it to bend again. And then I was off, fully aware that I was in for some hurt. I got to Aid Station 5 without further problems.
No Gu. That’s like deer camp with no whiskey. And I knew right than that what had largely been my happiest day on a bike in a long, long time was about to get shitty. I drank more of that god-forsaken Gatorade, feeling it clump in my stomach. I had no choice as I rode but to let some out -- so I stood up, let it fly, and both my legs seized.
Yes, you read that right. I farted so hard I fell down. This time, both legs were fully flamed out. I flipped onto my stomach and dragged myself fully onto the sidewalk to restart my engines. This involved whimpering, beating on my legs, whimpering, draining my bottles, whimpering, cursing the gods and whimpering.
Once my legs were mobile again, I stretched out a bit and got myself moving up the hill on-foot. I figured a different motion for a few minutes would help. Meanwhile, my project finishing time ballooned like Baron Harkonnen at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Fortunately, we had big downhills on the way! And the next few climbs followed downhills so big that I could coast up most of them. We turned onto Shea, and I was hitting 40 miles per hours without doing a damn thing.
Oh, hai, Aid Station 6! I can haz Gatorade? (Yes, I know I’ve been fustigating the very existence of Gatorade throughout this post. Well, it’s last call and I’ll take anything.) They had a few thimblefuls left.
Blessedly, they had Gu! Even the super-salty, sliver-of-the-Dead Sea Roctane variety! Praise be the Seven, the Red God, The Drowned God and anyone else listening! But where was the Gu when we really, really, needed it? (My wife, a far smarter and more experienced racey sort of person â€“ this isn’t a race, of course â€“ summed my dimmwittedness up with a sympathetic but probably exasperated "Never put your faith in them.")
And then we went up a hill I usually climb in my friggin’ big ring -- but now, I’m spinning my lowest gear and hoping my legs wouldn’t seize again. Sure enough, I got away with it! Then down the hill, and it’s all downhill from there!
Except it wasn’t.
Even a speed bump was an hors categorie climb. FML. At one point, I slowed down to massage my left quad into compliance. It was just good enough to coast to the finish. My legs were the only problem – I was clear-headed with no other aches or pains. I have to rue my bad decision making and how it affected what could have been a really awesome day in the saddle.
So just the other day, I was talking to a co-worker about events and how I can tell when organizers and volunteers know they’re stuff, and what a difference it makes. The Tour de Scottsdale makes me suspicious on this point. Consider the Tour of the White Mountain â€“ this race has destroyed me body and spirit three times, yet I still love it. Part of it is the plugged-in volunteers and organizers. Every aid station is different, and tailor-made to the distance where it falls. For example, the last aid station always had boiled red potatoes that riders can roll in salt. Carbs, potassium and salt to stave off cramps â€“ brilliant!
Maybe Tour de Scottsdale skimps on quality sports drinks and Gu because of the cost. Tell you what â€“ skip the t-shirt that I won’t wear much. Even skip the medals. Just fuel me right because I’m counting on you." Or if you (or more likely the participants) want to keep all the swag, say "Hey, we provide stuff -- but not much. Bringing your sports food/gels is own is a good idea, but we’ll hook you up with water and gels at every XXXth station."
I still like the event, don’t get me wrong … especially since this my depleted electrolytes area ultimately my fault. I’ll ride it next year. It was decently organized, and the volunteers were nice. The course was pretty fun, too. It just has the sort of problems that are part and parcel of larger events and tours (I’m looking at you, Spaz Riders in fluorescent yellow).
And I will show up loaded with a bandoleer belt full of my favorite hydration stuff and riding food. I suggest anyone outside the front of the pack do the same.
This ride taught me some valuable lessons. Some tweaks to my training and eating, and I started to improve yugely. Read this report of my latest Tour de Tucson to see how much better things are going now.