A few weekends ago, I rode the 2018 Tour de Mesa. It was my first of the Perimeter Cycling events held in the Valley after doing El Tour de Tucson for the past few years. The Mesa version was a 60-mile loop that had a bit of everything – flat sections, screaming downhills, grinding climbs, roads completely devoid of cars and sections where riders had to suck some serious exhaust. In short, a perfectly legit and enjoyable road ride made better with good support, good traffic control and a good finish line festival.
I’m not one of those guys at the front of the pack. The 2016 Tour de Scottsdale was my first road event in a very long time thanks to a near-miss some years ago. I’ve worked my way back into road bike events with the simple goal of trying to get a little better with each one. That’s been going well, with my average speed in each race rising.
With that out of the way, here’s my 2018 Tour de Mesa review.
Registration and Check-In
Online registration is what it is. It’s hugely convenient next to the old days of race registration. So that was all fine.
Packet pick-up was also pretty decent. There was a small exhibition going on. The first person who saw me was very enthusiastic – a bit too much so. Her recitation of “go here do this than that in this order” was more hand-holding than I need and was ultimately more confusing than anything else. I’ve checked in for many races, and it’s not rocket surgery. Ever.
The goodie bag was full of stuff that got recycled after a cursory glance. The bag it came in was by far my favorite item. Quality re-usable grocery bags are awesome! I didn’t take a Tour de Mesa t-shirt because they’re just as ugly as I expect from Perimeter event t-shirts. They put most Christmas sweaters to shame.
Getting the Ride Started
I showed up at the starting line for the 2018 Tour de Mesa confident in my preparation. Strava has been a huge help in tracking my mileage and effort. I’ve figured out what electrolytes I need. I’ve tuned my eating habits on the bike (no more gels – just fig bars). My ritual starting a week before the ride ensures that I’m hydrated, well-rested and topped off with electrolytes. I was probably a little too confident: I spent time yacking with other riders instead of making a visit to the portable toilets – that would cost me later.
When the group rolled out for its start, I had the novel experience of not being stuck in narrow streets behind riders who were all over the place. The wide streets allowed passing room, and I was able to find a comfortable pace within moments. I didn’t experience the frustration of being confined behind anyone. Sure, there were a few people out there who deserved a “hey, get to the right unless you’re passing” yell. But I contained myself.
Out of the City – 2018 Tour de Mesa
Once we turned on to Country Club/Beeline Highway, little groups started to form. Some were spontaneous, others were clearly friends who were used to each other. For a random guy like me who trains alone, this presents some opportunity to be social while also enjoying the benefits of drafting. But try as I might, I really couldn’t find a group in my Goldilocks Zone. Some were just a touch too slow, some a touch too fast. As the climbs steepened, I passed many of the groups who’d zipped by me in the flatter parts.
Beeline presented a nice place to get into a groove. Which I could’ve gotten into better if I’d made a visit to the john. But no. Within 30 minutes of the race start, all I could think about was a toilet. The second rest stop (I completely missed the first) came just short of 20 miles in, and I went running for the john. That little visit cost me about 2 minutes. The work I’d put in on the climb got undone. Ultimately, I’d see the same people over and over again: I’d pass them on a climb, then they’d band together in a downhill or flat section and pass my lonely ass. And they’d be going just a bit too fast for me – maybe because they were drafting off of each other, or I’d put it too much energy on the climbs.
I should mention here that the scenery after the third rest stop was spectacular. The mountains in this area area a treat for the eyes, and I wished I’d thought to put a camera on my bike. Next year, I definitely will. The speeds also picked up in the downhills. One guy on a low-slung handcycle that looked like a street luge zipped right by me at ludicrous speed. I really enjoyed seeing that!
I made my first refueling (as opposed to the “defueling” of the last one) at Aid Station 4. There, one of the friendly volunteers helped me wrangle my spare canisters of EFS drink mix into my bottles. I was in and out very quickly, and that proved to be the only filling stop I needed (I started with two full-sized insulated bottles and a smaller bottle, all filled with EFS).
I also had a few strange problems starting to pop up: My butt was absolutely killing me by about 40 miles in, which is extremely unusual. This is not something that happens to me at all. I’ll have to solve that mystery. Also weird: My left hip flexor didn’t seem happy at all. Fortunately, I know of some ways to deal with that.
The middle of the Tour de Mesa is kind of the crux of the thing: In my head, I had my sights set on two stiff climbs. As we were grinding up what I thought was the first of them, a couple of guys were like “just one more hard effort and we’re home free!” Somehow, the first of the climbs didn’t even register as a big deal. OK. I can deal with that. Five minutes later, we were descending back into Mesa.
Back into the Concrete Jungle
Our route along University took us into a section that didn’t have a bike lane. Fortunately, the local police agencies (including DPS) had that all under control. A few drivers had moments of confusion, but the situation was well in-hand. Everyone seemed to feel safe and able to concentrate on the last miles of the ride. (Except for some people on the Facebook page. There was some carping about the section without the bike lane, which I can understand.)
We had a wind coming in from the southeast, which gave a little boost of speed as we approached downtown Mesa. About a half mile from the finish, I accelerated and passed a few riders without getting overtaken myself. My right calf didn’t respond well to the hard effort, but I can’t complain about a slight, fleeting cramp in the finishing chute of a race. Not at all.
I also learned that medals were based on your finishing time, and my finish was good enough to snag me a gold. I think that’s kind of a nice setup, and I think more races should consider having different medals. It’s something to shoot for when you know you don’t have a chance at winning.
There were a few food truck available for refueling – and some company was giving out samples of hard kombucha (that went down pretty well!). Another nice touch: There were activities for kids. Had I known, I might’ve recommended that my wife bring our little person down to enjoy the fun.
I’ll definitely do this race again and look forward to it. Good course and an overall good vibe.
STUFF I ATE/DRANK DURING THE RIDE: A fig bar every 45 minutes, one bottle of EFS per hour. DID NOT USE: Hammer Gel that I carry just in case, vial of pickle juice.
LESSON LEARNED: I might need to team up with other people to take my times up a notch, especially in El Tour de Tucson
RANDOM OBSERVATIONS: Strava tells me my heart rate was a bit higher for this ride than for my previous road rides. This tells me I’m able to work a bit harder without worrying about cramping. That’s huge, and means I have a bit more performance to extract from myself.