Recap: The 2019 Tour de Scottsdale

This was the big year of my big comeback to the 70-mile course of the Tour de Scottsdale. That was the plan.

Back in 2016, I signed up for the Tour de Scottsdale after years away from riding road events. It started off good, but I got a lot of things wrong and wound up finishing in the 13 mph range. Terrible!

This year would be different

Leading up to the Tour de Scottsdale

Had there been a 70-mile course for this year’s El Tour de Tucson, I might not have ridden in the Tour de Scottsdale. But the financial trouble plaguing El Tour convinced me. Plus, it’s close to home and doesn’t give out the ugliest t-shirts known to humankind.

I haven’t been training my hardest in the last few weeks, thanks to a trip to Seattle and general late-Arizona summer malaise. But I had a good base in mileage and a lot of confidence from good performances in El Tour, Tour de Mesa, Prescott 6er, Taylor House Century and a few other tough races.

tour de scottsdale
The electric number plate for the Tour de Scottsdale interfered with my seatbag, so I had to improvise a way to carry a few things

The Tour de Scottsdale itself would come in with just short of 3,000 feet of climbing. A bit less than the Taylor House 60-miler, and without the problems of altitude. I had one late-race leg cramp in that ride, but still had a respectable day.

Something Awesome About Tour de Scottsdale

Last time I rode this event, I was frustrated by getting stuck behind some people whose bike-handling skills, situational awareness and courtesy were -- let’s just say a bit lacking. Fortunately, my recent times earned me a place in one of the TdS "starting corrals." They tried to group riders of similar skills and speed together in seeded sections of the start line.

This made the first few miles a far better experience. It was also far safer for all involved. More races should do this!

What’s in Your Feedbag?

One of my previous mistakes was relying on the aid stations to refuel me. Pretzels, Gatorade and bananas just don’t do it for me. Even since that first Tour de Scottsdale, I’ve experimented with my food and drink.

This time, I carried stroopwaffles, a bottle of EFS gel, a fistful of Sprouts electrolyte powder packs, a few packs of GU Roctane and a vial of pickle juice. This allowed me to skip the first two aid stations before stopping at the third to refill my water.

tour de scottsdale
A view from my handlebar.

I ate half a stroopwaffle every 45 minutes or so. I saved the EFS for the fourth aid station, and split the pickle juice between stations 3 and 4. The GU Roctane came in handy in the final 10 miles.

Hint: I froze all three of my bottles all of the way. This was a mistake. They didn’t unfreeze in time to be completely empty by the third aid station as I’d planned. Still, I had to pee by the third aid station, though I held it until the fourth station. That was another mistake.

While we’re talking about mistakes, I also left my heart rate monitor watch at home. And I wasn’t as diligent about pre-loading myself the week prior with Trace Minerals Electrolyte Stamina capsules.

Quick Bike Note

I rode a Lynseky Urbano, which is a titanium frame with cyclocross geometry. It’s my third event of this type, and I’ve ridden them all with 30c tires inflated to 60 psi. It’s a smooth ride that’s outperformed my previous Lemond Zurich every single time. Which is funny because that was a dedicated road bike rolling 25c tires at 110 PSI. It might also have been lighter.

How I Rode the Tour de Scottsdale

My plan was to find a similarly paced group, maybe some people slightly faster, and shamelessly leach off of them. I have no pride!

It took me about 15 miles to find that perfect group -- which splintered shortly after at the climb up Rio Verde Drive/Dynamite Boulevard. I’d grabbed onto a few other groups that rode slightly faster than I wanted to go. But I decided to Push It and see if the extra effort would pay off. I only got a few miles out of each of the slightly faster groups, but I think they all helped motivate me.

I also took it easy on the descent down 9-Mile Hill. I maintained a low wattage on the pedals while letting the bike do its thing.

I got through all the climbs in Fountain Hills where my legs had cramped in my previous Tour de Scottsdale, which was awesome! Oddly enough, I had about five different cramps between mile 55 and the finish line – all in relatively flat or even downhill parts of the ride. I’m a bit flummoxed over this. I also rode through 4 of the cramps, with only 1 requiring a stop to massage the kinks out. And I also made it up one more nasty climb without a problem, which is odd. Why cramping in easier parts? Weird.

Also weird: It took about two miles for my GPS unit to connect to a satellite.

An Observation About the Cities

The Tour de Scottsdale of course goes through Scottsdale. But Fountain Hills and I believe Carefree are part of the route. I’m not sure if Rio Verde is an actual real town or a county island.

But here’s the point: Fountain Hilles closed a full lane of traffic on one of its busiest roads, even though it has an ample bike lane throughout its portion of the route. This was a convenient, safe and downright classy of Fountain Hills.

In contrast, Scottsdale did not close any significant portion of its roads. Closing a lane of traffic along Frank Lloyd Wright would’ve been a great gesture toward safety -- and actually being the bike-friendly city Scottsdale claims to be. FLW is a terrible place to ride. It has no bike lane and no shortage of ill-tempered drivers who can’t seem to stand bicyclists.

The End Result

I had hoped to ride the Tour de Scottsdale in the top third. I figured this was feasible since I was top quarter in El Tour de Tucson.

Even if I’d ridden both courses at the same speed, though, I would’ve barely cracked the top half. The Tour de Scottsdale seems to draw a fast crowd. I finished in the bottom third.

On the plus side, I knocked 30 minutes off my previous time. That’s progress! I’ll definitely have the Tour de Scottsdale on the calendar next year to see if I can bring it up to my Tour de Tucson and Tour de Mesa speeds.

Riding the Tour De Scottsdale

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 – 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.

furious
Busing to the start line makes me furious.

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.

tour de scottsdale

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!

cougar-ricky-bobby

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 – 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!

jack-sparrow-from-pirates-of-the-caribbean-standing-on-his-mast

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.

lovely-day

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.

tour de scottsdale
“This is not good.”

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.

Guess what?

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.

tour de scottsdale
Can someone help me find my legs, pleeeeeez?

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.

duneharkonnen

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 – this isn’t a race, of course – 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 – 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 – brilliant!

Tour de Scottsdale
My first-ever photo of myself at a road bike event!

Maybe Tour de Scottsdale skimps on quality sports drinks and Gu because of the cost. Tell you what – 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.