The 2018 Tour de Tucson started to go pear-shaped for me about 20 minutes before the start.
As I walked my bike toward the start, I heard a “whiiiiiiiirrrrrr” sound from the front wheel. Disc brakes problem? I was sure of it, until I notice that the zip tie holding the brake cable to the fork had broken. My wife solved that problem by pulling out a roll of clear packing tape.
Then, as I rolled to the start, I got caught being a wise guy. There was a line of people waiting to go under a tape barricade to get to the start.”A-ha,” I thought, “I’m on a gravel bike!” So I popped onto a landscaped parking lot island, went around them and grabbed a nice spot in the line. Great success, right? Well, I noticed the goat head thorns in my front tire, then in my back tire. I pulled them out and spun the affected parts of the wheel to the bottom until the tire sealant did its trick. Thank you, tubeless wheels and tires! (And yes, they held for the entire race).
Then I went to turn my wrist-mounted heart rate monitor on. And it refused to wake up. I thought I’d charged it, but you know how that goes. So I’d have to rely on the Force.
And We’re Off for the 2018 Tour de Tucson!
Things got way better from there. My mid-pack starting spot saved me much of the frustration of passing a bunch of people, and it gave me and a work friend a chance to tag onto some faster-moving groups.
The 2018 Tour de Tucson had a different starting place for 75-mile riders than in the past few years, and it was definitely more convenient than it’s been in years past (please keep it, but sort the road signage out so we know we’re allowed to drive to the staging area). It routed us past a bit of the AMARG airplane graveyard – which also hosts a 10k run in the fall that you shouldn’t miss.
Being sans heart rate monitor, I had to rely on how my legs felt. I was a bit distressed to feel that electricity-like jangle high in my quads. I’d hit the electrolytes hard all week. I made a mental note to keep an eye on that situation. Within 10 miles, though, it was gone. Last year, I rode a tiny bit conservatively because of the crampfest that my first Tour de Tucson had been in 2016. This year, I wanted to really open in up a bit. So I did, which involved working with other riders for as long as possible until one of us wanted to slow down or go faster.
New Bike Comes Up Aces
It was also my first race on a new bike – a Lynskey Urbano, which leans more toward the cyclocross side of the geometry spectrum. It’s longer than the LeMond Zurich I rode for nearly 20 years before, and it can accommodate some wide tires (I was on 30C tires after a summer training on 40Cs — and the LeMond always had 25C). This made the Urbano super-stable on the fast descents. I was also riding with disc brakes and a flared handlebar, which made for great braking and a nice variety of hand positions.
Part of the 2018 Tour de Tucson also goes through a wash (just like in years past). Rather than dismounting and walking, I rode the whole thing – Schwalbe S-One HT tires, for anyone looking for the right tire for their mostly-road-but-sometimes-gravel bike. Fast on the road, but still capable of getting you through some dirt with confidence. I’m also very enthusiastic about my November Bicycles wheelset.
After the gravel section is the short, steep climb where spectators love to gather. That would be a good test to see if that electrical pre-cramp leg tingle would come back. Nope, no sign of it. Strava would later tell me that I beat my best time handily, as it would for most segments of the ride.
I was worried about the wind. The ginormous used-car-lot American flags along the route were stretched taut on their poles. And it appeared to be headed opposite our direction for the final stretch of the ride up Silverbell Road – or Silverhell, as I like to call it – and along the I-10 freeway. Oddly enough, that meant the wind should’ve been at our backs as we headed north. But I couldn’t feel any benefit from the wind – I rode that part with a fast, experienced rider who seemed to know everyone on the course. Super-smooth bike handler, too. We’d been near each other off-and-on for the first 35 miles, and teamed up for about 15 miles. She finally latched onto a fast-moving group of dudes right around there.
Feeling too Groovy to Stop
I was also skipping aid stations. No need for a bathroom, and my two 20-oz bottles and little 16-ouncer filled with Nuun tablets and Trace Minerals magnesium tablets were doing the trick perfectly. It was also pretty cool out, so I wasn’t sweating up a storm. Every 45 minutes, I ate a fig bar. That and the electrolytes kept me sorted out.
I’d planned to refill water bottles at any stop around 40 miles, but I skipped it. I blew past the 50 miles stop. I stopped for the first time in the race at 61 miles to use the bathroom, fill bottles and get my EFS gel shot ready for use. By that time, I’d slayed the Silverbell dragon. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much wind. I grabbed onto a passing group as I left the aid station – they were some of the faster people in the 42-mile category, which made them pretty sprightly. I wasn’t able to stay with them, but I did team up with some guys who got bounced out of the group along with me. We all took turns at the front, but they couldn’t stick with me. Another guy on a Lynskey was a huge help for a few miles until he tagged onto a faster group. It was only about two miles to the finish at that point.
Those last few miles went well, and I sailed into the finish line about 35 minutes faster than last year. I wasn’t really sure about how this year would go. I’m not sure why I rode that much faster, but I have some thoughts:
I’m 10 pounds lighter than I was last year.
I’d ridden 500 miles more than I had by this point last year. Since August, I’ve done regular HIIT workouts at TruHit and switched up my routines a lot more. In August, I did plenty of squats at higher weights and lower reps … and I experimented with the keto diet. I couldn’t stick with it … and I know I’m not being scientific here, but shaking my eating habits up temporarily did something.
My Lynskey Urbano versus my Lemond Zurich.
The Lynskey’s tires, fork and brakes are heavier. I’m not sure if its titanium frame is that much lighter than the LeMond’s; it’s overbuilt like crazy. They both fit well, but those wider tires and its relaxed geometry allow me to let it hang out on the downhills more.
I trained solo a lot.
In the summer heat, I was out there training for the 2018 Tour de Tucson. I spent a lot of time riding in the dirt and into the wind on those big 40C tires. I even did a 55-mile group ride with roadies on them and was able to more than hang.
I started in mid-pack instead of working my way up from the back.
This allowed me to team up with faster riders, and helped my first 10 miles go far faster. It’s a huge chore to churn through riders who are slower or – worse yet – not conversant in how to handle themselves in groups of riders (hint: slower traffic stays to the right).
Which of those factors made the biggest difference? I don’t know. Being lighter is, to a point, a good habit to keep up. I hope my Urbano will last as long as the Zurich. And I will definitely make it a point to get a good starting spot in the future.
UPDATE (November 2021) — I’ve signed up to ride in the 102-mile category of this year’s El Tour de Tucson. Good times!
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