El Tour de Tucson: Let the games begin

The final countdown

As I write this, there are fewer than 48 hours until the start of the event with the longest name I’ve ever seen – the University Medical Center El Tour de Tucson presented by Diamond Ventures.

At this point, I've done everything I could possibly think of to be ready. I set a goal to shoot for: five-and-a-half hours for the 109 mile ride. I’ve been eating well. I’ve been resting enough. I've learned and practised the kind of riding that should see me reach my goal.

I wrote and executed a seven-week training plan without missing a workout. I spent my final week focused on shortened workouts, abbreviated intervals, one last climb up South Mountain, and a full-body massage.

But no matter how spry I feel on the bike, how peppy my legs are, how strong I'm climbing, El Tour is still giving me massive jitters.

I rode my last ride of the week yesterday afternoon. Keeping an easy pace, side-by-side with my regular riding partner Scott, we chatted about his experiences at El Tour. He’s ridden the event five times.

The first time, like I will, he lined up in the regular group and went along with the pace as best he could, stopping once or twice along the way, and finished in just under six hours. The next year, he changed his approach and secured Platinum status (a sub five-hour finish time), and went on to do El Tour five times in total. Having him take me through his experiences went a long way to calm my stomach down.

His recommendation is to line up and start off as close behind the Platinum riders as I can get. That can be a challenge because with over 4,000 riders trying to get started at the same time, it can take minutes to get out of the start gate and onto the open road. The lead riders – the packs that will be moving fast enough to help me finish within my goal time – will be moving away from me at a rapid pace.

Scott assures me that all the work he put in to move forward in the throng and onto the wheel of one of the faster groups can be done in the first 45 minutes of the ride. After about 45 minutes, the course crosses a dry riverbed which bottlenecks the field and virtually locks your position in the ever-stretching mass of riders.

He says it took everything he could do to overtake riders and move up but once he grabbed onto a fast-moving pack, the rest of the ride was much more manageable, all about staying fed and hydrated, and staying out of the wind.

So jitters be damned. I will be in downtown Tucson at 7am this chilly Saturday morning as rested and carbo-loaded as I can be. We'll start cold and I may have to wait while the 2,000 in front of me get their wheels moving. But once we do, I'll be single-minded about moving up through the group and finding that sweet pack of wheels to work with so I can beat the five-and-a-half hour target.

For all of you who will also be there, be safe, ride strong and we’ll see you on the road!

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