Tour of the Tucson Mountains Race Report
I lined up early, as usual, in the first row of 'Gold', shivering a bit in the cold for a couple of hours. I had carefully evaluated how hot it would get, and ignored the cold morning. I went with the same nutrition and hydration solution as last race. Sustained Energy in a hydration pack, gel flask in a pocket, and electrolyte water in 2 bottles. I paid attention to a group of both Plat and Gold riders from Trisports (Tucson) that was organizing themselves. 10 minutes before the start, after the National Anthem, we were allowed to filter in to the back of the platinum area.
At the start, everyone took off surprisingly fast, sprinting for position in the peloton. Things settled down after the first couple turns, and I worked up close to the front to avoid the surges one guy was calling "yo-yo land". I also wanted to be up front when we hit any climbs. I had driven the course the day before, and knew I absolutely had to stay with the pack through the early, shorter climbs, including a 1 miler, the second toughest climb of the (very flat) race. I also kept a watch out for the Trisports team, figuring that hanging with them might be a good idea and something I could manage.
I passed the early tests with flying colors, staying towards the front of the pack, and aggressively closing any threatening gaps. In fact, I didn't realize it at the time, but the 1 mile climb had split the pack, and I had stayed in the front half. Before I knew it, we were turning onto the big 2 mile climb, and I was in great position. I knew that climb 'was the race', and I gave it everything I had. Of course, everyone else knew it to, and it turns out the pack went up the hill about 1 mph more than I could manage. When I went OTB, I looked back, and there was nobody there. I mean absolutely nobody! I caught someone who asked "wait for some people, or push it?" I said I wanted to get up that hill as fast as I could, and go from there. I didn't want to risk getting dropped, still on the hill, by the second group. Turns out that wasn't a valid concern. We picked up another guy who was very strong once we crested the steepest part, and I ended up losing those two. Talking to the first guy after the race, he said he told the strong guy (63 years old, by the way) it was all he could do to hang onto his wheel, so go ahead and leave him. The guy said it was fine to just hang with him and not pull. Lesson learned to talk! If I hadn't done my share of pulling, I think I could have hung with them. But it turned out not to matter. Despite going solo, it was 18 miles before the second group caught me.
I held the second group, which included the Trisports team, just fine, staying near the front, and bridging to a breakaway as we started getting close to the finish. We picked up the two who had lost me only a couple miles or so from the end. I still have no idea how/why group 2 got so far back that it took them 18 miles to catch me. There were strong riders in the group, and given the nature of the course leading up to that climb, I would have expected that only a small gap could have been created. Maybe they were held up at a stoplight. I was, very briefly, but it turned out not to matter. Someone on the side was apologizing profusely about that when it happened.
I finished strong, with a few others, off the front of the splintered 2nd group, in 3:02:56, ~8 minutes out of platinum. Only the front group made the 2:55 cutoff - 67 people. I finished 88th out of 600+, in a group that had a lot of platinum riders, at 23.2 mph.
I feel great about the result, because I pushed hard, made no tactical errors I am aware of, and finished in good company. The only time I lagged was for awhile when I was solo. I realized my speed and HR had really dropped, and my back and feet were hurting. I picked the pace back up, telling myself to HTFU. Not long after that the group caught up, and I miraculously felt much better while pushing much harder. Amazing how that works.
Bottom line: it was, as I expected, all about that one climb. With group 2 so far back, when I was dropped on the hill, my chance for platinum was dropped as well.
I really love cranking along in a fast tight pack, and having some rollers was big bonus, since I never see those in Phoenix. Really fun ride!