Ben and I had reason to travel westward last weekend and we ended up in Tucson, Ariz. It brought back wonderful memories of my time wintering there during the 2009-2011 seasons as I was preparing for the National Championships.
There is lots to love about winter riding in Tucson! Awesome, varied terrain, large community of competitive cyclists of all abilities and a super variety of lifestyle options for eating, drinking, activities and living.
For training, I had three favorites: Mt. Lemmon, “The Shootout,” Suguaro National Park and Fairwheel Bikes’ Tuesday Morning Hammer Session. Here are just a few highlights:
–Mt. Lemmon is the highest point in the Catalina mountains (9,157?) and is a long winding 27-mile climb to the top, which ends at the ski slope. The grade averages about 5 percent but there are 7-8 percent sections in the first 14 miles to the scenic turnoff, then some rolling climbs for the next 5 miles and then, a long (and usually cold) 5-7 percent climb up the the right-hand turn to the ski slope. That last 2 miles up the ski slope road is out-of-the-saddle stuff for me; I am super tired by then. Mt. Lemmon was my Thursday interval ride (mile on, mile off, or two miles on, mile off). At the “Le Buzz” coffee shop, you can pick up lots of groups of differing abilities heading up on Saturday morning. Remember that you will most likely be warm and toasty at the foot of the climb but be ready for changing conditions as you head up (gloves, windbreaker, hat and so on) – things change fast on Mt. Lemmon. Oh? The descent? Pro-level, no brakes at 40-50 mph all the way to the bottom – enjoy!
–The Shootout. This is Tucson’s flagship training ride. Definitely pro level and during the winter, you will surely find members of the pro peleton amidst a 50-100+ group of riders ranging from wannabes like me to collegiate students to masters riders and even Cat 1 amateurs. Everyone who is – or wants to be – someone will be there on this ride! Ralph Phillps, owner of Fairwheel Bikes, organized the ride back in 1974…and he still shows up every Saturday. This is a 60-mile loop that starts with a nice 10-mile “catch up with your friends” 2×2 warmup. But as the group approaches the Valencia road stoplight, there is some casual (but purposeful) repositioning as those who want to “go” start moving to the front. Guys like me already need to be in the front buried behind some huge young guy with a big draft. Cross Valencia (mile marker 21) and it is hammer down to the bridge at mile marker 13, the first sprint. By now the group has splintered into many groups of different abilities with the lead group hammering on – no regrouping on this ride. The peleton winds through the false flats, crosswinds and rolling hills of the San Xavier Indian Reservation until the final climb sprint finish at mile marker 5, which is a 1-mile gradually increasing grade, barren finish. Then, there is a regrouping as the peleton hammers down a gradual tailwind decline eventually pouring out onto Nogales Highway for another 10 or so miles. There is a final sprint but I sure can’t tell you for sure where it is – I know it’s a 45 mph speed limit sign so just feel the increase in speed, grab a wheel and keep your eyes open for the sign.
An Arctic wave cold front hit the West Coast when Ben and I were out there! It was 30 degrees in San Diego and even worse of all things, it was 20 degrees in Tucson. So we had to forego our ride up Mt. Lemmon (we rented bikes at Fairwheel Bikes) but did enjoy our ride on The Shootout course. Naively, we were not prepared for such cold temps and did not come as prepared as we should to ride in these conditions. That meant we had to spend lots of time enjoying some of the other finer sites in Tucson that are my favorites:
AJ’s Fine Foods (grocery store)
A Sunday morning ride with Jay Guyot (my former coach) along the foothills towards the Biosphere and we had to call it to head for our return flight to Saratoga Springs. You will enjoy Tucson!