I think of the hobbies that people have, in addition to having simple physical and mental health benefits, are also great ways to travel and see new places in ways that are unique. A side benefit to a trip I made to Infineon Raceway in Sonoma a few years ago was that I was privileged to go for a short airplane ride with friend and fellow competitor Dan Mairani. I saw a whole bunch of the Napa and Sonoma Valley’s – I’ll never forget it.
Cycling has been a great pleasure in that way also. Whether participating in a large group ride to the Oregon Coast, or one of the Saturday rides that happen each week from Hood River, I’ve seen a lot of really cool stuff that I otherwise might never have seen. It happened again to me this past week.
I flew to Orange County Wednesday night so that I could drive to Tucson with my brother-in-law, Joe Kolling, for the Tucson Bicycle Classic stage race. Joe had just acquired a 24 foot motor coach with which to simplify the logistics of his racing this year. Also, he had pretty much, single handedly, ridden me back into shape from my hip fracture and it was time to pick a first race. Tucson made sense for me because it would be a fun road trip and because it would be a nice sized Masters field without much climbing and no criterium.
Just past the town of Boulevard (east of San Diego on I-8), where I have had a scenic, but otherwise unpleasant road race in the past, I noticed a lot of boulders sitting on top of other boulders by the side of the road… like, 10 ton kind of boulders. How did all that get up there? – the same space aliens that built the pyramids did that, I’ll bet. It’s one of those simple things that is just cool. They were reminiscent of old western movies and Road Runner cartoons I watched as a kid, where the dudes with the black hats and Wile E. Coyote (why wasn’t his name Stu P. Coyote?) would try to roll big rocks on their nemesis – “let’s head’m off at the pass!!!”. Now I see how that could have worked…
Arizona is cool, too. Cacti are kind of messed up looking and prickly, specifically in a way that I wouldn’t want to crash a bike into one, but seeing them scattered on mountain sides just like pine trees in the Cascades was awesome. And the opportunity to see this place from my bicycle, I began to realize for sure, was fantastic.
Anybody who reads this blog regularly also understands that my ability to be self critical also extends to friends, family and other random experiences – like racing a bicycle in Arizona. During the nine hour drive “home” from Tucson to Newport Beach, Joe and I discussed how the Tucson Bicycle Classic rated, as a bike race.
- The Time Trial Course
- The place we camped the first couple of nights
- The weather
- The chance to ride bikes through the Arizona desert
- A couple of busy body officials
- The “Race Bible”
- The lack of real officiating (perhaps because of busy bodiness)
- Ivan (a big jerk riding with us in the Master’s 45 field)
I don’t have a lot of experience with USCF (United States Cycling Federation) racing. But, I have driven several stages in the “Comm 1” car at USCF Pro Races (this is where the head official rides and does things like, officiate). So, I’m not a complete idiot when it comes to this kind of stuff and I’ve even seen how it’s supposed to be done – imagine this, I have a bit to say about how it went down at Tucson.
First, about Ivan (his real name was Marco, it turns out) – I’m just riding along, rolling downhill during a pretty mellow (and mostly well behaved) road race, and this big dude who looks like a Ukrainian Car Salesman on a road bike blinged out like a Tijuana pimp’s 1973 Cadillac El Dorado, goes blasting down the oncoming lane like a school bus full of nuns looking for the runaway truck lane. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat….
As he was once again backing his way through the field like grandma trying to get out of the bingo hall parking lot after six gin and tonics, I mentioned to him that he was riding like a 15 year old Cat 5. He promptly launched into an apparently rehearsed diatribe about “Marshall’s” and how it’s his business, not mine. Well excuse the f**k outta me you freaking clown show – if you are going to attack your fat ass off the back on every little gain in elevation and then come blasting back down the outside only to barge your defensive lineman sized self back into the front of the field, it kind of IS my business… The problem was simply that we didn’t have an official following the race – they were busy making sure that nobody put anybody else’s name on the sacred sign in sheets (the ones the nuns were hurrying to go protect). And, it also seemed that this sort of thing must be normal around there because nobody else was giving Ivan any grief about it.
The series of official race communiqués (which I was able to read after the race – the “Bible” didn’t say anything about where these communiqués would be available, by the way) did address centerline issues, but the “big threat” to disqualify riders never materialized. The yahoo, Ivan, attacked from the back, and over the centerline, with about 2k to go on the last lap of the Circuit Race (and after the aforementioned communiqué). I confirmed that an official had witnessed it and also saw them having some conversation afterward, but there was no relegation – Ivan did blow up on the small rise to the finish though, so I guess it all worked out…
Anyway, back to the race organization… Driving to the start of the Road Race (we had the late start, so there were riders on course as we arrived) it was apparent that there were a lot of opportunities for cars to cause problems – that sort of stuff is bad sign regarding course control in general, and always makes me uneasy. The big intersections were well controlled, however.
The miraculous thing about the Road Race course turned out to be that we were able to find it, at all. The directions in the packet (which we had also printed from the event website) and included the “Race Bible” didn’t even include the name of the town the race was in. The directions all started “From Tucson”. So, even with a satellite navigation system, we had little more useful info than Lewis and Clark did when they first headed west – hey Meriwether I think we’re lost, yeah but look at all the cool cactus. Is that Tucson? – let’s start there.
The race itself was fun. The Time Trial course was spectacular and just outside Saguaro National Park. This is also where we parked our “home” for the first two days we were there. The Road Race course was nice enough and close enough to Mexico that the mileage signs on the Interstate read in kilometers instead of miles (that’s not how they do it in Bellingham, by the way)… The Circuit Race was very near town and on mostly pretty good roads – it was a convenient launch point for our long ride home.
My goal for this race was simply to finish with all of my skin. The best case scenario would be for me to finish in the peloton in both the Road and Circuit Races. I finished the Time Trial 63 seconds behind the leader (on a conventional road bike) and couldn’t have ridden it much harder than I did – the power numbers were really good. I was able to ride the Road Race in the pack without much drama, and the 6:38am Circuit Race was quite comfortable. I didn’t contest the sprints and finished a very safe 28th in GC. Mission accomplished. Final Results.
Joe was 23 seconds down after the TT in 13th and missed the break that finally got away in the Road Race. We rode around together in the Circuit Race – just like a Saturday group ride. He finished the weekend in 12th.
Overall it was a lot of fun. I saw a lot of cool stuff and confirmed how lucky we are in the Northwest to have so many well organized Stage Races. Preparation for Cherry Blossom began today, and I’ll never forget my first trip to Arizona.