Archive for May, 2013

All Alone in Arizona

Posted: May 28, 2013 in Bicycle Racing

The past two years I’ve gone to the early season Valley of the Sun Stage Race in and around Phoenix, Arizona. Even though the race just enjoyed its 21st anniversary, I hadn’t participated until 2011 because it was too early in the season based on my past training regimen. Now that the Southern California racing season starts in January, I feel that my fitness is sufficient to try to compete in and enjoy the event.

In 2011, a teammate talked me into going with a third teammate and all of us raced in the Masters 40+ race. In 2012, I went with just one teammate and each of us were in different Masters age group races. This year, I was alone as everyone who initially expressed interest in going, subsequently found reasons to stay home. At the last-minute, I booked accommodations for a solo weekend.

On a sunny SoCal Thursday morning, I loaded up the Prius with my time trial and road racing bikes and had an uneventful drive until I got to Phoenix in the middle of rush hour traffic. The last 15 miles of my trip to get to Landis Cyclery was pure stop and go driving. Made it in time to pick up my race packet and then stopped at a local sandwich shop for dinner before heading to the decidedly economical motel room that I’d booked online.

It was a good thing that I was alone. The rooms at the “inn” were adequate but the clients were kind of scary. I was given a room just off the lobby on the first floor. Within minutes of bringing the last load of stuff into the room I heard screaming from down the hall. Also, I found that when I opened the door to my room, the sickening smell of cigarette smoke poured into the room. I went back to the front desk and the night manager happened to be there. He explained that people smoked outside the back door of the building and when they opened the back door, the smoke rushed into the building. Fortunately, he understood my problem and quickly relocated me to a second floor room that was quieter and smoke-free.

Stage 1: Landis Cyclery Trek Time Trial

Between the rush hour traffic and room changes the night before, I was late getting to sleep and that timing carried over to the morning. I got to the race venue a bit behind schedule so my warm up for the individual time trial was minimal. My second race and fourth outing on my new Specialized Shiv time trial bike was a bit disappointing. I felt like I was going better on the out leg of the out and back 14 mile course and I also felt like I was faster coming back. The reality was I turned in my slowest time ever on the course. Looking at my race data, my speed was more consistent on the out leg than in previous years, but I was slower overall to the turnaround point. My return leg was actually a bit faster than in previous years but not fast enough. I ended the day in 21st place out of 32 starters.

I spent the rest of the day recovering and doing a little equipment preparation for the next day’s road race. A small aside, my wife and I are fans of the Food Network show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. If you haven’t seen it, the eclectic host, Guy Fieri, travels around the country and spotlights restaurants that serve high quality and imaginative meals in very casual environs. I was able to get dinner at one of these restaurants and had a nice pasta meal in preparation for the road race.

Stage 2: Safeco Insurance, Parrish Agency Road Race

The venue for the 2.8 lap, 46 mile road race is quite a bit south of Phoenix and my race was one of the first of the day. I faced what has become a routine 0-dark-thirty departure. (Why do race organizers think older Masters like getting up before dawn?)

Got to the start area and it was already crowded with team vans, motor homes, and cars. Found a parking spot that was a good half mile from the start line and got ready. Fortunately, this course doesn’t require a lot of warm up with a short neutral start and a long run-in to the only climb on the course. This year I was determined to just sit in the field, save energy, and wait for the climb to sort things out. Unfortunately, I was one of the racers that got sorted out. Just short of the summit, I was off the back.

I ended up in a chase group with five other guys. Everyone was willing to work though some worked harder than others. As we were nearing the end on the long rolling and slightly downhill leg of the course I was shocked to see the peloton just ahead. We turned on to the false flat, headwind leg and started closing. As we got close we were caught behind a small caravan of cars. My chase companions were unsure of how to proceed. I went to the front of our group and started moving through the cars like a professional racer in Europe. Okay, maybe not quite like a pro, but I still got us back into the peloton. My chase group companions were happy and some of them thanked me.

We were a few miles from the climb and I tried to recover but the second trip up the hill was almost identical to the first – close but not quite. Once again I was chasing with what became a similarly-sized group with some of the same people. This time we stayed in offthebackistan. I stayed with the faster climbers in our group the last time up the hill, finished 22nd out of 28 finishers, and moved up one place to 20th in the general classification (GC). Bleah (or meh as the kids say these days).

Stage 3: Grand Canyon University Criterium

The final stage on Sunday was a criterium which typically provides little hope for moving up on general classification. This year we were on the same course as in 2011, near the state capitol building in Phoenix. I got to the race early(!) and had plenty of time to warm up for this short, 25 minute race. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten how the roads on the far end of the course were quite bumpy. I had a bit too much air pressure in my tires which made for some loss of traction through the bumpy corners.

We started and the pace was reasonably fast. Despite the somewhat tricky handling of my bike, I focused on one of the best criterium racers in the field. I planted myself on his rear wheel and fought off a few guys who also wanted his wheel. (Actually, I think I held my ground when one other guy tried to take the wheel away from me.) I was going to attack at least once just for the sake of it but before I knew it the bell rang for the final lap of our 25 minute race. My wheel suddenly accelerated and I couldn’t stay with him. He won the race. I finished 17th out of 24 finishers. Amazingly, I moved up to 17th on GC, just one place behind my 2012 result.

I stayed long enough to watch the finish of the Masters 45+ race. Saw one of my casual SoCal racing friends win and “jawed” with an Arizona friend before heading back to the motel. Showered, packed up, and had a relatively quick drive back to Southern California. Finis.