Saturday, November 19, 2005

Tour de Tucson 2005

[The red dew rag I was wearing was a trendy idea to prevent one's sweat from flying into the faces of riders who are riding just behind. I am not specifically trying to be cool here.]

Tour de Tucson
November 19, 2005

I did it! I made Platinum.

The feeling of going platinum in the Tour de Tucson seems sweeter than finishing the Ironman for a number of reasons: 1) I had friends--Fred Fischer, Brian McNeece, and Kenny Caldera--that were pursuing the same goal, 2) I didn’t feel sick afterward, and 3) I had a definite time goal. Going platinum means finishing the 108 mile course in less than five hours, including crossing two surprisingly long dry river beds on foot. The Tour de Tucson has become a famous race in the Southwest and attracts cyclists from distant states. The guy who parked next to us on race morning flew in from New Jersey. The guy next to me at the start line flew in from Washington. Of course the majority come from Arizona.

Floyd Landis (of Tour de France fame, and Phonak team leader) was the celebrity competitor. He beat me by twenty minutes because I started behind a few hundred riders, he established himself in a better group, and I got stuck behind a train (true). Otherwise he would have beaten me by a few minutes less. In reality I couldn’t hope to match Floyd.

Lance and Floyd

Last winter or spring, Fred and I rode our bikes to Jacumba and stopped at the gas station for refreshments. As we were tinkering around our bikes and the picnic tables on the side of the gas station a highway patrol officer slowly pulled up close to me. I turned and looked into his vehicle and he said, “I was just checking. You looked like Lance Armstrong.” Instead of responding to the officer I immediately turned to Fred. “Fred did you hear this? For the record, did you hear this?” Fred and I both laughed and I think Fred said something about the size of my head.

Fred and I had a good laugh and Fred kept calling me “Lance” as we started riding home. Just outside of Jacumba we approached the border checkpoint that we had just recently passed going the other way. We were riding slowly when a Border Patrol agent stood up and walked to the rode. I looked at his straight face and said, “You're not going to stop us are you?” He said that he had to stop everybody. So I jokingly said, “Hi, my name is Lance and this if “Floyd” (as in Floyd Landis, Lance’s former teammate). I looked at Fred and smiled big. Apparently this Border Patrol agent new less about cycling than the Highway Patrolman at the gas station. He didn’t catch my joke and said “Hi, Lance. Hi, Floyd. Nice to meet you.”

I could imagine the officer’s colleagues in the trailer ask, “Who were those guys?”
“Lance and Floyd? Don’t you know that they are famous cyclists? You saw Lance and Floyd?”

Every now and then Fred and I use those nicknames to express affection and to trigger a happy memory that we shared on the bike.


Fred has been pursuing Platinum for several years without consistent training partners for long rides. Brian has made two previous attempts. I raced the Tour de Tucson last year but did not make platinum. But this year was going to be different. We had trained harder, and together. We were all ready to finish under five hours.

During the drive to Tucson I was trying to describe to Pam a feeling that I was having. I said, “What if all three of us get platinum this year? Then that could be the end of this era of our lives and our friendship (referring to Fred and Brian).” I told her that while I would always be very happy to bump into Brian or Fred on the IVC campus and to ride with them in group rides, I knew that if we all achieved platinum that the intensity of our association would naturally diminish. Perhaps that is why I said to Fred a week before the tour, “If you or Brian for some strange reason do not make platinum, and I do, then I will be willing to go on long rides with you next year if you choose to take it on again.”

Then I started talking about my friendship with Tom Seymour and how Tom got me into marathoning, and how we trained so much together, shared our goals with each other, and raced in the same races. Our lives were enmeshed together in a way that was not planned, not forced, but just naturally grew together and then apart as we both tired of marathoning (at least in the short run) and now Tom is moving to the Napa Valley. I will always have fond memories of Tom and our time together. Tom and I will be lifelong friends but our “era” is ending.


Wednesday and Friday mornings were group rides. Wednesday was a 25 mile tempo ride. Fridays were long rides. Other days were solo rides, usually on the Lemond Revmaster. My training log shows the details of my training.

I can’t say that I gave 100% because I didn’t. I’ll explain. I set a goal, platinum, five hours. It was my goal. I wanted it. I budgeted a part of my life to achieving that goal. Could I have budgeted more of my life? Yes. But my goal was not to maximize the amount of my life that I spent training for my goal. My goal was to achieve platinum by training a budgeted amount of time.

I know there are athletes who are more talented than I am that are slower than I am. Conversely, I know that there are athletes who are less talented than I am that are faster than I am. I have no delusions about my greatness. My ego impels me to achieve but my rationality helps me to maintain a realistic perspective.

I don’t really care about being the “best.” But I would like it to be said of me by amateur cyclists, “Todd was a strong rider.” Also, “He did his homework.”


I bought a DVD called Road Cycling’s Greatest Crashes, hosted by Bob Roll which I watched many times while riding my Revmaster. I saw so many bike crashes that I started to think about the causes of bike crashes and how to avoid them. Recently Kenny and Brian both went down (crashed) in a race in Mexico for no fault of their own. I almost went down. Early in the Tour de Tucson we saw Edgar Alarcon (from Mexicali) sprawled out on the asphalt at around mile 30 something. I heard another rider go down. I saw water bottles falling out of holders and checked my own (my rear bottles were rubber-banded in place). All of this had a big influence on the way I rode in the race.


Pam and I arrived in Tucson late Thursday night. On Friday we had breakfast at the International House of Pancakes before going to the race expo. Our most exciting purchase at the expo was a black cycling jersey with white spider webs and a skull and crossbones on the front and back. A jersey with attitude! I had to have it to match my black bike, black shorts, black arm warmers, and black knee warmers. I had never worn so much black in all my life. Somehow it seemed appropriate for all the carnage I was going to inflict during the race. (Can you sense my race attitude?) We also purchased a pair of low-cut bike socks with vultures on the ankles (Also befitting my attitude). Pam said I’ve never seen you like this. (I am normally oblivious to fashion.) Probably no one ever saw the vultures but they were a part of me.

After leaving the expo we tried to drive the course but became frustrated and tired due to the river crossings, errors in the graphical map, and Tucson traffic. The high note of our day was finding this great bread restaurant where we had outrageously good sandwiches with cucumbers, red onions, hummus, and tomatoes. The bread was chewy sour dough with poppy seeds. Mmmm, good! We talked about it for two days. Pam’s sandwich included turkey which she shared with me.

Next, we strolled over to the bookstore called “Bookman's” and we were pleasantly surprised that what looked like a Barnes-n-Noble was full of used books. We wished we had four more hours to peruse books but we had to get going. Pam bought a few paperbacks.

We checked in to the Riverpark Inn, a half mile from the start line. Brian called and wished me well.

I prepared my six water bottles. In four of the bottles I used a mix of Accelerade and Sustained Energy for about 300 calories each. Two bottles contained only water. I ran out of fluids at about mile 93. I waited a full half hour into the race before starting to drink fluids. I know from experience that too little fluid causes weakness but too much urine in the bladder can be very uncomfortable. Dwight, the guy from New Jersey, asked me after the race what my time was because he said he was with me on Silverbell (the last 15 miles) but he had to stop to urinate. He figured he would have finished with me and wanted to calculate how much time he had lost. Over three minutes.

My riding style is high cadence and, according to Chris Carmichael, high cadence burns more calories but produces less lactic acid. It is easier to “Bonk” with this style as glycogen reserves are depleted faster. I didn’t use any gel packs but carried three. I felt my intake was perfect, for me. I wouldn’t change a thing!

I woke up at 3:19 a.m. before the alarm. I rode my bike to the start line at 3:45 a.m. only to find that some riders had already arrived by 2:30 a.m. I wanted to be sure to put my bike in position just behind the marked off area that is reserved for the platinum riders who get to start at the front without having to arrive early.

Brian and Fred arrived sometime around 4:30 a.m. and were about four bike lengths behind me. Brian handed me a small tube of electrolytes and caffeine to counter any cramping that I might experience (Last year Brian and I both had cramps). I gave Fred and Brian a hand warmer that I got from Big Five. Brian wasn’t sure he needed it but Fred was immediately sure that he would hold it for Brian. Fred put them in his legs and told Brian that he could have his back anytime. It didn’t take long before both Fred and Brian looked cold. Then Pam arrived and parked our car near the start line. Pam gave old blankets to Fred and Brian who wrapped themselves up in them without any concern for style. At least they were warm. I was well dressed; I could have gone skiing in what I was wearing. I didn’t want to burn any extra calories trying to stay warm and I knew that when I started racing I would feel cold. After a while I went to sit in the car with Pam while Fred and Brian sat in Kenny’s truck.

As race time approached I noticed many platinum riders were warming up on trainers next to their cars. Pam asked if I was going to warm up on my Lemond Revmaster that I brought. I was having second thoughts about warming up for such a long race but I decided to warm up a little. I got my heart rate up to 120-125 beats per minute for about 13 minutes and chatted with the guy from the next car. He had flown in from New Jersey just to race. I suppose the biggest benefit of the little warm-up was to settle my nerves.

At the start line I got distracted by talking with the guy next to me who flew in from Washington. I didn’t have my cyclocomputer ready to go when the race started. Shoot! I was trying to move up to the front while trying to start my cyclocomputer. I kept fumbling around. Shoot! I darted through openings. I asked someone how fast we were going. “Twenty seven,” he said. A few miles later when I perceived that we were slowing I asked someone else. “Twenty five,” he said. “Okay, I’m on pace but what am I going to do if I can’t read my cadence or miles per hour,” I thought. No sooner than the race started than I had my first problem. Going platinum requires having a near perfect race. Then I thought that I would just have to get to the front and trust the pace of the better platinum riders. (I figured that not all the platinum riders would absolutely achieve platinum again on this day.) I quit looking at my cyclocomputer and just concentrated on moving up.

Crossing the Santa Cruz Canyon was slow and dusty. There was no place on the edge to pass anyone. Shoot!

On the road again, I passed as many riders as possible. I was doing fine and then saw the railroad crossing barriers come down. I looked North to see a train approaching. Some of the riders got through then others stopped. I had gotten to the railroad crossing at the worst possible time. I was happy that the train was moving swiftly. Kenny said, “Todd.” I looked to my right and saw Kenny for the first time. He was contorting his face in anguish because of the delay. I contorted mine to express the same sentiment. By the time the train passed a sea of riders had come to a stop.

While I waited for the train to pass I fixed my cyclocomputer. Hooray. Apparently I had to make a complete stop before I could get it into the mode I needed.

When we resumed riding the pace was noticeably slower. A few miles later Kenny, fiery as usual, tried to motivate the group by taking the lead and yelling out, “We’ve got to work.” Nobody really responded. Then four of us leaders missed our right turn onto Los Reales Road. Kenny cursed. We swung around and made our way back to the front in what seemed like an instant. I told Kenny, “It is impossible to catch the group ahead. There are many good platinum riders right here. We should just stay to the front and never get dropped and we’ll make platinum.” Kenny seemed to agree.

By riding closer to the front a rider gets thrust into having to take an occasional turn “pulling” and even when drafting toward the front one’s heart beats faster than those riders who settle in further back. My strategy was to stay to the front, even if that meant working harder, for two reasons: 1) I felt safer there, and 2) If a group ever tried to break away I wanted to go with them. However, there were too many strong riders for any small group to break away off the front.

As we Approached Sabino Canyon I figured that I would slow down and prepare to stop. I almost got run over as riders raced down the narrow side street that leads to the canyon entrance. As we left the paved road some rider about two bikes back yelled out like a coach, “Stay on your bikes. You can ride this road. Keep your feet in your pedals. Keep going. Don’t dismount. Don’t stop.” He was actually very helpful because if one rider stopped then that would probably cause all the rest of the riders to dismount and run. Once the momentum is lost it would be very difficult to start riding again in the gravel.

Many people stopped to get water in Sabino Canyon. They got left behind. Getting through Sabino Canyon and the steep hills that followed caused many riders to fall behind. I concentrated on not getting dropped by even a small group. The hill after the canyon was the steepest of the race. I handled it without my heart racing then tried to settle back into a rhythm.

I was worried about the climb up Oracle Rd. and Rancho Vistoso Blvd. I got dropped there last year but not this year. I felt strong. I felt that every time we went uphill I could ride off the front if I wanted. I still cannot figure out why I don’t feel that same sensation while riding on the flat. At 192 pounds I am not light enough to be a true climber.

My max speed for the day was over 38 miles per hour. We could have gone faster but I guess we were being safe. Ha! The second stint on Houghton Road and Tangerine Road were the fastest segments of the day.

Rounding the turn onto Lambert the photographer snapped my picture just before I was about to pull. Evidence. The homestretch was fourteen miles of slight incline on Silverbell Rd. Platinum was in the bag. We road at 21.5+ miles per hour until about four miles before the finish line. Two riders tried to break away. They were caught fairly quickly but all those riders who had never seen the front of the pack got restless and started to surge. Riders in the front converged with riders from the back like a collapsing accordian. Some yelled out warnings. Others darted for safety in holes that barely existed.

My goal for the day had already been met. But now I faced something that I hadn’t anticipated, a massive group finish. In the Tour de France everyone in a group that finishes together gets the same time, thus, reducing the chances of a reckless free-for-all mass sprint to the finish. Not so in Tucson.

I looked for a safe place to ride. A rider pulled up beside me and said, “I just wanted to say thank you for working so hard and helping the group ride faster. I saw you in front busting your ass plenty.” “Thanks,” I said, and I meant it. “But now I’m just looking for a safe place to ride.”

I saw a rider go down hard on the right side.

I cruised across the finish line and saw Pam on the right. I handed her my bike over the barricade and she handed me my tennis shoes. I walked through the finish-line shoot and got my medal. I did it.

Kenny, Brian, and Fred

I hadn’t seen Kenny for 55 miles then I saw him in the finish area. I didn’t know where he was. He told me that he had been following me. He asked me if I had seen him pass me. I said, “No.” He told me that he didn’t want me to see him pass. The euphoria of achieving platinum was like a truth serum and Kenny told me everything he was thinking. He said he watched me climb the hills and that I looked strong. Then he mentioned that he is turning 50 in December (I am turning 44). I looked at him and said, “You da man!” Kenny looked at me and we high-fived each other in an act of mutual respect. Kenny has long been a very strong and competitive rider and a benchmark for my own progress.

Then I saw Brian on the other side of the refreshment area. “Did you make platinum,” I asked. He gave me the nod. “Great. Have you seen Fred,” I asked. He hadn’t. Brian came around and we talked some more. Brian also solidly made platinum.

Finally we saw Fred but he didn’t make it. He told us that he got a flat. My heart sank. Fred was fit enough to be platinum but in a race like this there is no margin for any problems. I knew that if it were I that had gotten a flat I would have felt sick inside. I felt sick for Fred and thought about him frequently for a long time. Fred tried to shrug it off and he mentioned the comment that I made a week ago about riding with him next year if he didn’t make platinum. I said, “If you chose to take it on again.” We’ll see if Fred really wants to take on the Tour de Tucson again. It’s a shame that he has to wait a year before trying again because he is platinum-fit right now. Our training rides together have proven his fitness beyond question.


During the drive home I was still very excited and chatty. Pam seemed excited too. She wanted me to come back next year and romp everybody. That sounded unusual. It was too early for me to think about next year.

I was glad Pam was there again. In some ways life gets better as the babies get older.

When I bought my Trek 5000 last summer I had two goals, finish Ironman Arizona in a respectable time and achieve platinum at the Tour de Tucson.

Check. Check.

Now what?

Sometimes I think it would be wise to exercise more for health than for athleticism.

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