road race

Tucson Bicycle Classic - Sunshine and Cacti

LWP headed South and kicked off the road season with some fun in the desert sun at the Tucson Bicycle Classic. For some background on her racing, check out this article over at Competitive Cyclist.

The Tucson Bicycle Classic was a perfect excuse to escape to warm temperatures for a few days and get in some good training miles. As a framework, I set these goals for the weekend:

  • Have fun and play bikes in the sunshine
  • Get some great training miles and intensity
  • Work on pack skills and reading race dynamics
  • Finish each day, bonus if that’s with the main group

We had 32 women in the P/1/2 field – a good mix of UCI, domestic elite, and local elite teams and individuals. Enough firepower to make things interesting without being bonkers fast.

Day 1 – TT – 3.2 miles. Sort of rolling. Trending downhill/flat for the first two thirds or so with a couple of kicker climbs at the end.

In short, I had a road bike in a sea of TT rigs into a headwind. The course wound through what looked like a forest of Saguaro cacti though, so it was really scenic while I was busy not being aero. And added sprinkles of not being last thanks to what I assume was a mechanical for one of the other riders.

Day 2 – Road Race - 3 laps on a 20.5 mile loop for about 61 total miles. Rolling terrain trending upwards on the first half of the loop and down for the second half, with a rolling climb from the last corner to the finish.

This was one of the longer races I’ve lined up for in a while, which was a little nerve-wracking since I’m not anywhere near race shape right now. All those years of riding rolling Midwest country roads left a pretty lasting impression though, so if there’s one type of terrain I’m most likely to be able to hang on, it’s rollers.

For the most part, things were surprisingly mellow, with a brief flurry of extended activity when a group of three got away 15-ish miles in and forced the pack to chase hard for about half a lap to catch them. I had a flicker of worry towards the end of that chase that I wouldn’t be able to stick with it, but a little internal yelling (we’ll call it positive self talk) and noticing that some riders were clearly way deeper in the hole got me through. I know, that’s not nice, but I’ve always been motivated to push harder when I can hear people hurting in a race. Apparently that instinct doesn’t go away.

The rest of the race was a rotation of someone attacks, pack chases, person(s) get caught, pack dawdles until another person decides to go. I was really happy that I was able to cover the speed changes and stay with the group, and focused on watching the flow of the pack and working my way forward as much as possible. Some moments were better than others, and I spent more time out of position than I’d like, but my comfort levels and ability to move definitely improved over the span of the race. I hung on until the final sprint launched a few hundred meters out (ermugerd, so many watts!) and managed to hold tempo across the line and stay in front of the group behind me.

Overall, #racegoals achieved! Felt pretty comfy in the group, finished, and hung with the pack ‘til the end. Not bad for a first race out.

Mental skills side note – if I told myself “don’t get dropped”, I tended to fall back, but “stay with it” or “hold that wheel” were much more effective as they put the focus on the action of staying with the group.

Hydration, party socks, and goat power. Important elements to a successful race.

Day 3 – Circuit Race – 7 laps of a 5.6 mile loop for about 39 miles. Rolly trending upwards with a sort of stair-steppy, grindy climb through the feed zone halfway through, more rollers trending downward until the last corner, then two punchy climbs to the finish. Sprint time bonuses at the end of lap 3.

More rollers. Yessssss. This was a ridiculously fun course.

The first couple of laps were uneventful – some animation, but nothing crazy. We were rolling about 15 minute laps, so quick math said seven laps was a timeframe I could handle. Front half of the course was a bit of climby headwind, but after the crest marking the halfway point it was easy to tuck in and recover through the back stretch.

With sprint time bonuses on the line, lap three was hard, and about halfway up that grindy climb my hammies were getting angry and I was thisclose to cracking. Rut roh. It took a boatload of mental chatter to muster those extra watts to get over the crest of the hill with the group, but I made it. Whew. Looking at the file, I wasn’t super in the red, so I think that moment was much more about mental fatigue and my legs not used to feeling repeated or extended tension than anything else.

After the sprint, a couple of riders went up the road just far enough to be dangerous, but not far enough to make bridging impossible. Hmm. While pondering whether or not to go for it, I found an opening and ramped up my cadence a bit as we started that grindy climb. Nobody responded (and my friend JL yelled at me to go), so I spun up, dug in, and bridged clean up to the leading duo. WOOT! This was exciting. And tiring. But so fun. #racegoals. Alas, they sat up over the top of the climb so everything was back together quickly, but that tiny section of the race totally made my day.

With that out of the way, I tucked into the draft, worked on moving with the flow of the pack and hopping on wheels to gain spots, and focused on maintaining a light, fast cadence to avoid getting bogged down in the torque of a big gear.

As we were setting up for the final corner, the men’s field passed us, which meant the sprint was directly into the back of their field with a tiny window of space on the left side. Clearly this was less than ideal (and a bit of an officiating failure), but everyone stayed safe and upright. I popped off right at the end and rolled in just a handful of seconds behind the main group, super happy to have hung on for the day.

Overall, it was a great weekend. I met all of my goals, and had a blast playing bikes in fantastic weather with awesome people. Many miles to go and work to be done, but the tan lines are back and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.

// Lindsay Wetzel Polin

Bridging the gap! PC: Kathleen Dreier Photography, shared with permission.