Sunday, April 5, 2009

El Tour de Phoenix

In the predawn hours a large group of Wanna Be's line up at the front of the gold section at El Tour de Phoenix. Some of them are sufficiently prepared and ready to be the wagging tail at the back of the platinum pack, and some of them flatter themselves and will be a danger to themselves and others. Unfortunately you will not be able to tell the difference until things get hot and heavy whaling down University at 30+ mph like a swarm of humming bees shot out of a cannon.

I of course am not among the wanna be's this morning. I don't think I could hold 35 even in a paceline. I stand at the end of the platinum area assisting in collecting passes. Well, actually I don't collect any passes. I just stand next to the lady collecting the passes. Perhaps I am the bouncer. Yes, I am the bike patrol bouncer ha ha! Ready to pick up the unruly wanna be like a skinny spandex clad toothpick and thrust him back into the gathering masses all hoping for a touch of glory, a chance to shine, A chance to not have to wake up in the middle of the night to get a good spot in the queue at El Tour de Tucson in 8 months.

Around 6 am I am noticing my little 4.5 mile warmup ride to get up here from the house is starting to wear off and I am shivering occasionally. at 6:20 the platinum section is almost full and I ask people to make room for more of the priveliged few. Those that have proved themselves. We gather and soon Sterling's wife is singing the national anthem. Soon the tapes are dropped and the group is off. Slowly pouring out of the shoot like water cresting a dam. Slowly it peaks over and grows increasingly fast as it wears a larger hole in the top. Then a minute or so later the gold group and the masses are given there chance to strive for glory.

Around now I have clearance to go get in line. I manage to weedle my way in near the end of the shoot and am not starting dead last. I am probably just behind the head of the silver group. We work our way out of the shoot and then the speeds pick up and in no time we are cruising down University at a nice 25 mph or so. I work around a few pacelines. A few people drop off here and there. I help to close a few developing gaps. I see another bike patroller up ahead. We pass around four of them riding together. It is a beautiful morning.

We sped down University and then about 6 or 7 miles in I spot an accident off to the side of the road. A policeman is sitting next to a lady down on the pavement. I stop. I must assist. I am bike patrol. So, seeing as the police officer was taking care of her I called up the event officials and gave them the scoop and checked on the details of getting her bike picked up for her riding companions. I mention I got hit by a bus three weeks ago but now that I think about it that's probably not that comforting but perhaps it creates a distraction fromt the pain? Ok, maybe it was a dumb way of showing empathy but hopefully the intention was appreciated. I gather details to fill out my report. She hit a water bottle dropped by what I can only assume was a wanna be. Someone who made others pay for his/her platinum achievement. A hollow victory indeed. Get the crap out of the paceline if your going to drink doofi! Finally the event official pulls up to collect the bike and get me out on the route again. I have been stopped for around 20 minutes. I am surprised to learn there are around 10 people left behind me. I figured I was in dead last. The Ambulance pulls off and I am off behind it at a safe distance.

I discover that the paceline was hiding a fairly stiff headwind at this point and I push on. Occasionally I try the drops but I find the reduced oxygen intake slows me as much as the wind did. My drops are too deep. I have new handlebars on the way but they won't be here until next week. On I push turn onto Alma School. What is this? A rider? I slowly approach and as I pass she latches on. Being the fine and polite lady that she is she asks if I mind. Being a gentleman I do not. We move along passing a few more riders as we turn onto Mckellips into the wind again. Just when the wind got annoying, the two ladys that were at the accident pulled by and offered to tug us along. They were fast.

I was very appreciative of their effort. We passed people faster now. These ladys must have been up close to the Platinum group and deservedly so. Turning up onto Hayden I offer to take a pull. I think I am doing Ok at pulling the pace but I am burning matches. Finally the lady in blue in a way to spare my ego says I shouldn't waste my strength since they will be dropping out at the hospital up ahead anyway. I am hanging onto their tails for dear life. I don't know if they were really that strong or if they were just in a hurry to get to the hospital but HOLY ACCELERATIUNG AMAZONS BATMAN! About a quarter mile for the turn on Osborn to Scottsdale Memorial they dropped me. They motion to the confused officer directing traffic that they are leaving the course on purpose. With the turn they wander off into forgotten roads and have left the seekers of glory winding their way along the course. Yes, even the folks at the back are seekers of glory my friends. The seek for the great accomplishment of finishing. Whether it be the 50 something, the clydesdale, the newbie, the weekend warrior. They are all bent on finishing. Perhaps none of their friends are cyclists. Monday morning an water cooler talk will be centered around so and so who rode 72 miles on Saturday, ON A BICYCLE, of all things.

I am passing people regularly now. Asking the occasional person changing a flat if they are OK and being told they are good go ahead. I start asking every person I pass how they are doing. We are not yet to the halfway point or the hills, and so the answers are uniformely positive. It is a beautiful morning. I enjoy riding beneath the shady trees that line Hayden road in spots. I continue to spy riders up ahead and slowly pass them. I am feeling strong. I am feeling really good. I am developing an inflated ego. I enjoy talking to people as I pass though.

Soon we are on Shea and I am passing folks faster now. We have a spunky tailwind and it is a beautiful climb up Shea. We alternate between 1 and 2 % grades and I am keeping 15-16 mph. Folks are still fairly positive. I elect to skip the aid station since I still have a bottle and a half of Paul's Cheap Maltodextrin mixture juice in the bottles and I feel no hunger. We move up into the buttes and folks are getting out of breath and the responses get more varied. On man tells me to ask him again in 20 minutes as we spy the top a mile ahead at the top of a five percent grade. Others pant out a meager "fine, you?" and then more panting.

Soon we are over the top and despite myself I am in the drops cruising down the hill into Fountain Hills. Hills Hills Hills. The Fountain is in fact surrounded by hills. There's Shea, 9 mile hill over near rio verde, and then there is the hill we are about to climb, the 7-8 mile climb up the beeline awaiting us. It is not a steep hill, it's just long. I am fortunate enough to get a green arrow as I approach the beeline and cruise through unhindered. This is probably the one intersection folks have to wait since the police have to let the highway flow, they are there to keep the cyclists safe (sometimes those wanna be's would kill themselves for the lust of platinum unfortunately).

I manage to grab the tug of a tandem down to the Verde River crossing. All is well. Passing them at the bottom I thank them. They have the harder climb ahead of them now. For tandems the faster descents take their toll on the climbs. I am climbing this hill faster than I ever have before. I believe I have a tailwind. I am cruising up the hill at 15-16 mph. It is true I am at a threshold pace but it is sustainable, I pant a little but not excessively. As I progress up the hill the answer to my queries of people grow more varied. Some say they are ok, others are fine. A few jolly souls are doing wonderful. Then near the top I spot a damsel in distress.

She holds her bike looking forlorn and doesn't think I can help when I ask as she thinks her bike is broken. I tell her to let me take a look and see what is up with it. Apparently she crashed on it and it feels funny and the chain is stuck or broken or something. Her derailleur is bent and has shifted the chain into her spokes which are bladed. I jiggle the chain backward as I turn the wheel slowly backward and get the chain free. The derailleur is rubbing the spokes. I try to straighten it but it is pretty stiff. Feeling like Dora the Explorer I go to my seatbag. Seatbag seatbag.... seatbag seatbag. Anything you need it will give directly to you. Seatbag seatbag. Hey kids! What item from the the seatbag will help Paul to make a bent derailleur useful? A shifter cable? Noooooo! An extra inner tube? Nooooo! A patch kit? Noooooo! A zip tie? Noooo! How about the Crank Bros. Muli-Tool? Yesssss! I adjusted her derailleur to stop before it hit her spokes when she shifted into the lowest gear. As we pulled away we noticed her brake was rubbing. Both her wheels were true so I deduced her brake itself had got twisted and I moved it straight again. I advised her to tell her mechanic she had a bent derailleur and the chain went into the spokes next time she took it in. I also advised her to ride conservatively from there. Who knows if the chain damaged the spokes and with today's low spoke count wheels there is less forgiveness for a broken spoke.

Another 1/4 mile and I was at the next aid station and the Bush Highway. I still had some of Paul's pure Maltodextrin Mixture so I elected to skip it. I sped down the road. Coming upon a water bottle in the road I play foot polo with it at 20+ mph and watch it fly up into the bushes on the side of the road. It would not do to have a distracted cyclists hit that and take a spill. My but there were a lot of dropped bottles today. Is it really going to hurt your time that badly to have an empty bottle on your bike? Doofie.

A rider in a flourescent jersey latches on to me approaching the blue point bridge. I didn't think anything about it until I spied his aero-bars in my rearview mirror. I inform him they are against the rules and are grounds for disqualification. He says he got into them by mistake. Hmmm. I am surprised no one noticed them sooner. That was about where I dropped him. Perhaps he let me go not wanting to get any more of my talk. I am a bitter man. My bike fitter told me to ditch the aero bars as my diaphram was getting crunched and they weren't doing me any good. We were specifically told to watch for aerobars though.

Quickly I am to the corner of Bush Highway and Usery Pass road. I get waved through by the officer there, I thank him as I have every officer on the route. I am amazed that I am not so far back they have stopped waving me through. I have not had to stop for one intersection. Just before the aid station a fellow is carrying his bike. He has snapped his derailleur in two. Before I can do too much for him the aid station bike mechanic (I didn't know they had such things but this is the Brumby's aid station and they do things right by golly!). SInce he is taken care of. I stop at the aid station to get a cup of water and a half a bananna before the hill. I have to use the restroom but there is a line and I am in a hurry. Why? I don't know. I'm bike patrol so I don't get an official time. I have already blown the gold deadline anyway. Perhaps I want to see what I can do. I am off to tame the beast. This is the hill I rode 4 times last week. I chat with people I pass as we climb. There is only one rider who passes me and then stays in view all the way to the top.

As we climb the responses get a little more negative. My favorite response was from a lady.

"How are you doing?"

"Well, except for my A** I'm doing pretty good".

Othere spoke of wishing they had trained more. A few people I stopped to point out the nob at the top of the hill and let them know they were almost there and it would get less steep as they progressed. I passed another bike patrol guy slaving away. I felt pretty good, and was pedalling strong as climbed the hill. I spared no expense. This was the last hill of the day and there was a good descent on the other side nearly all the way to the finish line. We crested and I got in the drops. Not to far past the top I got passed by a Brumby. I was surprised as I thought they were all long done. He was going at a pretty good clip so he must have stopped for awhile at the aid station.

Turning onto University there was a pretty good headwind. Yes it was a headwind but there were only 3 miles of headwind. That wasn't too bad. I passed the guy on the trike again, and steeled the legs as I was determined to finish strong. Slowly the last few miles tore away and I rounded the corner to be cheered on by the lady who had collected Platinum passes that morning. I passed several kid riders from the family fun ride and then I was in the finish shoot at Red Mountain park. I did some searching for where I could turn in my report and eventually hooked up with an official who would take it. Just after that I ran into Sheila and said hi. She gave me a quick hello and rushed off in a hurry. The PBAA folks are like buzzing bees at these events. There is so much to do and so few volounteers.

From here I sought out the cookies and the barbeque. I downed my bottle of gatorade, my hamburger, a chocolate cookie and a snickerdoodle sitting under a shady tree in the grass which was covered with old rabbit droppings. I didn't have the heart to tell all the riders that were lieing down in it, they were probably to tired to care anyway. My kids like to come by here and watch the rabbits out on the lawn in the evening, thats how I know what those little dry fibrous pellets were. Anyway, I was full by the time I got to the little bag of chocolate chip cookies so I shoved them into my tri-top (I wore it under my bike patrol t-shirt so I could stuff my gear into the pockets instead of wearing a rump pack) to take home to the kids.

I finished in 4 hours and 30 minutes. If you subtract 30 minutes for helping people that comes out to an even 4. That's 18 mph average. Alone undrafting with 2400 feet of climbing and headwinds that is not too bad I think. If I had ridden I would have come in with the gold guys since I would have had the benefit of pacelines. Anyway, it was a good training ride. My resting heartrate was up this morning so my body is working on recover which hopefully will be done by tomorrow. All this weightloss has really made me a better hill climber. I have 10 lbs or so to go and I will call it good.

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