by Jimmy, Tom, Conor and Michael
I was not planning to ride the El Tour de Tucson this year but as the time got closer and closer I figured that it would be good to ride since there were three teammates signed up for the 50-miler. I am really glad I decided to ride with the team because Michael Hast took first place in the overall with a solo breakaway, Conor Johnson took 3rd for the third year in a row and our new teammate Tom Collins did a lot of work closing down breaks and not letting any of those breaks get away so that Conor will be in position to sprint for third. I spend a lot of time just trying to make sure that we were paying attention to the strategies and tactics on the road, trying to determine whether breaks would stick or whether we needed to chase them down, trying to make alliances with other teams and trying to get Connor lined up for the final Sprint (I had no plans to sprint but did not want other teams to know that).
At one point there were two strong riders that broke away and had a nice little gap from the peloton so I began to try to organize a chase to pull them back. One of the people that was on the tandem said, "Just let them go...let them have a trophy this time, you already have one" then as I started to line up behind Tom who was closing gaps all day the rider yelled out, "What would Jesus do!". I broke out in laughter! We had an awesome group of racers to ride with. All said and done I was glad to see our ChristianCycling team on the podium which is always one of our goals as we attempt to minister to the cycling community in Tucson. I feel very blessed and honored to be a part of this team and look forward to the next race...we have 13 weeks to get ready!
Tom's Report (longest first time race report ever!)
Knowing the plan was to have me go off the front on the first hill, I stayed in the pack at about 8 or 10 riders back as we came out of the start. Once we passed River and began to turn on to Snyder I saw that the Aggress Tandem was leading the pack. I knew that there was a pretty steep decline after the first hill and I decided to wait for the immediate second climb right after the quick drop figuring the tandem would catch me on the decline and I would have wasted energy on the first hill.
Once I got some distance on the pack I set in to a rhythm and started to pull in to some 100 mile and 75 mile riders. I used them to get some quick resistance, moving in and out of their draft as I worked my way towards Kolb on Sunrise.
At the first hill on Sunrise after Kolb I was feeling a little fatigued from the push and glanced over my shoulder to see the tandem coming with a group so I sat up to allow them to catch me. Just as I sat up they caught me and also began to slow their pace as well. Just then, Michael began his attack while we were still about 20 yards from the crest. I remember looking around at everyone as Michael went past with 1 other rider in tow and everyone looked shocked and confused and some looked back at me expecting something to happen, but we just kept our slow pace up the hill and no one really pushed after I backed off. We continued up the hill and they increased the pace a bit. Once we got to the next crest, prior to Craycroft, someone pulled off the front which left me pulling. I controlled the pace over the period of my pulling until Troy took notice and yelled in frustration.
Once we came over the crest of the hill just pass Craycroft I noticed the race was being narrowed down to the one outside turning lane and there were a lot of 100 mile riders nearing this area. So I did another attack trying to bridge the gap over to Michael. I did not have anyone on my tire and made it to the gate entrance of La Paloma and could not see Michael at all so I sat up and hopped back in the pack.
There were a few attacks between La Paloma and Twin Peaks but nothing significant. I made sure to grab on to every wheel that tried to go by and remained in the front 2 to 3 riders to make sure I could get a good run to the side if anything came up.
At Twin Peaks and Silverbell Troy and Pat went off the front and had a decent break from the pack for about 5 minutes. Charlie and Kendrick from Team 111 were talking about the need to catch them or we basically have first, second and third decided. Jimmy spoke to them a little and I asked where the two riders are and he pointed off some distance ahead. I told Jimmy, "Come on lets go get them" and took off hard towards them. I turned and saw only Jimmy on my back tire and pulled for a good amount of time before Jimmy took a turn. I wanted to make sure Jimmy was ready for the end sprint, so I went back in front as soon as I thought I could and did one more huge push and caught them. We could tell they were pretty demoralized by the bridge and they sat up allowing the group to come back.
After that, there were a few other pushes from the tandem (who was clearly working to try and get Troy out on a break) and attacks but I made sure to lock them down by getting on any tire that came out of the pack. Kendrick from Team 111 and I took turns pulling the group down the frontage road and I chased down Troy when he did another attack bringing him back in. I tried to make sure that any time Jimmy got to the front that I would take his pull for him. All in all, I made sure that Jimmy and Connor had a pack in tact going in to the sprint and that they were as rested as I could get them.
Going into this year's Tour de Tucson, I felt as confident as I ever had about a potentially strong finish: I had adjusted my weight room program over the 12 months to have a particular emphasis on explosive power and strength to ensure that my sprinting ability would be in top form; I had felt very strong on group rides as of late; and I suspected that the route changes for this year would work in my favor.
In sticking to the race plan, I stayed within the group upon Michael's attack early in the race, and made a point to stay near the front; both in order to control the chase and also to be prepared for any potential splits as riders might attempt to bridge over to him. All the short, punchy hills early on seemed very manageable, as I felt recovered shortly after cresting each.
There seemed to be some early attempts to organize and chase Michael, but the other teams seemed readily discouraged by the obvious awareness that they would be receiving no assistance from myself, Tom, or Jimmy. At one point Charlie Everett rode up next to me, and with resignation in his voice, said "Well done...very well done." It seemed that as long as Michael could dig deep and maintain his break, the rest of the group was resigning itself to racing for second.
There were some small splits in the group as we made the turns through Marana, but everything regrouped by Thornydale. The false flat going towards Moore was steady but sustainable; nonetheless, I was happy to have a descent on Twin Peaks. I made a point to stay tucked in and not burn any matches, and had a few bites of nutrition.
Tom and Jimmy were instrumental in responding to attacks on the Frontage Road - the one possible challenge to podium spots. With Michael's solo break safely in hand given the slow pace of the chase group throughout, it now looked like it would be a clear mass sprint for 2nd and 3rd. I was prepared to sprint or lead out for Jimmy, so I made sure that all three of us were connected with one another on our final turns.
We made the final turn onto 6th with Tom, Jimmy, and myself lined up. The tandem opened up a gap on the group, but I was fortunate to have Jimmy dig deep to bring me back to them. This positioned me right at the front of the group and from there I followed wheels to 300m out. Feeling confident in my ability, I started my sprint earlier than I had in past years. I opened up a gap on the group and ultimately came in 2nd out of that group (3rd overall) behind Charlie Everett, who had an impressive sprint of his own.
There seemed to be a strong field this year and several teams entering the race with a clear strategy. This was my 9th year riding that distance, and it certainly seems like more and more strong riders are keying on that route and aiming for the win. I was happy to be part of a successful race strategy and grateful for unselfish teammates who helped us to the overall win and two podium spots.
The plan was the establish and/or be part of a break and then control the race. I wanted to send Tom ahead on Sabino Canyon Rd and maybe a few other riders to be able to bridge to them and use them in the break. We had 2 tandems in the pack which would make for an interesting break. Would the tandems be part of the break? Would they bring back any break down?
Tom executed the plan perfectly. He took off and nobody chased him immediately. Eventually Cathi and Rich on the Aggress tandem started an easy chase and another rider followed them. I let them go as I was in the front of the race at that time. Eventually Troy, Pat and Matthew passed me and set a pace to catch the front group. We passed Kolb and the first hill started. About 1/4 way up I attacked and Pat followed my wheel. I caught up to Tom, Cathi and Rich on the tandem rather quickly and decided to keep on going rather than wait for them. When I crested, Pat dropped back. Later he told me that his heart rate was over 190 and he had to recover from that attack. I continued hard through the rolling hills of Sunrise, Skyline, Ina. Every once in a while I looked back but could not make out an organized chase group. Eventually I passed so many riders from the 100 mile and 75 mile distance that I could not really tell if the chasers were closing in. I pressed on uphill, downhill or straight away praying to God that my team would control the chase. It wasn't supposed to be a solo break, but that's what it turned out to be. I passed Bill and Joe on Cortaro Rd. Bill sprinted back onto my wheel, overtook me and gave me a draft for about 30 seconds. I rode with 2 groups on Silverbell and the Frontage Rd for about 30 seconds to give my legs a little rest and was stopped by the police on 2 intersections. After 2:06:57 I crossed the finish line rejoicing and exhausted. It was the longest Time Trail of my life.
I have to thank my LORD and Savior for the opportunity to race and my team that worked hard for this victory. I am so honored and blessed to have an awesome ChristianCycling Tucson team.