by Greg Chmelik
El Tour de Tucson. Arguably our city's greatest cycling event and unquestionably the most popular. I first rode it in 2013 and crashed less then a quarter of the way around. Last year I stayed on two wheels but I was so nervous from the previous year that I soft-pedaled to the first wash and totally lost the lead packs.
Speaking of the washes, I hate them. Being a mediocre-on-a-good-day bike handler, those wash crossings are the bane of my existence in ETdT. This year I went out fairly hard but, once we hit the first wash, lost the group immediately. I was determined to catch up. I closed most of the gap but was getting tired. Michael Kothke and one other guy came by and pretty much finished the job.
I don't think the group we caught was actually the lead group, but it was a large group with strong riders and was probably a guaranteed top 50 or 100.
From there, things went pretty easily until the second wash crossing. Same deal. I did tentatively pedal most of the way through the second wash (read: one foot pedaling, one foot pessimistically dragging through the sand. I made it most of the way but another rider went down in front of me so momentum was lost. I had to get off and run up the hill.
Margo and the boys were up in the parking lot with fresh bottles and encouragement. Helpful tip: don't load two oversize bottles before that short nasty climb coming out of the neighborhood - the extra weight does not particularly help. Regardless, the good group was gone. I caught up to a few riders who had made it through the wash but couldn't hang on the climbs. We got a decent group going and scooped up some more riders along the last third of the course.
When we got on the frontage road, my bike started shifting itself up-down-up-down. I tried different gears and fiddling with the barrel but I couldn't fix it. I had to ride the last twenty miles with ceaseless shifting. I figured out after the race that when I had a hit a pothole earlier in the day, my wheel had moved down slightly in the dropout on one side. It was sitting slightly crooked- enough to put the derailleur half a gear off.
Meanwhile that shifting thing was pretty fatiguing and, I think, annoying to the guys around me. It's funny because this was not the first time something like that happened. Earlier this year at Cochise the magnet for my speed sensor had moved itself enough to just barely hit the sensor itself on every wheel revolution. I am the embarrassed owner of the noisy annoying bike that drives everyone (myself included) crazy!
Anyhow, back to El Tour. We eventually made it back to downtown. I was nervous for the sprint because of the shifting thing. I tried to move off to one side and just go really early. Sprinting is not my strength anyways. That worked pretty good. I didn't get away from the group but it did get spread out pretty well. One guy came across the front of my wheel and his back wheel actually scraped my front. I leaned over hard, stopped pedaling, and tried to follow his angle. You could hear the wheels scraping for a few more moments. Felt like eternity!
End result was something like 157th place. A little disappointing after my finish at Cochise. I'm not sure that I will continue doing this event. The washes are just not my thing and, honestly, 104 miles is a long day. I will see how I feel next year. I do thank God for keeping myself and everyone else safe and sound through another rollicking El Tour de Tucson!