Heart of Arizona Century

The Heart of Arizona is a great century and 200k brevet event hosted by the Bullshifters.  It forms a big loop in south-central Arizona though scenic and very remote country.  Mike Sturgill has a pretty good description for finding the town of Congress (the start location):

– 37 miles Southwest of Nowhere, AZ
– 39 miles Southeast of Nothing, AZ
– 89 miles East of Somewhere, AZ and
– 67 miles Beyond Hope, AZ!

So now you know exactly where Congress, Arizona IS located!  The start just says “Congress, AZ” because the town is so small, the specific location to start at is obvious when you get there!

I was up pretty early and got to the start in Congress, AZ with plenty of time to get ready.  It was expected to be in the low 50’s, but with the sun shining it felt pretty nice out and I opted to just use arm warmers for the ride.  With the knee problems at Cochise, I decided to just do the 104 mile century option and not the 125 mile Brevet.  I know from doing this ride before, those extra 21 miles include some long climbs.  Even without those, the century option has over 6,000 feet of climbing.

I did have my knee looked at by a sports medicine doctor after Cochise and he said it looked really good and the pain was probably soft tissue irritation caused by that misplaced cleat on my shoe.  It hadn’t bothered me since Cochise, so I wasn’t too concerned, but I still planned to take all the long climbs at an easy pace.  But the start is gradual climbs and some long descents.  Those I hit pretty hard.  I had a personal goal to be able to hold an average of over 300 watts for 3 hours before Cochise.  I didn’t have a power meter for Cochise, so I don’t know if I achieved that goal.  But with a spanking new Quarq power meter on my Trek, I was going to find out on this ride!

So I led the century group for most of the first 20-30 miles, hammering pretty good.  I was watching my watts trying to stay between 250-400 watts.  I only stopped long enough to fill my water bottle and eat a couple roasted red potatoes (boy, those really are my new favorite ride food!  Wish all events had them!) before heading off by myself after the first SAG.

After that SAG was the first major climb.  So, I backed off and started spinning.  I also upgraded my cassette to an 11×28 to go with my SRAM 900 compact crank that came with my Quaq.  The 34×28 combination is pretty close to the lower end of my triple on my Calfee.  I’d still want the full range my Calfee provides with the triple for REALLY hard climbing events (>~10,000 feet cumulative), but the 11×28 is going to be great for the majority of my rides.

Near the top of that climb, we turn and go through several miles of rolling hills.  Somewhere along there I glanced down and saw that I was 3 hours 19 minutes into the ride and my average watts showed 309!  Goal met!  At that point I just started to enjoy the ride.  A couple guys past me and joked they wanted to wait to use me for the long descending / flat section that we’d encounter after the second SAG.  But I was now enjoying the ride and let them go.

I’m not one for standing around at SAG stops, so at the second stop I just filled my bottles, had a snack and headed out again.  Those two guys weren’t kidding and left right behind me.  We worked together a bit before the next long climb, but that one is probably 10 miles of 4-7% grade, so as soon as we got near the base, I dropped off and started spinning again.

Several people passed me going up that hill.  There are a couple false summits, but I was prepared for them and just kept chugging along until I got to the top for another quick stop at the third SAG.  I left by myself again and had a good fast descent before hitting a very deceptive, very long 2% climb.  It actually looks like you are descending or riding a flat, but it’s really a very steady climb.  I just maintained a consistent pace, catching and passing a few of the people who passed me on the climb.

The wind was also starting to pick up pretty good.  It was only supposed to be sustained at around 9mph, but it sure felt stronger and there were definitely some strong gusts.  I took a bit more time at the last SAG stop before turning towards Peebles Valley to rehydrate and refuel.  After the turn is another long climb that I had actually forgotten about.  Once again, I geared down and started spinning.  A couple small pace lines passed me going up the hill.  Near the top another group of three went by and I jumped on the back to get some protection from the head wind we were facing.  We worked pretty good together all the way to the start of the climb up to Yarnell, then I dropped off again and geared down for some more spinning.

That strategy works pretty good for me and even with the hard effort earlier in the day I felt pretty good when I pulled into the finish where the Bullshifters had hot dogs, hamburgers and homemade chili waiting!  I had a cheesburger with a bowl of chili then went back for a chili dog before heading over to my car to change before heading back home.  All in all a very good ride!  I highly recommend this event both for the fabulous support the Bullshifters provide and for the remote, low traffic course.

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