2011 El Tour de Mesa!

Uphill Into the Wind Logo

El Tour de Mesa Start

The start of the 2011 El Tour de Mesa

I wasn’t planning to do El Tour de Mesa (name changed from “El Tour de Phoenix”) at the beginning of the year, but I attended the kickoff meeting for “Uphill into the Wind” a non-profit organization dedicated to the memory of Bob Griffiths.  Uphill into the Wind provides loaner bicycles to individuals who would like to participate in charity related bicycling events.  My kind of charity, so I decided to register for the event to support Uphill into the Wind.  Jeff McKenna, one of the guys in the office who is relatively new to cycling had already registered.  We’ve tried to connect a few times to ride together and this was a good opportunity to do that.  I didn’t have any time goals this year and Jeff was shooting for a “Silver” placing with a finishing time between 4 and 5 hours.  Sounded good to me.  Since I only live a mile and a half or so from the start, Jeff parked at my place to avoid the start line madness and we rode over together around 5:30am, still pre-dawn so I had some blinky lights on my bike.

PBAA had a record turn-out this year with 1300 cyclists expected to be at the start.  We got there early enough to get in with the back of the Gold group (those shooting for a time under 3:45).  It was a pretty nice morning for the ride.  Not too cold with a clear sky and light wind.  The ride started at 6:15am, so we had a bit of time to wait.  With that many cyclists it takes a minute or two before crossing the start line, but we got off ok and set a pretty good pace.  We didn’t try to move ahead, just stayed with the group we started with.  The course starts slightly down hill with a tailwind, so we were moving along at a good 26-28 mph clip.  The size of our group would thin out as people tried to jump gaps to the groups in front of us or swell as groups behind caught us.

Jeff at the Start

Jeff McKenna at the start

6 or 7 miles into the ride our group became dangerously large.  There was a touch of wheel a few riders directly in front of me and someone went

Me at the start

Me at the start

down.  I yelled “Riders down!” and started moving to the right to get out of the way, but the crash had a domino effect, unfortunately to the right.  The farther right I tried to go, more guys were going down blocking me.  I was almost at a stop when someone rolled into me and I did a bit of an end-o.  Yep, hit the ground, but not too hard.  My left brake lever needed to be moved back into place and I had a little scratch on my knee, but otherwise no damage.  Jeff was able to stop before hitting the pile.  A couple guys who went down at a higher speed were bleeding pretty good, their rides were probably done, but Jeff and I were able to continue pretty quickly after the crash.  Just needed to do a quick check of my bike and body and we were good to go.

After that, I avoided the bigger groups.  We picked up some riders behind us along the way, but I maintained a pretty consistent pace and some of them just rested a bit, then tried to jump the gap to the next group.  We pretty much had our own little pace line going until we stopped at the SAG before the climb on Shea.  I rode ahead a bit and thought I’d have time to get a couple pictures, but Jeff kept a good pace and wasn’t as far back as I expected, so I only got one picture and missed him finishing the climb.  There’s a nice descent on the other side that provides some recovery and the initial bit on Beeline is also a descent, but we made pretty good time overall.  We stopped at another SAG on Beeline.  Jeff dropped back a few times on the climb.  Beeline is a long, tedious 2% grade that is just mentally draining.  But overall he did pretty good.  We stopped once more just after the turn onto Bush Highway, but didn’t stay too long.

The top of Shea

Riders coming up the top of the Shea climb

We recovered a bit on the ride down to Saguaro Lake.  I told Jeff there was a pretty good hill right after it and to try to get some speed up on the last part of the descent so he could use some momentum getting up the other side.  He capitalized on that and his momentum carried him around me for a few seconds on the climb.  Luckily it’s pretty short, just really steep.  We made more good time along Bush Highway, but I had been working Jeff pretty good most of the morning and he did drop back a bit before the turn up Usery pass.  We made a last stop at the SAG on Usery Pass then headed up the hill.

About midway up I saw rider #1!  Rich Pierson, owner of Pierson Construction who has been a PBAA sponsor for many years.  I rode up to Mr. Pierson and thanked him for his support of PBAA over the years.  It’s generous people like him who make these events so great.  Another rider and I chatted with him for a couple minutes, then I noticed Jeff had dropped pretty far back, so I let them go and soft peddled until Jeff reached me.  He was definitely fatigued.  Usery Pass is a long 4-6% hill that will take a lot out of you.  It starts at 4% for a mile or so, then jumps to 5-6% for a bit, then starts to taper off.  We saw a couple people stopped on the side of the road.  The temperature was in the high 80’s and there was a pretty good head wind blowing, which made the climb a bit harder.  About 1 mile or so from the top Jeff said he needed to stop, but I told him it would be really tough to get going again and we were almost at the point where the grade dropped back to 2-3%.  We slowed the pace to let his heart rate come down and took our time getting to the top.  He demonstrated great will-power getting over that hill!  Without stopping either!

Finished!

Finished with a well earned Medal!

I didn’t mean to, but I dropped Jeff on the descent on the other side.  I thought he was on my wheel, but he wasn’t when I looked back, so I coasted for a bit.  Then he’d catch me for a few minutes, then drop off for a bit.  It’s pretty much downhill the rest of the way once you get over Usery Pass, but that climb really did him in, so he struggled a bit staying with me.  I remember when I struggled like that when I got back into cycling.  But he pushed through it.  There was one more SAG stop about 8 miles from the finish, but Jeff wanted to just finish this ride, so we didn’t stop there and just kept plugging along.

We went over the finish together in 4 hours 11 minutes.  Jeff set a very respectable time for someone who hadn’t ridden the course before.  My Garmin Connect details are at http://connect.garmin.com/activity/77500692.

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