Monday, November 17, 2014

The Mount Lemmon 200k Brevet

A randonneur event is something every self-respecting road cyclist should have in their bucket list.

Behold the Mount Lemmon 200 km Brevet in Tucson, organized this past weekend by the Arizona Brevets and Randonnee Club. A mere 210 km and uh... 3000 metres of climbing on an out-and-back course:

I was a bit apprehensive, but the warm 26 C weather in Tucson beckoned. As a rando virgin, I was imagining something more spirited than a charity ride, but with more coffee breaks than a Cat 2 road race. It actually sounded like fun. It was time to dust off the bike box and join Stephen Kenny and Trev Williams on this epic adventure.

But you don't just put your bike together and show up at the brevet. Oh no. First, you do a 110 km warm-up ride the day before in the nearby rolling hills of Sonoita and Elgin wine country along with some sketchy sand/gravel sections thrown in for good measure. Teased by wineries but no time to sample the merchandise. And of course multiple uphill sprint sessions, because Trev can't resist a good uphill sprint.

With legs freshly stiffened from the warm-up ride, I was ready for the big day. Thankfully, the weather cooperated with partial clouds, lighter-than-usual winds and a forecast 12 C at the top of the mountain - no bulky clothes required for the ride down. The brevet start was a refreshingly casual affair. We assembled in a Safeway parking lot for a 7:00 am start time, and after a few pre-ride instructions, we were off. No commissaires and you ride in traffic like a regular bike, with checkpoints at various places along the way where you can get water and snacks.

The first 60 km was a traverse through Tucson to get to the base of Mount Lemmon. That isn't nearly as bad as it sounds - Tucson has an impressive cycling infrastructure where nearly all feeder roads have dedicated bike lanes with good distances between safe, well-marked intersections. I would estimate 95% of the distance through Tucson was on bike lanes. Trev was feeling frisky at the start of the race, so we rode tempo for 10 km up a false flat and shed about half of the riders. I was reminded (multiple times) that I needed to pay attention to my nutrition, but feeding on roads with traffic lights was a bit distracting, so I only got one bar and one gel pack in me before one of our fellow Canadian riders (Steve from Vancouver) got a flat at the 50 km mark. Trev and I stayed back to help while Stephen continued with the lead group to the start of the Mount Lemmon climb. After we fixed the flat, the three of us sprinted to bridge the 5-minute gap to Stephen, who btw is not a slow rider.

It was during our sprint to the mountain base (and up the mountain) that I realized my fatal error: After three hours in the saddle, I had instinctively given myself enough nutrition for a typical 3.5 hour ABA flat-ish road race - but not nearly enough for another five hours and 2000 metres of climbing ahead of me. I fell back after bonking in spectacular fashion on the climb. Trev eventually caught up to Stephen and I met both of them at the top some 20 minutes later - over 5 hours into the ride. My punishment was not having the time to enjoy some of Stephen's fabulous cheesecake in Summerhaven at the top:

The ride down from Mount Lemmon is freaking awesome. First, you go through 5 climate zones that start in sub-alpine tundra and end in cactus fields. Second, the road pavement is excellent with engineered turns that do not require any brakes for the entire 25 mile (40 km) descent. Check out Stephen's race line:

The last 60 km were harder than expected. After descending from the mountain, the ride descends further into the town - followed by a gradual elevation increase to the finish point. Funny you don't notice that so much on the way out. With some good paceline work we were able to catch up to the remaining leaders and managed a Speed Theory sweep at the finish with a time of 8 hours, 14 minutes. It would have been under 8 hours if Stephen and Trev didn't have to wait for me multiple times. It was fun, but it wasn't exactly easy.

Day three consisted of a short 65 km recovery ride up A-Mountain (Sentinel Peak), Gates Pass and a nice stop at the Marriott Resort. Ok, I was able to handle this part... and my legs were grateful.

As Ferris Bueller would say... if you have the means, I would highly recommend it.


mikehealy said...

nicely done

Marie said...

Great recount! Thanks Dennis! Makes me want to ride.

ECosman said...

Great read! Thanks for posting.

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