At the end of January, our racing team traveled to sunny Tucson AZ for a week of training and spending time together as a team. Tucson is a new destination for our team, but renowned in the cycling world for smooth roads, good weather, and of course Mount Lemmon, a >7,000 foot climb only a couple of miles from downtown Tucson.
We were excited to have a number of new teammates join us for the week! Nick Arango tells us about his experience on Day 1:
“How many snacks can I stuff into a jersey? Nothing about the day one winter training camp route should have been daunting, but my newness to the team, the terrain, and the the large increase in total time on the bike of the week ahead amplified the first day’s modest mileage and elevation gain. Full jersey pockets, filled nervously not practically, prepared a little too early gave extra time for apprehension.
The appeal of cycling for me is bound up in the gestalt experience of riding in a bunch; the melding of persons into a rolling mass. And so, with the conversational spin of many bodies attempting to warm, riding through the city and the U of A campus to Gates Pass, it was easy to leave the individual apprehension behind and ride as the group. Houses gave way hills, conversation thinned, and a snap broke the collective as a hard effort up the first short, ten minute climb of the trip stretched the bunch into hard working individuals. Regrouping at the Gates Pass overlook gave us all a view of the week ahead: desert shrubs, cacti, and mountains all around. Feeling good both working as an individual and in giving myself over as a group, the morning anxiety fell away.
A quick, steep descent down the other side of the pass gave a portent of what the reverse of this section would feel like, but that actual experience was reserved for a later day. The descent led us into the heart of Saguaro National Park. It was hard to not imitate their poses, and so a stop at the park’s west visitors center after an hour and a half of riding gave good opportunity to stretch out the arms like the cacti all around us.
One more gradual rise proved to be a vehicle for working out the group’s first day energy as Berk and Dustin took the front and slowly lifted the pace. With eagerness covering my morning’s nerves, the slowly lifting pace slid by me unnoticed until it was over. The relaxed return gave good opportunity to consider what would be a sustainable effort for the week on the whole, but without the anxiety of uncertainty. Back at the house, after unpacking the extra uneaten snacks from still overfull jersey pockets, the new environment and high volume of the upcoming week looked achievable.”
On Day 5, we “recovered” from the Mount Lemmon experience with some team time trial practice rolling along the east portion of the beautiful Saguaro National Park. Julie tells us more about discovering the joys of the TTT:
“The morning after our Mt. Lemmon ride, I woke up sore and nervous for the 60 mile ride and team time trial practice that awaited me. I had very little experience doing a TTT, but the idea of going all out for 12 miles on fatigued legs seemed grueling. Halfway through our ride we gathered in groups for the TTT practice. The 6 women at WTC decided to break the course into 3 segments of 4 miles. For the first segment, we would all ride together, and for the remaining sections we would split up into two groups. I expressed my concerns of being a weaker cyclist and how I did not want to hold back the team, but I was assured that each person has an important role in getting the group to the finish line whether they spend most of the ride pulling or drafting. Joanna and Sarah described the TTT as a seamless, consistent effort and gave us helpful tips before we started. Soon after, we clipped in and assembled into our pace line. As we accelerated, I concentrated on maintaining the recommended half wheel’s distance between me and the rider in front. A couple minutes into riding, our group got into a rhythm and we were all moving in-sync rotating in and out of the paceline. When I hit the front of the pack, I felt the wind resistance push against me. I glanced at my Garmin and focused on maintaining my speed for thirty seconds before I flicked my elbow, moved to the side, and merged back into the pace line. I could hear my breathing ease as I received the draft from the wheel in front of me. After a couple hard efforts, Joanna told us that we were almost done and needed to do our last pull. Even though I felt drained, I knew I could give a final push. I was surprised by how much I learned from the 12 mile stretch and found the TTT practice enjoyable and helpful.
After the TTT practice, we continued up to Colossal Cave where we met up with the rest of the team who also seemed wiped out from the hard effort. We got a chance to eat some snacks and enjoy the beautiful dessert scenery before continuing on a chill ride back home. For me, the TTT was one of the highlights of WTC because I loved coming together with my teammates and putting together a collective effort. I am even more excited to translate this practice into race season.”
Finally, Berk regales us with some tales from the last day of training camp:
“Everyone knows that best things come in threes. The three course meal. The primary colors. Lord of the Rings. Harry, Ron and Hermione. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…
But most importantly, WTC Day 8. One ride to rule them all, to offer a trifecta of adventure of the like few of us had experienced before. We would have a last hurrah in Arizona where we would rub elbows with fellow racers at the super fast Shootout Ride, then climb to the top of Madera Canyon, and then ride the mellow gravel path through Box Canyon.
The Shootout ride meets near University of Arizona campus, which was only a few miles from the house. About half of us decided to participate in the group ride, and another half to follow soon after. The temperatures were low enough that most of us were bundled in every warm item of kit we had brought as we waited for a small group to form (many others had chosen a local race instead). We rolled out on time at 7:30AM, and started getting out of the city. After a while, I got over my initial fear and started getting somewhat excited to be riding in a large pack again. So much so that once I got to the front, one of the locals had to tell me to cool my jets until the official start, at the intersection with Valencia Rd.
After that things got hot pretty quick. Literally. We had dressed for a cold winter morning cruise, whereas more clever folks had put on lighter layers in anticipation of what was to come. A few minutes from the start it was clear that people were eager to rip each others’ legs off. I suddenly found myself in the unpleasant situation of trying to pull my gloves and legwarmers off while riding in the red, cruising in excess of 24mph with a 1-2% grade.
After some savage attacks and chases, the front group came back together, and I was happy to see Jeremy, Guillaume and Dustin still in the group as we approached the final hill sprint. Frankly, I was pretty shot from my efforts in/near the front and pulled the plug when I realized I would not be contesting for the win, but I was proud of all of us for making it until the end. The Shootout definitely met expectations. It was hard and fast, but also safe and friendly, a difficult combination to achieve during group rides. Also, a shout-out to Davis and Gerard, whom we met at the Shootout and rode with during different parts of the rest of the ride.
After a nice cruise to shake out the legs and a very long coffee stop to regroup, we started the Madera Canyon Climb. The beginning was scenic with a surprising amount of green. Some folks were braver than I, and tested their legs one last time while I cruised at a steady pace with Jeremy, chatting and snacking along the way. That is until the last few pitches, which were in excess of 15%, but hey, we had enough energy to stare at our stems for a little while longer.
My favorite part was the Box Canyon gravel climb. My legs were feeling a bit like pool noodles after the Madera Canyon climb and descent, but they soon regained feeling as I got excited to go off the asphalt onto gravel. The unmaintained winding road through the canyon was smooth at parts, and a gnarly washboard at others, but beautiful views and the thrill of dirt were constant. This time Dustin was happy to cruise with me while enjoying the sights. We stopped to take some pictures along the way. There were moments of hilarity when we realized we had no traction standing still and could not get back on our bikes afterwards. But eventually the pitch would relent ever-so-slightly, allowing us to continue to spin our way up.
We regrouped once gravel turned to pavement, said goodbye to the ATVers and the cows, and started the 35+ miles of descent back to the house. It was ripping fast and mostly easy, with a nice gas station stop to stock up on water and Sour Patch Kids, but of course, I flatted once again 25mi from home (a torn sidewall fixed with the ever useful dollar bill). Dustin and I let the rest of our group go, and cruised back in a two-man paceline.
The last day of WTC is always an epic, and this tres leches of adventure definitely was the highlight of my week. I want to give a special shoutout to our road captains Jeremy and Sarah, who took MIT Cycling to Arizona for the first time, planned everything from scratch, made every ride a blast, and kept everyone happy and safe. Our alumni also deserve a special mention, taking time out of their busy schedules to share some special memories with us and contribute to the team spirit. Catching up with now-alumni friends is a really amazing part of WTC, and it was special to ride with Dustin, Amy and Stan again.”
We are so grateful to have had a wonderful (and safe!) training camp experience, growing individually in strength and riding ability, as well as growing together as a team. Next up – race season in just a few weeks!