By Todd Wells, GT-Hyundai professional cycling
I finally finished my base up and got a few days of rest before I had to leave for the Vuelta Sonora Arizona road race. This road race was unlike any I had ever done before and probably will ever do again. Like any trip with a bunch of people you barely know going to a race you’ve never done before you have to take it with a grain of salt. This was no exception.
I cut my Monday golf game short to make it home in time to catch a ride to Phoenix in a big van full of my new teammates for the week. The only people I knew on the team were Tulous, Jake and Pate and Tulous wasn’t even in the van.
We made it to Phoenix and I got a call from Wherry letting me know that the Baja Fresh we were planning on going to for dinner next to the hotel closed at 7 p.m. and it was 6:45 p.m. We made it just before they closed (I’m sure they loved that) and got to hang out with the HealthNet/TIAA Cref crew while we ate.
Later we found out that instead to doing a point-to-point race from Phoenix to Tucson, we would be doing a parking lot crit at South Mountain Park for the first stage.
We made our way over to South Mountain on a glass littered road with out any flats, no small feat. The crit was the hardest parking lot crit I have ever done. My HR stayed above 190 for the entire race and I didn’t even make it into the front group. I made it through the race with out crashing even though we got some rain in the middle. After the race we crammed back into the van and got on the road just in time for Phoenix rush hour traffic. Instead of going back to the hotel in Phoenix, we were heading down to Nogales for Wednesday’s stage, which instead of being a road race from Tucson to Nogales was going to be a circuit race in Nogales. If you don’t know, Nogales is probably the crappiest town in Mexico.
We made it to Nogales USA at about 10:30 p.m. but couldn’t drive the van rented in the U.S. into Mexico. The van was only supposed to transport us in the U.S. and we had to just ride to all the races in Mexico because the vehicles only had room to transport our bags, not us.
We unloaded all our bags in the McDonalds parking lot and walked across the border to the hotel that was “only 2 blocks” from the border. It was quite a sight, 10 bike racers lugging heavy bags after having raced a few hours before in the rain into Mexico to look for some random hotel.
We made it to the hotel and my arms were so tired from carrying my bag that I had to drag it the last block. Turns out the hotel we were suppose to stay in didn’t have rooms so we had to walk to some different hotel. Now it’s about 11 p.m. and we get checked in and they want us to sleep 4 guys to a 2-bed room. The floors were tile so they were too hard to sleep on. I can barely sleep in a big bed with my wife more less a small bed with another dude. Pate and I managed to talk Alfredo (race promoter) into giving us our own room.
They decided to wake everyone up by honking the car horns in the parking lot at 6:30 a.m. We slept through it since there were car alarms going off all night anyway. We managed to find the cafeteria down the road where all the teams were eating their free food. With the $15 USD entry fee per person comes food and lodging for the entire week.
The people serving the food had gas masks on and it didn’t look so good. I settled for some yogurt and granola I had brought with me.
We had to ride to the start 30K away because we didn’t have any room in the vehicles for people. At least we got a police escort the whole way to the course. At least I think they were police, a bunch of guys in snow camo’ in the back of a pickup truck with guns.
The course was a 5K-hotdog loop. We started in the middle, rode up to the top of a 2K climb, did a 180 degree turn and blasted back through the start/finish and 3 more K gradually down hill before doing another 180 degree turn and back through the start/finish. The road was narrow, full of potholes and had no centerline. Perfect for 150 guys.
I got a flat on lap six of eight and couldn’t get back on because the group was chasing down 2 Tecos riders who were off the front and looking to take Gord’s leaders jersey. The scariest thing was riding up the twisty climb while the splintering group was racing down. Rob Alvarez and I had to stop and get off the road at one point because we were going up the climb around a corner while guys were ripping down around the same corner using the whole road. I came inches from getting in a head on with a guy going 45 mph. Of course we rode back to the hotel after the race since there was no room in the car.
Thursday we finally got to do a point-to-point road race that we thought we would be doing all along. We went from Nogales to Santa Anna. From this point on the all the races were almost pancake flat as we rode on the main highway through Mexico with a virtually closed road 2 lanes wide. The race was pretty uneventful until we got into Santa Anna and did 8 circuits through town. The circuit had cobbles, cars, people dogs, potholes and dirt. It was super sketchy so Wherry, Pierce and I rode on the front to stay out of trouble and keep the pace high. We all managed to stay upright and I think I even finished in the top 15 that day. Everyone came up to me after the race and said, “That was just like a mountain bike race.”
Well we never race with cars, dogs and people running out on the course while flying by at over 30mph in a strung-out group but if you say so. I guess most road guys think mountain bike races are just crappy dangerous road races.
We all went to a super market after the race and I think Pate and SoPro bought all the cookies in the place. Sprinkles, cream fillings, chips, chunks, you name it. I was sticking to my lunch diet of Slimfast and Clif bars in hopes of not getting the stomach bug.
Next day I managed to get into a break with Pierce, Tulous, Hartley, Jake and 1 Mexican team guy. That gave us 2 Health Net, 3 Speed Bikes (my team) and 1 local guy. I was hoping to sit in all day but somehow I got in this long break and wound up pulling all day. I thought/hoped we would get caught but we didn’t. 125K later we were still away, Tulous had drifted back to the group and another Speed Bikes guy jumped across with another Mexican guy from a different team. The group was bearing down on our group of seven but Pierce and I drilled it for the last 10K while everyone else sat on and waited for the sprint. The SpeedBikes guy won and Chad Hartley got second.
We all had Dominos pizza for dinner and Pate and I did some press conference with the race leader and 2 other local riders who were in the race, TV cameras and about 25 press people.
The next day I was pretty worked and sat in all day. We finished on some climb that we thought was 5K after this noodle intersection but turned out to be about 13K after it. Tulous and I were riding on the front after the noodle to help keep the pace high for our GC guy, Pate. Turns out it was still about 8 K to finish from where we pulled off. Rolled in pretty far back after sitting up after taking our pulls. Pate ended up flatting 5K to and had to ride in on a flat tire. Just like a mountain bike race. Ha.
The only good thing about the day was that we were finally at the beach. We all went to la playa after the race and hung out at some resort hotel. There’s nothing better then sitting on a lounge chair under an umbrella on the beach drinking a Corona watching the sunset. I kept my beach tradition alive by burying Jake’s flip-flops in the sand while he wasn’t looking. Last time I was at the beach I was burying Frank Mapel’s flops.
The final day was the first time Tecos didn’t ride tempo and we just kept surging all day until we got to the final circuits. The pace went up and we managed to get a SpeedBikes rider off in a break that stayed away.
After the race we had no idea how we were getting back to the U.S. and had been worried about it all week. Pate and I were lucky enough to get a ride back with the Health Net guys. We hit the road and made it back to Tucson in about 6 hours. I was so tired I could barley take a shower. If I didn’t feel like I had been sitting in a can of processed cheese for the whole ride back I would have went straight to bed.A van smells pretty bad after driving six hours with six guys that just raced in 80-degree temperatures and didn’t have a chance to shower.
It was really cool getting to hang out with the road guys in a relaxed atmosphere. Usually the only time I get to see those guys is during bigger races where everyone is really focused and pretty tense I also got to meet a bunch of guys like Hightower (Kyle from Tucson that’s like 5’4” but rides higher then I do on the bike) and Redbird (Robert from Tennessee that has more sayings then anyone I know). It was a great group of guys and so much fun having a bunch of teammates. I’m the only cross-country guy on GT/Hyundai so it’s nice to have teammates to hang out with for a change that are doing the same type of racing.
Since Sayers was racing down in Chile I didn’t even have anyone yelling at me. Ha.
I wonder what Gully’s doing right now….