Greetings to all,
I would like to focus my greeting on a magical moment many of us had in Tucson, AZ recently. VQ had the pleasure of taking 40 campers to the El Tour de Tucson for the 30th edition of this incredible event. Every November, 9,000 riders descend upon Tucson to ride/race around the 111-mile perimeter of the city. There are a couple of sections where riders must dismount their bikes and run through sand. These sections are called washes and having washes within the event makes it an interesting challenge that differentiates this from every other century or gran fondo across the country.
We had a very diverse group of riders at this camp, all with very diverse goals for the El Tour. Even though very few were technically “racing”, I decided to take a professional cycling team approach to getting everyone ready before the event.
We started with a course preview the day before the event. We previewed the start, the first technical wash and the finish so we were able to experience the key areas of the course. Through this process we discovered that the wash was actually more technical than in previous El Tours and we all noted the perfect entry point, positioning and conditions of the wash itself. There was a section of sand that was unrideable–regardless of skill level. Some of us learned this the hard way by doing “endos” as our front wheels hit the soft sand. Getting off the bike and carrying it was the best way to get through it. Along with the wash knowledge, we figured out the best place to move up at the start and after riding the finish we learned that the finish banner was over 200 meters in front of the actual line. Therefore, we noted that if a rider sprinted for the banner he/she would get passed before the actual line. Being extra patient when timing the final kick is always crucial to having your best finishing place!
After the preview ride we held a team meeting, talking for over an hour on the best pacing, drafting and overall ride strategy for everyone doing the event. We talked our way through the challenges of the day, ride pacing, conservation of energy techniques, critical safety tips, wind direction, hydration/fueling strategies and how these could be adjusted based on the rider’s finishing goals. This process was an exercise that I encourage everyone to do before any big goal event or race. It helps visualize the perfect race execution and allows the rider to feel more confident heading into the event.
For me, 7th place was not my best race result from a placing standpoint, but from a race/ride execution point of view: I nailed it! I can honestly say I received more satisfaction from this year’s El Tour than I did from winning this event in previous years. I am older, less fit and not nearly as prepared as I have been in the past. For me to get a good result, I needed a perfect race where I was luckier and smarter than the other more fit riders in the group. I discovered after my 7th place finish that I have never felt more content with an event in my life. That’s right: IN MY LIFE. My nutrition, pack position, aggressiveness, suffering and final sprint were executed to perfection. I am not bragging about this because, if you have raced as much as I have, you could assume I would have done this in at least a few of my nearly 5,000 races, but I have not. I could always find an area where I could have been smarter, could have saved more energy or could have been a little more aggressive. But on this day, I did not leave one ounce of energy out there and I over-performed my physical capabilities. When you do this as an athlete, it feels incredible. Many of the VQers did the same thing. They placed better than they usually do because they executed better and were more prepared from a strategic standpoint even though some were not as physically prepared as in years past. This allowed all of us to perform at a much higher level than others with similar or even higher fitness levels.
I have said in the past that the finishing place cannot define the success of an event and this is just more proof of that. You can place well with a bad race or place poorly with a good race and unless you’re making money, the feelings are not much different. But if you performed at your maximum and did everything right on race day, you will feel great about your performance regardless of your time or place! That is a fact!
I have thought about why I was able to have my best race ever after all these years of racing, at the ripe age 41 and on the downslide of my power and fitness. I believe it was because of the VQ crew and what I shared with them in the pre-race ride and talk. Going into this, as a pro I assumed I knew everything about the event because I had been there year after year. But because I wanted to make sure the VQers did their best, I tried to look at every detail in depth. Then I also had to convey those details to the campers. Through this process there were a few things I was able to learn myself–and those things made a huge difference! I think the old adage says it all: “it is in giving that we receive”.
So in closing, as we head into the holiday season, we remind ourselves that it is more important to be thankful for the gifts we have rather than constantly focusing on the things we want to achieve. I hope everyone has a magical holiday season. I know this holiday season will be marked with memories of those friends and family who are no longer with us. I will forever remember the spirit of two very special VQ athletes who we recently lost: long-time friend and VQ legend, Gene Nozica, who was always there to help others and lend his incredible cycling knowledge to better the sport and those around him, and an original VQer, Franco Panvino, who taught us so much about being comfortable in our own skin. Franco was a true character who brought energy and life to everyone and everywhere he went. Gene and Franco had a loyalty and passion for our sport that touched so many of us and was felt in a huge way throughout the cycling community. They will be incredibly missed!