Tall Saguaros, mutant swarms & early morning supermoon

Mar 20, 2011 by

[EDITOR's NOTE: OBRA Cat 2 Masters rider Karsten Hagen (West End Bikes) is racing in the Tucson Bicycle Classic this week in Arizona. He sent Cycling Action this report from the stage 2 road race. ]

By Karsten Hagen
TUCSON — The desert around Tucson is archetypal. Tall saguaros stand in toothpick regiments against bleeding sunsets. Monsoons slash like a cleaver through sagging hot August days and leave the landscape heaving and green; the smells deep and old, only unearthed when the rain hammers deep into the soil.

Karsten Hagen filed this report from the Tucson Bicycle Classic. ©Pat Malach

The glaring exception to all this romance and splendor are the hills just to the west of Green Valley. Here’s where the Tucson Bicycle Classic road race puts racers head to head with mine trucks as the course weaves its way between looming man-made mountains of sand-cupping toxic pools used to extract copper from ore. I found it a bit ironic that these open pit mines rub shoulders with schools and housing developments as well as a Titan Missile museum. Youth and domesticity sharing the earth with a tribute to nuclear holocaust and toxic winds.

Smells like a kiddy pool, looks like Armageddon.

If you’ve done the infamous Tucson Shootout, this race shares part of that route, backwards. Mission road is just as rough going the other way. There’s a long gradual climb, followed by some choppy rollers, a long descent then 5 miles of smooth asphalt headwind bliss. This is actually a pretty good course for a petite flower like me.

Down here in the Southwest, there are many masters racing teams. They all know how to work for a leader, chase down GC threats and launch repeated punishing attacks. However, because he can time trial and also because fate is a cruel bitch, the GC leader is a lonely dude from Albuquerque. Since I was 4th on GC and nobody knew me from a 50 pound dead jackrabbit in the road, I decided I was going to be his friend today.

I did not envy the yellow jersey at all. This guy could not pull a gel from his pocket without half the field whistling and yelling that he was going to make a move. Then when the poor guy did try something everybody welded up to him and sat. There finally were some attacks, but the first lap was pretty negative.

By the beginning of lap two it was pretty clear that the red Specialized sponsored team and the blue stock broker team were out to rip each others legs off. Really, from my position things could not have been better. The second set of climbs saw a series of attacks, counters and on- the -rivet mayhem.

But when #3 and #5 on GC snuck away before the descent, I kept a brief eye on them before bridging up. I was an English major and hide in the corner and suck my thumb when confronted with algebra. But I do know that 35 seconds separated me from the rest of the field and with time bonuses I might just make this dog hunt.

Things started great. There’s nothing better than drilling it into a headwind with temporary friends, especially when they are on teams that were making sure we stayed out there. I got an ice cold bottle of heed from my selfless spouse and settled into what was looking like a good day.

But I knew we were in trouble by the time we were halfway down Mission road. First one, then the second breakaway comrade couldn’t pull through. My lungs still hurt from what I now know is a terrible dust allergy, but my legs felt very good.

But by the time we were digging in on the last headwind section, I knew we were done for. The break was down to two of us and the field was an angry chemical fueled mutant swarming and heaving in the near haze. They caught us at the bottom of the climb and I knew if I let myself get boxed in on the narrow climb, an anonymous bunch placing was in the cards.

I followed everything, from frustrated attempts at a solo by the lonely leader to repeated ego boosting throw downs by all the big teams. I had to stay on the front! I felt like a fat bear balancing on a rubber ball. When the finish finally materialized out of the heat mirage, I was pretty much dog meat. The sprint exploded around me and I held on for 11th and my GC spot is still 4th; 7 seconds off the leader.

They want us off the roads early tomorrow, so my race is at 6:30 a.m. It’s a circuit race, so only God knows what will happen. All this means I need to wake up and eat while coyotes still stalk innocent furry things under the Supermoon.

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