By Bill Plock
November 22, 2022, Tucson: El Tour de Tucson circled the fragile ecosystems surrounding Tucson where Saguaro cacti come to life, thirsty rivers cut the desert, and dreamers come to dream. For thousands of years, people have thrived in this at-first-glance difficult environment. Its dry and hot reputation, while well deserved in summer hibernates in November and offers the perfect weather to ride or race. It’s this dual purpose that gives this tour a dual personality and makes it unique.
Top racers from around the country (the world really) converge in the desert to compete. Riders can qualify for Platinum status to give them a more favorable starting position and a better shot at winning Tissot watches—no monetary prizes. Riders choose 32, 63, or 102 miles. Said ride director TJ Juskiewicz, about 500 race and the other 7,000 enjoy a well-supported tour.
The logistics of closing roads and controlling intersections for 7,500 riders to ride or race so many miles during most of the day in a big city is incredible. The winner in the 102-mile race was able to average almost 27 mph thanks to top-notch police support. I took about twice as long and received the same support.
I chose to chat as I do, meet some folks and not bonk on undertrained legs and lungs! I made it in part thanks to my podcast partner and close friend, Rich Soares who pulled me more than I pulled him, by a lot! This tour showcased so many personal missions. Whether it was the couple recently married on their honeymoon ride. Or 7-year-old Ariana who rode all 102 miles in about seven and half hours and set a record as the youngest known person to ride a century. Or, Timothy from the Pueblo Road Warrior team (supported by We Ride 4) rocked the 102 miles in his tennis shoes and smiled the whole way.
The vibe oozes a recipe of seriousness, fun, and gratefulness. The contrast of colorful cyclists streaming through the desert, pecan farms, airplane graveyards, and adobe buildings on sleepy streets made the time pass fast. Aid stations all featured friendly bike valets to hold your bike. Kids from the Optimist club or the Boy Scouts or many other local groups smiled big and made us feel very welcomed. Said Rich Soares, “The volunteers were great ambassadors of Tucson and the friendly bike valets were a nice touch and surprise”
That feeling of gratefulness is not an accident. Said Juskiewicz, “We gave away 550 free bikes to kids and our 50+ non-profit partners raised over $5,000,000 for their charities through the El Tour partnership.”
Coloradans were all over the place. Executive Director of Team Evergreen, Jen Barbour won her age group, and Pete Piccolo, Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado was 22nd overall in a very competitive field that included Primal Ambassador and Tour de France star Jens Voigt who finished 53rd. Other ex-pro’s like George Hincapie, Bob Roll, and Christian VandeVelde joined in the fun and said Juskiewicz, “having the rock star pros there was something that took this year over the top.”
Maybe this tour reflects the native Saguaro cactus more than we know. It takes 75 years for Saguaros to grow “arms” to help for better reproduction and continue to flourish and spread more seeds. They stand tall in the desert and have supported human life for thousands of years. Less than one in a million seeds germinate for this defining plant only found in this area.
As this tour ages and grows, it attracts more and more cyclists and helps more and more people. Its arms are dreams and a safe harbor for so many charities raising money to spread more seeds and help humanity. As a late-season destination, a challenging well-run ride, a trip to Tucson makes for a nice warm-up to enjoy Thanksgiving week and reflect on what’s important.