Old Pueblo Grand Prix
by Gord Fraser (Body by Vi pb VeloVie)
By definition, community is a group of people having common interests. We often hear this term to describe our cycling demographic and I’ve been fortunate to have two; my native Ottawa and my home of Tucson. These two cities contrast about as much as two cities can on this continent but for me they are tied by their impressive sense of community- the two wheeled kind.
Tucson boasts some great cycling. The weather mandates this but is reinforced with stunning terrain. Group rides abound and both competitive and recreation events sprinkle the race calendar. One thing has been missing all these years however has been swiftly rectified; a national level event.
When local business owners of O2 Modern Fitness/Fitworks Kurt Rosenquist and Susan Frank mentioned to me the possibility of organizing a city center criterium, I was hoping that our missing link could finally be filled. Their passion, energy and most importantly their vision has indeed created a world class event.
It has pained me however to miss the first two editions. I’ve directed a pro team for On The Rivet Management and the past two years have prioritized the stage races. The Optum Old Pueblo Grand Prix has always conflicted with the season opening weekends in LA- San Dimas and Redlands. Returning from California the past two years and the reports from the OPGP inundated the group rides’ conversation for weeks afterwards. Finally this year I was not only able to attend but my ‘season of fitness’ was still valid enough to actually entertain racing!
Motivation was also increased when longtime Arizona friends Rob Alvarez and Brian Forbes generously offered me a spot on their upstart Body by Vi pb VeloVie team. Now, I’ve been aided the past two years by the Visalus product, both with its recovery and weight loss properties so that was a no brainer but jumping on a new bike a week before a race seemed not such a good idea. Rob insisted that I’d love the VeloVie Vitesse 400 and before I knew it I was tweaking the bike to make it ‘my own’. Standard for me are Speedplay pedals and short reach handlebars. You know, the type that won’t hit your forearms when sprinting in the drops. I also simply dropped a seat and post from another bike in my quiver, removed the funky oval big ring, slapped on my CycleOps powertap and away we go! My first few rides were encouraging. A hasty stop to Fairwheel bikes for a 14cm stem mid ride on the second day polished off my fit. I mentioned it on social media but it’s worth repeating. Getting a ‘freshy’ and one the quality of the VeloVie Vitesse 400 is like finding an extra gear.
I must admit that I enjoyed a race day sitting on my own couch. I watched some Nascar and the UofA basketball team correctly humiliating that school from Phoenix. A quick trip to the Circle K to purchase my nocturnal race drink of choice- Mountain Dew (hey, it’s the throwback version) and I was set to go.
Now, I don’t know if it was the cold night air, nerves, the pre race call up or a pre race Dew but I was literally shaking on the start line. I’d be lying if thoughts of ‘what did I get myself into’ did not creep into my conscious. Certainly the first 10 laps further emphasized this train of thought. Shadows, elbows, curbside screams but most importantly the sheer speed had me on the back foot. Instincts luckily kicked in and concerted efforts to regain top 5 positions was rewarded immediately afterward as the noise most dreaded in cycling happened maybe 10 behind. Screeching and now crunching (carbon crunches you know) indicating a pile up and judging by the level of crunch it took a good portion of the bunch.
Many friends and riders had asked me how I was going to play the race out tactically. Ideally, I would let my old charges of UHC control and let them pull back any breaks and then win the battle for the back of their train on the last lap then simply sprint around them. Simple. All plans are subject to change in cycling and it was abundantly clear by the pace the first 20 laps that I would have no chance in applying my ‘25yearold’ tactics. So, what was plan B? Well first was survival. Second was to sniff some attacks and sure enough I was on a Jamis rider when he jumped clear. A Champion System rider latched on and surprisingly we had a gap. Now, with the darkness and shadows I was unsure if we were the lead group or bridging up to somebody else. I also didn’t recognize my break mates right away. The Champion System guy was unknown to me until it finally dawned on me that I directed this very rider last year! Chad Beyer. After a couple laps hanging on the Jamis rider it finally clicked amongst all the rapid decision processing happening inside my Specialized helmet that it was strongman Luis Amaran himself. I was almost contemplating a plan C and eject from the torture that was surely to come but surprisingly I was holding my own and sometimes injecting needed momentum out of the corners.
Amaran is a beast. He came on the US scene the year after I retired and I’ve watched him race with admiration. Aggressive, powerful with a smooth pedaling action reeked of class. My pre race meetings as a director the past few years usually had a footnote on dealing with the Cuban expat. I saw him drive a break in the Cascade criterium a couple of years ago that our whole team couldn’t contain while defending Paco’s yellow. He was gracious with his work understanding that the onus was on him to power our break. Chad and I did well to give him the bare minimum of rest but it would have been nice to have another body or two to drive our group and more importantly increase our rest time on the wheels. Another team blocking from behind would have been perhaps even a more dramatic addition to help our chances.
I loved being back in front of a cycling public. So many friends came out and were partisan to my presence up front. I felt bad that mostly my name was being yelled but not that bad. After a few laps I was hoping for more pertinent information to filter to us like an accurate time gap. My longtime buddy Dan Taylor was perched on entry to corner two and skillfully conveyed it. Unfortunately the news wasn’t encouraging and each second we gained was paid for with severe lactic acid. We just didn’t get that sudden swing in our favour with a long enough truce behind.
It was clear we’d get caught but it was only a question of when. My consolation was to hold out as long as possible and finally the end came with 2.5 laps to go. Smaller consolation was to see the damage we caused in the dwindling front group.
Post race was the confirmation of our special cycling community here in Tucson. I felt proud that they supported one of their own with such passion. Some were speculating that we would pull it off. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that our break was one of desperation and never really had the odds in our favour. My inner 25 year old would have snickered at the fools who wasted all night out front for nothing. Heading to the podium in years past was usually a trip to the top step provided by my teammates’ perfect execution and precision. This time it was on some courage and a bit of charity but appreciated nonetheless. Cycling has been taking a beating lately but let this be a reminder of what cycling should be. A race founded by enthusiasm and anchored by a city and sponsors that will support it for years to come.