Tucson Bicycle Classic
by Travis MCcabe (Elbowz Racing)
2013 held the 10th anniversary of the Tucson Bicycle Classic. This year, it contained a stacked field of pro teams and elite racers all prepping for San Dimas and Redlands later this month in California. TBC is a 3-day race that starts with a short, 3.2-mile time trial followed by an eighty-mile road race, and finishing with a fifty-mile circuit race. The stages are all fairly flat, which results in sprint finishes, with each of the top finishers being rewarded 10-, 6-, and 4-second time bonuses. Since the time trial is so short, usually being decided by a matter of seconds, the races becomes more about tactics than brute strength.
This year’s event contained 3 professional teams: Jelly-Belly, Optum-Kelly Benefits, and Smartstop-Mnt Khakis, along with multiple elite amateur teams like P&S Specialized from Mexico, which had olympian Hector Rengal leading the team. With Eric not able to make it down for the weekend, it left me racing solo and isolated against some really big hitters, but I was optimistic and I knew that the prologue suited me well since I placed 3rd in it last year behind NRC Champion Fransico Mancebo and teammate Ian Burnett. This year was no different. Again, I placed 3rd, this time behind Hector Rengal, and again 2 seconds off of Ian Burnett. I was very pleased with my result, but I knew it was going to be very difficult to hold off 3rd place by myself with so many strong guys sitting right below me. Fortunately for me, I still had Eric helping me out behind the scenes giving me tactical advice for the next day’s stage and instilling confidence in me. Eric is so analytical and knows the strengths and weakness of almost every rider in the pro peloton, so with his help he told me who to watch and what to prepare for. We knew that since I was so isolated I had to race intelligently the next few days and grab some time bonuses, but not enough to put me in the leader’s jersey.
Saturday’s race was to be a hot one with predicted highs of 88 degrees. With the pros taking off at 9:00 and racing four, 20-mile, 4-corner, laps we all knew it was going to be difficult. The race started off fast and aggressive, but Hector’s P&S Specialized team was doing a great job following moves and shutting down any potential breakaways from going up the road. I was able to sit in without having to really worry about anything other than the finish. Coming into the last lap, the field was still together, but a strong wind was beginning to pick up out the west. Once we turned north, the attacks were on with Jelly-Belly and Optum continually launching guys up the road, forcing P&S and Hector to cover.
Within 15 minutes, the field was strung out and split up with attacks still being launched. With the crosswind, everyone was cross-eyed and riding in the gutter I’ve been living in Tucson for 4 years now, so I know how beat up the roads can be and I was being very cautious. I was sitting about 10 wheels back when, all of a sudden, I saw a Jelly Belly rider un-clip and swerve into the middle of the rode and a large pile of dirt and bikes fly up into the air. Someone wasn’t aware of gravel in the road and lost control, taking out 10-15 riders. Once we were around the crash and able to reassess the race, we only had about 18 riders left. Shortly after, there was an another move with Hector, another P&S Specialized rider, and one Jelly Belly rider. I was left to reel it back in right before we made the a righthand turn going west down hill. We regrouped, but this time it was only about 18 riders. With one really pushing the pace, another group of 15 riders were able to catch back on by the bottom of the hill.
With 7 miles left to go and a dwindled-down field, it seemed like the teams were content with turning it into a sprint finish. Optum still had Eric Young, Jelly Belly had Chris Kriek along with Sean Mazich, and Smartstop had Clay Murfet. Knowing it was going to be a headwind once we made the final turn onto the finish line, teams began to organize and prepare. Now, I know I said I was trying to race smart and tactically, so in hindsight the last 1K for me was pretty stupid, but I like to take chances and this was one of them. With just under 1K to go, I attacked and attacked hard. I opened up a pretty significant gap, forcing the larger teams to use up their lead out men to chase me. I put my head down and didn’t look back. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and I got caught 10 meters from the line and finished up 6th with Young winning and taking a 10 second time bonus.
After Saturday’s race, I was tied with Eric Young, 8 seconds back from Hector Rengal. After discussing the race with Eric later that night, we decided the best thing I could do would be to follow Young around and try to take the time bonuses and go for the win at the the end. The course consisted of 9 laps totaling 50 miles. I was able to fight for the intermediate time bonuses and come away with 3 seconds; with Rengal taking 2 seconds and Young grabbing 1. On the 6th lap, a 2-man breakaway snuck off the front of the field and, with no real threat, P&S let them get a 3 minute lead before beginning to reel them in.
On the last lap, the field closed in on the 2 riders and one of them fell off and came back into the group leaving, one rider less than a minute up the road. The last 3 miles was a fast downhill section with a slight tail wind. Leading into the last kilometer was fast, with speeds of 40 mph. Optum, Jelly Belly, and Smartstop were beginning to establish themselves before we made a righthand turn with one little hill that led into a short, fast, uphill sprint. I was able to stay on Young’s wheel and use his draft before I launched with about 200 meters before the finish, taking the group sprint and placing 2nd, good for a 6-second time bonus.
Once the results were finalized I ended up in 2nd place with only one second separating me from Hector. Overall, it was a great weekend of racing and I am really happy with my second place. Knowing that I was alone and racing against really big teams gives me a great deal of confidence in myself and I’m excited to carry over the fitness I have to San Dimas, Redlands, and the rest of the year! And even though I was solo this weekend, I still have to give credit and thanks to my teammate Eric Marcotte for giving me great advice, and of course to Elbowz Racing P/B Boneshaker Project, Ben Spies, and the rest of the team for believing in me as a rider. It’s amazing how much respect can come from a single jersey!