Desert Classic Century 2010

Desert Classic

Desert Classic histogram

ABC’s Desert Classic Century 2010 (modified with short cuts)

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Went on my longest ride since the Death Valley Double: the Desert Classic Century put on by the Arizona Bicycle Club. This annual ride heads up Lake Pleasant way out of Glendale, and then out to New River and Carefree. It was a pleasant day (temps 52-72), if a bit windy — and I was pleased that I still have century-capable fitness in my legs. And I was pleased that my bottom was up for the 5-1/2 hrs of saddle time. I’m still using extra padding, though. I probably set some kind of record for wearing two pairs of shorts on a century ride. But it did the trick.

I hadn’t planned on doing the Desert Classic. Originally, I was going to do the Sedona Madness Century, (formerly known as the Mingus Mountain Madness Century), but I opted out of doing that last week. I simply don’t have the fitness right now for the 9,000 feet of climbing of that route. And I wasn’t sure my bottom was up for 9 or 10 hours in the saddle. So, instead I decided on the Desert Classic — a much flatter and quicker route (2,500 ft of climbing), that wouldn’t be as hard on my bottom.

It’s been a few years since I’ve done the Desert Classic. I wasn’t enamored with the old route (which headed up through Sun City, then northwest along Highway 60 to Carefree Highway and then east). Carefree Highway on the west side has rough, gravely shoulders and lots of high-speed traffic. But this year, the route has been dramatically altered, taking advantage of newly built/repaired roads in the vicinity of I-17 heading north.

I left with about twenty other century riders (yeah, a small group, for sure), from Oggie’s Brewery at 67th Ave and the 101 Freeway at 7 am. We headed north to Arrowhead Loop Road and, then in a north-easterly jig-jag up 59th Ave. There were a lot of riders from the Bullshifter’s club in the group, and I wasn’t sure how long I’d last with them. Sure enough, over the first little climb along 59th Ave, I was dropped. And just like that, I was a block or two behind. Fortunately, I was able to latch back on as we headed east along Happy Valley Road. This road has new pavement and wide bike lanes, making for pleasant riding. We turned north along 35th Ave to Pinnacle Vista Rd, and then jogged south to Jomax, where we crossed the I-17 freeway.

Eventually, we headed north on Norte Valley Parkway — again a new road with wide bike lanes, and made our way to Carefree Highway to the first rest stop. So far, so good. I was hanging on to the group, and the saddle felt good. The route west on Carefree Highway had an okay shoulder for some of the way — but there was too much shoulderless riding for my tastes along this heavily traveled road, filled with trucks and boat trailers headed out to Lake Pleasant. If I’d had my druthers, I wouldn’t have ridden this way, but there is no other way to get to our next destination: New River Road, heading northeast.

And New River Road is worth riding to, for it consists of wide-open desert riding and little traffic. Historically, this portion of the route is often windy, and this year was no exception. Combine the head winds with a steady 2% grade, and you have the recipe for some tough riding. Except this year, it wasn’t. This year, instead of riding solo along this portion, suffering like a dog, I was drafting in the back of the pack, idling along at a low heart rate of 84 bpm — not! Although I was drafting, the group was going at a pace just above my comfort level — as in Zone 4, so I was hanging on for dear life. But, I survived.

We made our way to the second rest stop, now heading south along New River Road. So far, so good. The saddle was feeling fine, and I had little indication of the bruised sit bones of the past two months — except for the fact I was wearing the extra padding.

After the second rest stop, the pack begin to splinter into little groups, and I ended up mostly riding by myself as we headed back south to Carefree Highway and then east. I simply couldn’t keep up with anybody else on whatever little climbs presented themselves.

In the old days, Carefree Highway heading east of 7th St was a dicey affair — not much in the way of shoulders and just enough traffic to make you nervous. Nowadays, though the traffic is much higher, the highway has four lanes and wide, smooth shoulders, making this portion of the route a pleasant one. But the wind shifted from the northeast to the southeast, making its maddening rotation around to the south and west — making sure we’d have a headwind a good portion of the day, even though we do a loop.

This rotation of the winds has happened almost every time I’ve done this ride. The weather gods sure love to play with us mere mortals.

After the third rest stop, just east of Cave Creek Road at the 52 mile mark, I found myself at the head of the pack. But I knew it wouldn’t last. Sure enough, as soon as the major climbing of the day began, I was off the back in short order. It’s amazing how quickly you can be dropped. After a few minutes, as we entered the town of Cave Creek, I wasn’t able to see the pack up ahead anymore. They were already a mile in front of me.

Oh well, so it would be solo riding the rest of the day. C’est la vie.

One thing’s for sure about my fitness after two months of “baby” rides: I have no climbing legs at all. And the extra pounds I’m carrying these days isn’t helping. (Hard to believe I’m 14 lbs heavier than I was in 2006.) So I held out no hopes I’d be seeing any other riders the rest of the day. But as I crossed Pima Rd and began the climb to Lone Mountain Parkway, I realized I could short-circuit and head south on Treeline Road. This would cut out 2 miles of climbing, and put me onto Stagecoach Road, somewhere ahead of the pack, I hoped. Then, I could just cruise along at my own pace till they caught me.

I was sure they’d catch me along Legend Trail, but in fact, I didn’t see anyone until I crossed Pima Road heading west. And who I saw was one of the gals in the group who had been in the pack, but had short-circuited at Pima Rd, and was now waiting for the others. I opted not to stop, but to keep cruising by myself. I knew the pack would eventually catch up, and the longer that was delayed, the better. My concern was not getting back to the finish dead last — for that would mean they might have run out of pizza by then.

The route eventually turned south along Scottsdale Road. This would not have been my choice of roads to take. Pima Rd would have been better — and this is especially true south of Pinnacle Peak Rd. Along this portion, Scottsdale Road has no bike lanes — no shoulder at all, really — and lots of high-speed traffic. I didn’t relish this portion, and was glad to reach Mayo Blvd. Here, the route headed west, eventually turning north back up to Deer Valley Rd.

Turns out I didn’t see the pack again until the final rest stop, at the 84 mile mark (88 mile mark for them), and that was only because I hung out there longer than usual, relaxing in a chair and taking breather. The wind had now shifted to the southwest, and was very gusty. Of course it was coming out of the southwest, for how else would we be guaranteed a headwind the rest of the day?

I opted to leave ahead of the pack –they’d probably beat me back to the finish anyway — and I opted not to go all the way south to Union Hills, along the official route. Instead, I headed west along the 101 Freeway frontage road. This is a much better way to get back to 67th Ave in my opinion. Despite being near the freeway, it’s quieter than riding along Union Hills, and has less traffic.

I made it back to the finish at 1:18 pm, fifteen minutes before the rest of the pack arrived. Although the Desert Classic featured shorter routes of a metric century, 50 miles, and 1/2 metric, all of those riders were long gone, and I ended up eating two slices of pizza by myself. A rather sad occasion, really. In years past, this ride was much better attended, and I fondly remember the camaraderie and party atmosphere of those days.

I fault the club for not promoting this ride more. It’s almost to the point it’s not worth doing.

Even so, it was a good ride on a pleasant day. Due to all the wind we’ve had the past few days, the air was clean, the sky a deep blue, and the mountain profiles were in clear relief. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.

Now, about those climbing legs. I better find them soon, for the Iron Horse Classic looms only a few weeks away. This ride goes from Durango, Colorado, north to Silverton, over two major mountain passes. Although only a short 50-miler, at high altitude it’s not going to be a picnic. Maybe if I don’t eat for the next few weeks, I can lose those 14 lbs and simultaneously find my climbing legs. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

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