Every year, I try to get out to a brevet in a different
area. I feel that the exploratory notion of randonneuring can’t be met if you
just keep doing the same rides, year in and year out.  The Gila River Valley 200k came up rather
quickly, but seemed like a good idea to get out to for a fast 200K in new area.
This ride is relatively flat.  It doesn’t climb more than 200-300 feet at a
time over 5-10 miles.  The challenge with
this ride is the wind.  Apparently the
wind in Phoenix is a little unpredictable, and this year’s ride was no
Prior to the ride, I got in touch with some of the local
riders and one of them, Gerry, offered to put me up for a couple nights.  His wife made me feel like I was staying at a
resort – thick, soft towels; shampoo and soap set out in different locations;
and she even left me some dental floss! 
Thanks Sandy!
I arrived later than expected on Friday night (I didn’t
realize there was a time change), and we were up at 4:30am to hit the
road.  Not a problem…I had been sleeping
well the week before the ride so I was fresh even at the early hour!
I wanted to ride this one fast – my goal was to beat 7:30 –
and set a new, personal best for myself. 
I knew several of the riders who would be showing up. Gerry was on his
Bacchetta CA2.0, David B. was on the CA2.0 we built up for him last spring,
Carlton was a familiar face from some of the PCH events, and Lonnie Wollf from
Utah kept me company for a few miles in our January 200k.

Since I wasn’t expecting any fast descents, I went with the
most aerodynamic set of wheels I had – a set of Zipp Firecrest 404s with a
wheel disk cover on the back.  I didn’t
bother with any lights and kept the bike as uncluttered as possible.
It was cold at the start! 
My Garmin read mid-30s, but I think it was really in the low 40s.  From the get-go, we were off like a
cannon.  I lead the paceline with Gerry
and David right behind me for the first 8-10 miles.  The sun rose and it started warming up as we
headed south towards Sacaton.  The first
25 miles flew by, but David and I stopped to pee and the lead group got away
from us.
The first climb (if you can call it that) was outside of
Sacaton.  We could see one or two riders
ahead of us, and as we crested the climb we passed both of them.  This was the first part of the course that
was “scenic”.  You need to understand,
Dave and Gerry prepared me for looking at dirt all day. Actually, I have found
that as I have gotten older, I appreciate the desert more and more, and I found
this course quite beautiful.  The cactus
waved at us in their variety of contorted shapes, hawks combed the skies for
some breakfast, and tumbleweed frequently rolled across the road.
After the brief ascent, we bombed down into Casa Grande to
the second control (the first was the start line).  At that point, we caught up with the lead
group, and we all proceeded out together to discover the wonderful pavement in
and around Casa Grande.  In a word, it
sucked!  We left town and started heading
SE on Main St. on rough pavement and into a slight headwind out of the
east.  We tucked into a paceline, but it
seemed rather dis-jointed.  It kept
breaking apart and I couldn’t figure out why. 
After a brief pull for a couple miles, I settled in the back with Gerry
and Dave.
We finally arrived in Eloy, our third control at mile
51.  I had a quick snack and then hit the
road with five other riders – Carlton, Clint, Michael, Steve, and another rider
whose name escapes me.  We were heading
due north and I took off.  A few miles
down the road, the group caught up with me and I pulled us along at 23mph for
about 4 miles.  We then started rotating
pulls, but I noticed that every time Clint or Michael got to the front, the
speed picked up to 25mph.  This started
getting old as our speed bounced back and forth, making it hard for the riders
in the back to stay with the group.  Dave
and Gerry, who has also caught up, fell off the back rather quickly due to the
frequent changes in speed.
A note about riding
style – a brevet is not the same as a hammerhead club ride.  Experienced ultra riders know how to pace
themselves.  There is no jumping anytime
someone passes someone else – if riding in a group everyone tries to work
together to minimize effort so the whole group goes faster.  Sometimes, local club riders come out for
200k events, and the conflicting mentalities can cause problems.  It’s not that either group is “right”, rather
it is just different styles of riding. When I was pulling the group at 23mph, I
was riding at an easy 130-140w, a pace that I could keep for many, many
hours.  Pushing up to 200w to stay with
the group was a quick way to lose energy and end up burning out.
As we started zigzagging into Coolidge, we could tell that
we were going into a stiff headwind out of the east on a very gentle ascent.  I tried staying with the group, but the
bouncing paceline kept dumping me off the back (I stayed in the back position so
that the DF riders could get the most advantage from the draft – there was no
use having me in front given the wind, but I did offer).  I finally decided to ride my own ride and let
them go.  The wind had knocked their
speed down to about 12mph, while I was going about 11mph, and I watched them
disappear slowly down the road.
I didn’t really know how long this wind/road would last, so
I just settled into my pace and kept riding. 
I expected Dave and Gerry to catch up any time, but they didn’t.  I even stopped for a few minutes to try to
pet some horses.  It was warming up into
a gorgeous day and I intended to enjoy it at whatever pace I was riding.
The route finally crossed Pinal Pioneer Highway and a mile
later, I made the turn onto Diffen Rd. that put the wind to my side.  The course slowly started descending to the
next control at mile 85.  The cactus
through here started taking on more interesting shapes and the views across the
valley were spectacular!  All too soon, I
arrived at mile 85 and met up with Thomas, one of the local volunteers who was
signing brevet cards.  We chatted for a
couple minutes – apparently he spent a lot of time in California doing brevets
in the 80s and 90s – and he told me the fast group was only about 10 minutes
ahead of me and that Dave and Gerry were 3-4 minutes behind me.  I waited a little longer for Gerry and Dave,
but they never materialized.  So I bombed
down the mountain, past the Arizona State Prison, into Florence for a quick
stop at the Circle K to refill bottles. 
The lead group was there and I left with them.
The next 25 miles became a race.  Given the slightly downhill terrain and
tailwind, I quickly passed the group, figuring it would be an easy ride back to
the finish.  When I saw two riders
chasing me, I knew exactly who they were. 
Soon enough, Clint and Michael were on my tail, drafting and working to
stay with me.  After the first five miles
of having them draft without pulling, and getting turn directions from me, I
was getting a bit upset.  The course was
now zigzagging again, and at every other turn we were either in a cross wind or
head wind. It was easy to tell how hard they were working by looking at their open
mouths in my mirror as they tried to keep up (keep in mind, I was pulling 130-140w
and just moving along nicely).  It was
rather entertaining to watch them slowly catch up, at which point I would bump
it up to 190-200w for a minute or two and they would disappear again behind me.
  I didn’t know if I was going to have to
keep this up for five or 25 miles, so I made sure to ride a pace that I could
keep indefinitely. After 20 miles of this, they pulled ahead of me and pulled
off the road. I assumed someone needed to pee, but quickly turned around to
check on them.  They had a flat tire and
the tools to fix it, so I continued.
Since the “race” was over, I slowed way down to about 100w
and tried to just enjoy the scenery for the last 15 miles.  We were riding through farmland and it was
fascinating to see all of the horses, sheep, cows and crops (I didn’t realize
that south Phoenix was a farming community). 
About five miles from the finish, I nearly stopped at a county fair –
the signs advertising fresh pie sounded great after my 7-hour diet of fruit and
water.  But I continued on and soon
arrived at the finish.  I was the first
rider in at 7:27.  The three other riders
from the lead group arrived at 7:32 and Clint and Michael arrived at 7:36.
After chatting for a few minutes, Clint and Michael (who
were really nice guys) and I went over to the Cantina for some food and
drinks.  I had the food, they had the
drinks!  We hung out waiting for Gerry
and Dave, chatting about the ride and just enjoying a sunny afternoon.  Dave and Gerry arrived at around 8:12 (Gerry
beat his time from last year by over 30 minutes – yeah!). We all agreed it was
a great course and a great day and I look forward to riding with this group
again soon!
Gerry and Steve both wrote excellent ride reports.  Check them out here and here.

Comments (2)

  1. Nice write-up Dana. I look forward to riding with you again in the near future. Who knows, maybe it'll be a 1200 outside of the continental US!

  2. Dan

    Sounds like you folks had a great ride. Except for the wonderful social connections at Sebring I would certainly have preferred to be riding the 200K with you.

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