After part of her bike broke during last year's El Tour de Tucson and she was unable to finish, Erica Allar was determined to win on Saturday morning in the 28th annual 109-mile ride.
Not only did she finish first among women - she placed 17th overall on a blustery, sunny race day.
Allar, 25, finished in 4 hours 34 minutes and 28 seconds. She also won El Tour in 2008, but a chain ring on her bike broke during last year's race.
"I wanted to regain that title. It was really important to me," Allar said. "I moved to Tucson in August, and being now a local resident and racing for a local team, Ride Clean, I wanted to come in and make a statement."
Allar's coach and boyfriend, Jame Carney, a three-time El Tour champion, circled back and finished the race with her. He was 18th. Allar said she had tears in her eyes, and her legs were cramping as she crossed the finish line.
"He let me cross the line in front of him, so he gets good brownie points for that," she said.
Allar said she was in good position at the second wash on the course when she was in a group of about 15 cyclists that ended up catching the main group chasing champion Eric Marcotte and runner-up Hector Rangel. She said she was able to draft off the group, as winds gusted up to 31 mph.
"It was a little bit scary out there in terms of a little bit of traffic and the wind factor and people were getting blown all over," she said. "A couple crashes early on were a little startling. I'm lucky that I have a decent amount of experience, and I was able to pay attention and be in a safe zone."
Allar said she expected her time to be slowed by the wind. In fact, her time Saturday was faster than her 2008 showing, when she placed 96th overall in 4:38:02.
"The people she was riding with, they ride for men's pro teams," Carney said. "That really says something. I'm extremely proud of her."
Allar moved to Tucson in late August from Fogelsville, Pa. She said she enjoys Tucson as a training atmosphere, and the move also brought her closer to Carney, who has coached her for the last five years. Earlier in August, she won the overall championship for the 2010 USA CRITS Series, clinching at the 27th annual Chris Thater Memorial in Binghamton, N.Y. Allar previously rode for Team Vera Bradley Foundation this year.
As for her post-race plans on Saturday, Allar said, "I'm going to eat a burger."
Last year's women's champion, Robin Farina, 33, of Charlotte, N.C., finished second among the women and 73rd overall. Suzanne Sonye, 47, of Los Angeles, was third in the women's race and 101st overall. She won in 2004 and 2005.
Farina said she recovered after she flipped over another cyclist who crashed in the first wash.
"Some guy ate it right in front of me, so I had nothing to do but go right over on top of him, so that kind of took a little to regroup," she said. "I had to run out of there because you can't get back on and ride in the sand."
Farina and a group of about 20 cyclists caught a big group half an hour later, a chase that she said took energy out of her.
"I would have liked to have been first female and defended my title," said Farina, who was riding in her third El Tour and representing Team Vera Bradley Foundation. "But El Tour is much about luck. You're very lucky to come out with no mishaps and unscathed. I will come back next year and give it another try."