A record 112 women, and 587 total racers, will converge at the starting line just beyond the Gilbert Ray Campground today, from as far north as Winnipeg, Manitoba, to as far south as Hermosillo, Sonora, to compete in the largest Tucson Bicycle Classic in the past six years.
Tucson’s own “mini Tour de France,” as TBC founder Steve Bohn dubbed it, is a sanctioned three-day race designed to bring out more competitive racers than other large bicycle races in Tucson. The race is still open to anyone who “has the bug” to race, Bohn said.
“We have a very broad range of competitors,” he said.
“It’s not just for the elite, it’s more like a grass-roots event.”
Here’s what to look for once the first wheels start spinning at 11 a.m. today in the 28th annual Tucson Bicycle Classic.
From young to old
While El Tour de Tucson also attracts riders of all ages , the TBC splits riders into 28 different categories divided by skill, age and gender to allow everyone to compete with their peers, TBC director Caroline Leonard said.
So today’s McCain Loop Time Trial will see competitors from the youngest age groups (10-12) to the oldest (75-year-old men), as well as the TBC’s newest addition of women over 70.
“These aren’t guys that are getting out of their wheelchairs and walking out there racing — these are people who are pretty competitive,” Bohn said.
Since there aren’t many racers for the oldest women’s category, the riders will race with the 65-year-old women’s group instead. Still, the woman with the fastest time will get recognition for her victory.
One of those competing is 70-year-old Tucsonan Melinda Berge, who has been racing for years. Leonard said she rode with Berge a month ago and Berge did better , despite being 22 years her senior.
The stage-race format, which is only offered at the TBC and the Valley of the Sun Stage Race in Arizona, creates exciting finishes sometimes determined by mere ticks of the clock. Last year, Hector Rangel squeaked by Travis McCabe by one second in the pro men’s category. Both return to action in the last run of the time trial today.
By tracking the race through real-time scores, Bohn said the spreads “can be very close” and give participants a chance to see just how far back they are from first place.
And even if a rider finishes the Garrett Lemire Memorial Circuit Race in Sahuarita on Saturday, the time bonuses in Sunday’s Speedway Circuit Race starting on Greasewood Road just west of Pima Community College can help other contenders make up ground.
The distances and the way the $7,800 total cash purse is split vary from category to category, yet the one thing every rider can aim for is the chance to wear the yellow jersey.
After each event — the time trial, road race and circuit race — the leader in each category is given a yellow jersey to wear.
While riders can’t wear the jersey if they eventually lose the lead, they can still keep it as souvenir of their accomplishment.