When Paul Thomas and Noreen Cary Thomas finished their second-ever mixed-tandem race in the 2010 El Tour de Tucson, the couple was just happy to finish.
Yet they quickly discovered something else — they had won.
“We didn’t even know we won,” Paul, 44, said. “We were just riding, and they were like, ‘You won.’ ”
The shock wasn’t quite the same Saturday, when the duo won the 31st El Tour de Tucson presented by Casino del Sol Resort.
It was, after all, their fourth straight victory.
But even though the victory wasn’t as surprising, the couple still dealt with the unexpected. Wet roads and pouring rain affected the steering, and especially the braking, of the tandem bike.
Paul compared the tandem bike to an 18-wheeler, as bad weather makes it much more difficult to control than smaller one-person bicycles.
As Tucsonans, the couple hadn’t had much experience dealing with the elements. Southern Arizona’s largest participatory sporting event was hampered by wet — and then windy — conditions.
“(It was) absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen rain like this in Tucson,” Noreen, 47, said. “I’m the kind of person that doesn’t ride their bike in the rain further than a mile.”
Saturday marked Paul and Noreen’s 20th El Tour race, though back then the couple didn’t know each other. The pair has been together since 2000 and has been in five El Tour tandem races.
This tandem race also proved to be the hardest, as rain fell continuously throughout the 107-mile course.
“If you want to do well, all you have to do is not give up,” Paul said.
“Everyone else is giving up. Just like in life, when conditions get tough, if you’re the guy who can hang in there, by default you’re going to do well.”
Although their time of 4 hours 30 minutes was slower than in the past, Noreen was at least able to stay warm because a friend, who just so happens to ride professionally on the European tour, loaned her clothes to weather the rain.
“Time is irrelevant on a day like this,” Paul said.
As rewarding as a fourth-straight victory is, for Noreen the race has an even simpler meaning. She said it’s the only event in which she and her husband can compete together.
It just so happens they’re really good at it.