Winner Linnea Herbertson gets a hug after her victory on Saturday. She cut her time almost in half from her inaugural El Tour five years ago.

The first time Linnea Herbertson rode El Tour de Tucson, five years ago, she had just taken up the sport.

An old boyfriend helped her pick out a bike. She rode 109 miles in about 8 hours 20 minutes, stopping five times and wondering if she'd ever finish.

The next year, she shaved off about a half-hour. The one after that, a whopping hour and 42 minutes or so.

Between 2010 and 2011, she'd taken another hour and eight minutes off her time.

But still, Herbertson was stunned when she learned she was the first woman to cross the finish line after 111 miles in Saturday's El Tour de Tucson.

"I'm in shock," the 32-year-old said.

Going from a novice to a champion in five years - cutting her time almost, amazingly, in half - isn't something that's supposed to happen.

"I never thought I would have won," said Herbertson, who finished at 4:39:03. "There are always the pro girls that are way faster than me."

She had to be told at least three times.

Herbertson, who trained with the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association and rode about four times a week in preparation, simply didn't believe it.

"I'm, like, really shocked right now," she said. "But that's awesome. I thought there would be a girl in the front group."

Herbertson, who has a Bachelor's degree from the UA and is now a grad student in its soil, water and environmental science department, held off second-place finisher Fiona Strouts.

The Brit had spent the year racing up and down the West Coast and conducting postdoctoral research in infectious diseases at Stanford University.

Strouts admitted, with a smile, that she didn't have time to watch much TV. She rides in the mornings.

"The advantage of academia," she said, "is that it's kinda flexible."

The first crossing at the Santa Cruz River was deep, and helped to weed out part of the lead women's pack.

The ride "really picked up toward the end," she said, and Herbertson "got a good spot up front."

Emily Francone, winner of this year's last-ever Tour of the Tucson Mountains, finished third.

A mother of three, Francone finished alongside her husband, Jeff.

"I'm pretty shocked I got third," she said. "I haven't been training. I've taken some time off."

That's an understatement. Francone, who rode with her 12-year-old son last year, had been on a bike only five times this month.

She was the first to congratulate Herbertson, a friend she's known from races around town.

"She's been training hard this year," Francone said. "She's a hard worker."

And, five years after first trying El Tour, a champion.

"I keep getting faster and faster, I guess," Herbertson said. "It can't get better than this."


Linnea Herbertson, the women's winner of Saturday's El Tour, has done the ride for five straight years and improved every time. Here's a look at her results.

Year/Time/Overall Finish Among Men and Women

2008: 8:19.52 (2,926)

2009: 7:50.07 (2,718)

2010: 6:08.52 (988)

2011: 5:00.34 (245)

2012: 4:39.03 (XX)