By Dave Iltis — We had the opportunity to ride the fabulous El Tour this year for the first time. The ride was held for the 38th time on November 20, 2021. This year’s ride had 6715 cyclists, making it one of the largest rides in the U.S. The courses this year changed from previous years, but since we hadn’t ridden those, we didn’t have a comparison. This year’s event featured the flagship 102 mile loop, a 57 mile loop featuring many of the roads of the longer loop, and a 28 mile point to point ride. There were also 10, 5, and 1 mile kids rides.
Lisa and I rode the 57 mile loop, with an additional 5 miles from our friend’s house to the start and back. The course was pretty with Sonoran desert scenery throughout and Cholla, Saguaro, and Ocotillo dotting the landscape. The weather that day was perfect – sunny skies and a high of about 80, with just a little wind. Along the route, the mountains were visible in the west, and provided relief to the rolling terrain.
The route traveled into Southern Pima County for the first time in the ride’s history. We were impressed by mostly car free courses, with few interactions with traffic, and well marshalled intersections. Rest stops dotted the course, and one was never too far from water or snacks. The rest stops did have a few logistical bumps with one temporarily running out of water. Additionally, it would have been nice to have a few more choices for food other than bananas and oranges, which were present at most of the stops. The final stop however was a highlight with fresh baked brownies and Girl Scout Cookies. The only electrolyte drink we had was a scoop of Gatorade from one of the support cyclists; this too would have been good to have at the various stops. It wasn’t too hot, so this wasn’t a huge issue. The festival the night before and also after the ride was great, with awards to finishers, bike company booths, and good food, including a booth with fresh ceviche!
The ride had great support throughout. I had the misfortune of having 2 flats on course, the most I’ve had on a ride in years. Fortunately, the El Tour de Tucson Bike Patrol were ubiquitous, and I only had to wait a few minutes for help. I had a spare tube, pump, and patch kit, but they provided me with a second tube after the second flat and had a floor pump to make it easier to refill deflated tires. This helped us to finish just inside the cutoff time for finishing medals. The course was well marked, and cue cards and info was plentiful.
The ride also has a timed race element, with top cyclists competing for podium honors. My racing days are long past, so we just rode the event. The fastest riders finished the race in under 4 hours. Marlies Mejias Garcia won the women ‘s 102 miler in 3:59:22 and Jose Gerardo Ulloa Arevalo topped the men’s field in 3:57:44; both riders averaging over 25 mph over the ride. Full results are posted on eltourdetucson.org.
One of the feel-good stories of the event was 11 year old Ariana, the youngest cyclist to finish the 102 mile ride, which she completed with her father in 8:56. “My parents stood by me through my journey,” Ariana said on the El Tour de Tucson website. “They taught me to focus on the target. They said if I put my heart and mind to it, I could achieve my dreams. Thank you, El Tour de Tucson, for giving me the opportunity to achieve my dream. This is for every girl and every woman out there: ‘You Can Do It. Never Give Up.’”
The ride raises money for charity. Over the lifetime of the ride, the event has raised over $101 million for charities such as Banner Children’s Hospital, KXCL radio, Women Warriors, and a host more. At press time, totals for the 2021 ride were not yet available.
All in all, it was a great event, and one that should be on your to do list.
The 2022 ride will be held on November 19, 2022. Registration will open in the spring at eltourdetucson.org