Well, another El Tour de Tucson is history, and 2011 went much better than 2010. Maybe because I rode the 42-mile event (which turned out to be 43.2 miles) as opposed to the 109-mile like last year. But mostly it was because I rode with BUCKY – my 8-year-old son who was introduced to the cycling world on Fat Cyclist’s blog this summer.
Prior to this weekend, my son’s longest ride was the Tour de Donut in July – where he rode 31 miles, consumed two Krispy Kreme donuts and had an awesome time. If you have 5 minutes to spare, here is a video of that event:
As morning broke on November 19th, I heard Bucky say (at least eight or nine times), “Dad, I’m really nervous” or “Dad, I’m scared.” The amazing thing about this boy is that unlike a lot of other kids his age, he does not run from fear. No matter how nervous or afraid he is of something he still pushes forward and does his best. Nothing makes a Pop prouder.
I kept telling him it was okay to be nervous. I reminded him that his hero or heroes Leo Messi says that he still gets nervous before each match. And then, the grand boys of Garmin-Cervelo once again showed their class and awesomeness.
When I showed him those messages he smiled and said, “Okay, now I’m ready.”
As in the Tour de Donut my son wanted to start at the very back of the pack, wanted to be the last rider crossing the start line. His bike is still a bit too big for him and so starting and stopping are his achilles heels right now. Plus, he likes to see how many riders he can pass. Competitive to the end.
There were just over 1200 riders for the 43-miler and the only folks starting behind us would be the Mavic Support vehicle.
His uncle – Hova – a professional cycling coach was going to ride with us and would meet us somewhere around the starting line. Once the race started it was thirteen minutes before we crossed the starting line. But Hova was there, along with the PT – Bucky’s aunt. The plan was we would all ride for him. We were his domestiques; we were Jens to his Andy; Hincapie to his Lance.
Bucky was feeling “nervous but okay” as we rolled under the Starting Line banner. We were trailing the entire field which was good because his biggest fear is riding in packs. He is not yet comfortable riding around a lot of other riders. So we rolled up the 1/4 mile straight start and then made the big left turn…
And encountered some of the 6000 other cyclists riding in the 111-mile, 85-mile and 60-mile events.
Even behind his sunglasses I saw my son’s eyes widen as we went from having no one around us to having – literally – hundreds of riders around us. I saw him take a deep breath. Once again he was going to conquer his fear or go out trying.
Hova was masterful as he led Bucky through the maze of riders. I was trailing, videoing it with my helmet-mounted Contour. And I must admit I was really nervous. I thought Hova was pushing Bucky beyond his abilities – not only having him weave in and out of riders, but riding at much too high a pace.
When Bucky and I did the Tour de Donut, his average speed on the flats was usually around 11 or 12mph. Hova was having him crank at around 15-16mph while going through dozens of riders!
I turned to the PT at one point and said, “He’s going to blow up. This pace is too high.”
Obviously I was projecting some of my own neurosis from last year’s El Tour. She assured me Hova knew what he was doing.
We pedaled our way through many, many riders of all shapes, sizes and ages. One particular rider Bucky was on the lookout for was a kid about two years older than him whom he saw at the starting line. The kid was on a slightly larger bike than Bucky’s and looked very intimidating except for the silly plastic propeller on the top of his cycling helmet.
My son is a kid and loves life, and loves fun kid stuff. But there are two things that are sacred – soccer and cycling. Just as one would never wear hiking boots onto a soccer pitch, one would never wear a propeller atop one’s cycling helmet.
Bucky took one look at that kid and said, “There is no way I am letting that guy beat me.”
So as we rode, I could see Bucky eyeing every younger rider we came upon, searching for his target. About six miles in we rolled up on “Propeller Boy” and as we passed I saw Bucky turn and give him a stare that was every bit as intense as Lance’s look to Jan Ulrich.
At our first aid station stop we drank and ate GU’s, and Bucky’s family showered him with praise and took numerous photos. He pulled me aside and said, “Dad, I really like doing all these cool things, but the part I hate about it is everybody always wants to take my picture.”
We pushed on, weaving our way through hundreds of riders. Bucky stayed right with his domestique, getting in some drafting at one point, and even going full aero on a long descent.
At mile 30 we hit Rattlesnake Pass. It’s considered the “climb” of the ride, and though it’s not much of a hill as far as gradient, it is over horrible chip seal roads and it hits you when you’re really starting to feel the ride. Especially if you’re 8.
Bucky was excited though because he likes to climb more than anything. He finally got a chance to get out of the saddle and attacked a climb with all his might. He passed adults walking their bikes and passed some riding their bikes. He crested the summit and was happy, but tired.
This was the first time we began to see a crack in Bucky’s armor. Mile after mile he started to get a little more quiet, a little more frowny. For the first time he asked, “How much farther?” But in all this suffering he never dropped his cadence, never slowed down.
At mile 36 we stopped to drink and eat. He did not look good. Was not happy. Not enjoying it anymore. But he did not want to stop. He turned down our offer to rest a while, downed a GU, nodded, and was ready to finish it out.
As rolled off for the last 9 miles I informed him that we had ridden 37+ miles in the same amount of time he rode the 31 miles of the Tour de Donut. That information coupled with the power of the GU – let me pause here to say that GU PRODUCTS ARE AMAZING – Bucky cranked that final 9 miles dead into the wind. As he’d done the entire ride, he rarely drafted on Hova, choosing instead to ride it “himself.”
We made the last turn and headed for the Finish Line. Hova told Bucky to get on his wheel and I witnessed what it must be like to be riding in the peloton when Dean leads out Farrar, or dare I say… no, I can’t… but yes, I will…
Renshaw leading out Cavendish.
As the speed increased… 16mph… 18mph… 20mph… Bucky continued to crank.
42.5 miles into the ride, the last 10 dead into a headwind, this little boy was in his biggest gear cranking with everything he had, staying within 6 inches of the back wheel of a professional cycling coach. Not only did the crowd start going crazy for him, but the riders he was passing all began cheering.
Just before the Finish Line, Hova launched him. “GO JACK GO!” he yelled, and he went.
I will let you all witness the spectacle for yourself (forgive the screaming father riding behind him:
I’m not sure if Bucky was anywhere near as proud of his accomplishment as I was. Not just for finishing, but doing it the way he did. Digging so deep at the end. Suffering on the bike and pushing through it.
1,278 riders started the 43-mile ride. Bucky started at the very back of those 1278 riders. When he and his timing chip crossed the starting line, it was nearly 13 minutes after his timing chip had been activated.
Bucky finished 620th overall. The Junior Division was 12-years-old and under. There were 53 junior riders (NOTE: I am not counting tandems in all this).
All but one of the top 9 finishing juniors were either 11 or 12 years old.
Eight-year-old Bucky finished 10th.
And 5 of the 9 juniors finishing before him were less than 13 minutes ahead of him.
Propeller boy finished 17 minutes behind Bucky.
Congrats to Bucky, and special thanks to Hova and the PT for being the best domestiques any rider could have. Bucky sends a special thank you out to the boys of GARMIN-CERVELO and JV for inspiration.
What does it feel like to dig deep and do more than you think you can? It feels like this:
Ride your bike.
Dig deep and find glory through suffering.
You’re very good, you are you are