Sure, it may be a couple of weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Major League Baseball spring training facilities across the Valley, but serious training for cyclists has been under way for over a month now. Just look at the recent training camp that Lance Armstrong and his Team RadioShack mates held in Scottsdale in early December.
As with the pro cycling calendar, Arizona's race season is getting started, so many road and mountain riders have been putting in long hours in the saddle to get the conditioning back to a prime spot in hopes of raising their arms in a victory salute or simply accumulate points to move up in their race category.
For most of us though, this is the time to set goals and target a race or three at which we aim to set new personal records. Events such as el Tour de Mesa (formerly the Tour de Phoenix) or the Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott allow riders to experience a race-like environment and push their physical abilities. But more than anything, competing in events like these is flat out fun.
Riders cannot simply get on their bike the morning of a race and expect to do OK. Quality results require quality training time. Any coach or trainer will tell their athletes that every minute counts towards training, and even short sessions help. But each week should be anchored by a long training ride that gets the legs used to high miles and varied terrain.
The Valley is a perfect location for quality training. That's why pros like Armstrong, the United Healthcare pro team, and pro mountain biker Emily Batty come here for winter training. But cyclists need to be smart about where they ride the long rides.
REAL DEAL BIKE TIP #9: Fuel up. Many perceive spring training as a time to shed weight and will not bring food for the ride. DO NOT DO THIS. Keeping properly fueled is a necessity for riding. As rides head to less populated areas, convenience stores may not be so...convenient. Riders should be able to burn upwards of 2500 calories over the course of a four hour training ride. For pure survival, start consuming good carbs and fluids as much as three or four hours before hitting the road and continue eating and drinking throughout the ride. There is nothing worse than a mid-ride bonk.
Keys to spring training, aside from lots of miles, are finding routes that challenge but are not epic, offer good riding surfaces so riders can focus on condition and endurance, and take riders away from heavy traffic. The roads of north Phoenix and north Scottsdale fit this bill to perfection.
Simply heading to the north end of the Valley requires some sustained, uphill effort, but it is never a leg-sapping grade that shocks the legs and lungs. Many of the side roads can meander through the desert for miles with minimal traffic, and typically they are newer lanes of tarmac thanks to the housing sprawl over the last eight years.
REAL DEAL BIKE TIP #10: Tell them where you're headed. Always let someone know what part of town you are heading to, especially if you are riding solo. It gives spouses, friends, parents, or whatever an idea of how long the ride will last and where they might need to go should you need that emergency pick up.
Some of the great roads to hit in the North Scottsdale area include Thompson Peak Parkway from Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard to Pima Road through DC Ranch, Happy Valley Road east from Pima around to 118th Street, Dynamite Boulevard over Reata Pass and down (or up) Rio Verde Drive along what is referred to as 9-mile Hill, and Legend Trail Parkway north to Stagecoach Pass Road over to Lone Mountain Parkway which heads up to Cave Creek Road.
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If your route starts from North Phoenix, Cave Creek Road is the primary passage north where you can circle around Black Summit Mountain and head up to "The Towers" and the turnoff to Bartlett Lake. Bartlett Dam Road is a fantastic ride onto itself, but beware - this road becomes very steep and challenging at its base 13 miles in.
Lastly, ride at a consistent tempo that provides a challenge but does not push your heart rate into the red zone. Remember, the point is to build condition, not shock it into your body. As a point of reference, my most recent long training ride was a 78 mile jaunt into North Scottsdale that went up Happy Valley Road.
Your bike is calling. It's time to report.