The CSU Cycling team spent a big chunk of their winter break riding in Tucson, AZ, this past January. Twenty members of the team made the trek to the Sonoran desert for some sunkissed road and mtb riding. Check out Jilian Kukez’s recap of the week below.

CSU Rams Cycling Team Camp 2023
Article- by Jillian Lukez

To cap off winter break, our team spent a week riding bikes in Tucson, Arizona. This is a continuation of a multi-year tradition, meant to build a strong base for the upcoming road race season with high-mileage rides. The warm weather, plentiful sunshine, and hundreds of miles of roads, bike paths, and trails make Tucson a great place to ride. Besides one interruption from the pandemic, this is the team’s third consecutive year hosting camp in Arizona. Based on the diversity of ride options for every skill level, it is likely we will keep coming back.

This year’s group of cyclists was notable in multiple ways. For one, the team has grown tremendously the past few years. 20 participants from first years to grad students made the trip to Tucson, either by plane or in vans traveling from Fort Collins. Half of those were women, breaking barriers in a traditionally male-dominated sport. Additionally, eight people explored the desert by mountain bike, getting to experience trails that are very different from what we are used to in Colorado, with the added danger of cacti on the side of the trail. 

Mornings started with breakfast and coffee; to make use of daylight all group rides started soon after. This often took some coordination. While road rides left from the house, mountain bikers had to drive to the trailheads. The first day, most of the group stuck together on a ride through Gates Pass in Saguaro National Park. Featuring a little bit of everything, the route crosses town, climbs up the pass, winds through rolling hills, and ends on Tucson’s infamous 130-mile bike path network known as “The Loop”. Andreas Broxson, a sophomore, said this was his favorite ride because “we got to see everyone kitted up and rode through some cool areas”. The new DNA Cycling kit was a highlight, designed by Ethan Hobbs and other team members. Back at the house, there was plenty of time to stretch, eat lots of food, and play Mario Kart to prepare for the next day of riding. 

Most days progressed similarly, some with more excitement than others. Many people were looking forward to climbing the road up Mt. Lemmon, which features a 25-mile ascent and almost 7,000 feet of vertical gain. The mountain is one of Arizona’s sky islands, crossing six vegetation zones from desert to ski area. Almost everyone made it to the top, luckily with cookies and pizza as a reward at the Mt. Lemmon Cookie Cabin. Another highlight of the week was the team ride to the Mercado San Agustin in downtown Tucson. Recovery rides are important not only for a break from intensity but are essential for team building since they are social and inclusive. 

Ramping up in the last few days, several riders completed three 100+ mile rides in a row. The four who rode around Mt. Lemmon successfully had no flat tires despite traversing a long, difficult section of gravel road called Redington Pass. Others continued to explore the mountain bike trails in Tucson Mountain Park, practicing some technical riding and enjoying the flowy terrain. Since there were multiple riding groups on most days, many people had the opportunity to practice leadership and navigation skills by leading rides, making routes, and helping others fix bikes. 

The final day, everyone had the chance to complete a century on a route south of town with a climb up Madera Canyon in the middle. This was a big deal for three riders who have never ridden 100 miles before, or in this case even further. Another group went the extra few miles to reach 200 km, or 125 miles. Everyone on this ride had plenty of time to practice riding in a group at speed which is an essential skill in road racing. The route itself is scenic and remote; at some point we all experienced how the desert is both beautiful and unforgiving.

Overall, this year’s team camp was a success. Kajsa Holland-Goon, a junior, said she was anxious going into camp since she didn’t know everyone. At the end of the week, she felt like she got to know everyone better, even people she was already friends with. In her words, “I left much more confident in my abilities and super happy with all the rides that I did”. Our team is ready and excited to tackle this year’s road season, which starts in March. Everyone challenged themselves and found their limits while having a lot of fun, and we all know each other a little better. 

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