Shootout 101

The weekly Saturday ride out of the University area has been going on for over 25 years. Someone long ago nick named it the "Shootout." Its actually just one of the morning rides put on by Fair Wheel Bikes. The Saturday ride typically gets the biggest turnout of the week. The shootout is many things to many people. It can be a great measuring stick for those working towards various fitness goals. It can also simply be social where you spend time catching up with friends/teammates before the intensity begins. If this sounds interesting to you, please read on as the ride is described in detail.

The ride starts at 6am most of the late spring, summer and early fall. Ralph of Fair Wheel bikes is the Ride Boss. He typically will announce a time change based on when the sun comes up. In the dead of winter the latest the shootout starts is at 7:30am. Plan on being at the University and Park/Euclid area 10 minutes early or so. The parking is free on the weekends so don't put money in the meter. Get there with time enough to get your bike out of the car; pump the tires; get your gear on and be ready to roll. If you are late, don't panic the ride starts very slowly and you can usually catch the pack somewhere along Mission if you can leave within 10 minutes or so of the start time.

As you roll away with the pack, don't forget to stay away from the Trolley tracks that run down the middle of University Ave. Every once in a while someone forgets about the tracks, rides parallel to them and their tire(s) drop into slot and they go over, crashing in front of everyone for all to see and hear.

The ride proceeds West on University to Main, south to St.Mary's, West to Grande and south on Grande which becomes Mission. The bulk of the ride is south on Mission and returns to town on Nogales Highway.

Again, the ride starts out very slowly; all social for the first 30-40 minutes as you soft-pedal south on Mission warming up. Riders join in all along the way. Once the peleton crosses Valencia (the final stop light) they step on the gas. Game On. Sometimes they ramp up slowly, sometimes there is an attack right off the bat. A lot of people use the Drexel cross street as the mark to "get ready." Most of the social conversation stops and people check their position in the pack and put themselves where they want to be.

At this point you should probably have some initial goals and sub-goals. If its your first time on the shootout you probably want to simply try and make it to the bridge with the lead pack. If not the lead pack then the 2nd pack back. If not the 2nd pack then the third, etc...The "bridge" is a major marker. From Valencia south on Mission to the Bridge is about 6 to 7 miles. There are mile post markers on the road. The first one is MP20; count down to the bridge which is near MP 13. Most of Mission Blvd is on the Indian reservation. Some of the road has not been well cared for. Try to stay out of the middle of the lane when in the pack as portions of the road have "patched pot holes" and the patch job is not very smooth. Try and stay in the vehicle tire ruts. A lot of people slow up and turn around at the bridge. If you are not planning on turning back at the bridge try not to get caught behind these people as they will cause a gap in the pack and you could lose the draft when you least want to. Even if you get dropped by the lead pack at or before the bridge you can choose to keep riding and possibly catch the lead pack later. Getting to the bridge with the lead pack is about 20 minutes of intensity. In terms of the Intense part of the shootout this is kind of the half way point. The lead pack will typically accelerate over the bridge. If you can hang on there will be an slight easing of the pace while people gather themselves for the next push. This push will last until a marker people call the "mailboxes", typically around MP 9. If you can make it to the mailboxes with the lead pack you can make it all the way around on the shootout. After the mailboxes its mostly downhill rollers until the final intensity - the sprint hill, just after MP 5. The weekly "winner" of the Shootout is the rider who makes it to the top of the Sprint hill first. This sprint completely fractures the group. After the sprint hill the pack rides at recovery pace recollecting itself for the next 3-4 miles. Eat, drink, and chat again. The total intensity lasts about 45 minutes (Valencia to the Sprint Hill on Mission). After the 4 mile recovery Mission Blvd deadends into Duval Mine road. Duval is a long downhill that ultimately turns into Nogales Highway and heads back into town. Sometimes the downhill on Duval can get to rocking (tandems are known to take it out on the pack here due to the fact that they were pounded on the outbound false flat through the sprint hill). Its not uncommon to see high thirties to mid forties in terms of MPH. You can usually hold on to the draft and relax. Once the group is on Nogales Hwy it tempos back into town 2x2. If you want to ride up front and help with the rotation you can or you can simply "sit in" back in the draft and talk with your buddies. If you do choose to participate in the rotation make sure you pull through smoothly. Don't gap the guy behind you. Take your pull (typically very short), move over, and then ease back on the throttle while the next guy pulls through. Riders that have been doing the shootout for a long time hate it when someone creates a gap in the rotation (usually by pulling through too hard). And once you are in the rotation you dont have to stay there. Its OK to drop out after a pull or two. The goal is to keep a smooth tempo and rotation steady all the way back into town.

As the group gets near town there is a last final effort but only for those wanting to test their sprinting abilities. A little over 1000 meters after passing "Hughes Access Road" heading north on Nogales Hwy there is a 45 mph speed limit sign. Hughes Access Rd. is the cross street that kind of marks the point where the highway widens into 5 lanes (unfortunately, a stop light was erected there in 2007). Anyone wanting to test their sprinting skills with some of the strongest racers in town can go for the sprint. The pace will pickup significantly in those 1000 meters and when there is less than 200 meters to the sign the sprinters typically launch. The rest of the pack just finds a good seat to take in the action. After chaos of the sprint is over the pack gets back to leisurely warmdown pace as they turn right on Valencia then make a left on Park and head north to University. If you go all the way around the distance is about 60 miles.

There are a lot of different skill levels on the shootout. From local and visiting pros wanting a workout, to local racers (Cat 1 to Cat 5), to those wanting to better understand pack riding, to those who just want to socialize. Gender does not matter. The pack can splinter into many groups as the pace ramps up after Valencia. The people that drop off the pace will typically gather themselves up after the bridge and restart a pack. They spin in a low gear for a couple of miles and start picking up people. The next goal would be to get to Helmet Peak (HP) road. HP road is around MP 8, still going generally uphill on Mission from the bridge. People only a couple of packs back of the lead pack will generally turn down (East) Helmet Peak and take it to Nogales Hwy in an effort to catch the lead pack coming around the longer route. Its a long 4-5 mile downhill. As stated earlier the lead pack comes back into town via Nogales Hwy. If you get down HP in a timely fashion you can catch the lead pack coming in on Nogi. Depending on who is driving the pace and wind conditions they come back in between 25-32mph. Again, after the final sprint its leisurely chat pace up Park Ave and back to the U of A. If you cut down Helmet Peak and come back in Nogi the distance is about 52 miles. If you decide to turn around at the bridge and go back the way you have just come (on Mission) the distance is about 33 miles.

The lead pack arrives back at University Ave area between 8:30-45am (when starting at 6am). Some people head home, others hang out at the local cafes for coffee, crumpets, and major fish stories on how the ride went.

There is also another shootout - the Senior shootout - started a couple of years ago. This group is typically made up of people 60 years and older. They leave about 10 minutes earlier then the normal shootout. They travel the same route. The Seniors welcome younger people to join them - just don't drive the pace so high that you splinter their group. That's not their intention. You can get dropped on the regular shootout. But don't under estimate these guys. They are still fast. You can get dropped from their group too. And rumor has it their warm-up pace is much faster then the regular shootout. The faster Seniors like to attempt to stay ahead of the regular shootout. They are very often successful.

In the winter you will see the shootout have an international flavor. A lot of pro teams come to Tucson to train in the Dec-Feb time frame. In 2004 & 2005 a few of the T-Mobile guys were in Tucson for a couple of weeks. Lots of national pros will drop in for a week or two during the winter as well. During the weeks leading up to El Tour (Oct-Nov) the shootout will swell to big numbers. Be especially aware in the pack during this time of year. There are a lot people riding in the pack without much experience.

Enjoy yourselves. Ride within yourself. Be safe.