Can GCN make it through the hardest group ride in America?

The Shootout in Arizona is regarded by many as the toughest group ride in the US, so naturally we had to find out just how hard it is

Clock10:04, Sunday 11th February 2024

On a recent trip to Arizona, both Ollie Bridgewood and James (Hank) Lowsley-Williams decided to take on a group ride known as the ‘Shootout’. Except this isn’t any old group ride, but one of the hardest in the world which sees former and current pros turn up with the pace hotter than the desert landscape it navigates through.

The ride itself is not to be sniffed at, coming in at 140km starting and finishing in Tucson. Although not the hilliest of routes, there are still nearly 1,000 metres of climbing from start to finish, with the main chuck of this being dished out on two climbs around mid-distance.

Well, this was the plan anyway. As things transpired, Ollie and Hank were both ready and raring to go for the ride but their bikes remained firmly on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in London. This meant that, by the time their bikes had caught up with them, the ‘Shootout’ had been and gone for another week.

Fortunately for us and quite possibly for them, the Shootout isn’t the only fast-paced group ride to take place in Tucson, Arizona. With riders and bikes reunited, they decided to take on the shorter but by no means less spicy Tuesday morning ride. Shorter in length at just 67km but still with over 500 metres of climbing, the pace was going to be relentless from start to finish.

With the ride starting at 7am and venturing out into the desert, finding a clothing solution was hot on Hank's mind. In the mornings before the sun has had a chance to get a grip and heat things to a sweltering temperature, the desert is a very cold place to be, with nothing present to retain any heat overnight. This means that the conditions the ride starts in will be very different to the ones it concludes in.

The ride starts fairly sedately with plenty of traffic lights to navigate on the way out of town, making the first eight kilometres of the ride a perfect warm-up for what is to come. Once the riders are out of town and past the last stop sign, the ride is on and from that point, there is no mercy. If you aren’t prepared for what is to come, it is all too easy to find yourself disappearing out the back of the group in the first 20 seconds of the ride as all riders take off full gas.

Although this might be a ‘group ride’, it is apparent almost immediately that it is more like an unofficial race with riders attacking and small breakaways and chase groups forming all over the place. With over half the distance complete but only 100 metres of climbing in the bag, the second half of the ride could only mean one thing: plenty of punchy climbs.

Through the flatter sections of the ride the pace was extremely tough, hovering around 60km/h. This meant that whenever the road pitched upwards, riders were immediately put on their limits, spreading the group out and causing damage with riders disappearing out the back. Those left behind were forced to complete the ride on their own.

As the punchy climbs kept on coming, Hank made one last-ditch effort to keep Ollie up with the front group of riders before pulling the eject button and rolling to the regrouping point at his own pace.

Heading into the final few kilometres of the ride, Ollie found himself distanced by a leading group of three riders but still in the chasing bunch behind. On the final climb, he emptied the tank going solo between the leaders and the chasers riding on his limit to finish on top of the climb. From this point, the ride waits for everyone to regroup before taking a leisurely roll back into Tucson back to where the ride started from.

Ollie quickly points out that a large part of his success in the bunch ride was down to the initial work laid down by Hank keeping him in the bunch by any means necessary.

Have you ever taken part in a group ride like this? Let us know in the comments section.

For more challenges from the GCN team, head over to the dedicated challenges section of the GCN website, linked here.

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