Bike with the Best: El Tour de Tucson Draws Cycling Elite to Region

By Loni Nannini

As a race or a ride, Banner-University Medicine El Tour De Tucson is a competition with a growing international reputation for attracting top professional cyclists around the globe. 

“People can do El Tour as a race or a ride, but anytime you have high-level athletes and some of the best pros in the world being timed with numbers on their backs, it is a race. It is very prestigious and special to cross the finish line first,” said Rob Alvarez, 2017 winner of El Tour. Last year, Alvarez and Paul Thomas placed first in the tandem category and third overall. 

The accolades are significant to the Tucson native, who is founder and owner of Stone House Group, a real estate and property management company. Alvarez is title sponsor of Stone House Group Cycling Team alongside team manager Brian Forbes, as well as co-title sponsor of PNS Group out of Hermosillo, Mexico. The El Tour 2018 winner, David Solomon, has also been instrumental in leading the team to its success. 

Stone House Group was the winning team in El Tour for five consecutive years. Alvarez and his teammates typically ride in the competitive Platinum Division, which starts five minutes prior to the main group. 

Though El Tour is not an officially sanctioned U.S.A. Cycling race, the Platinum Division comprises cyclists ranked Category 1 or 2 by U.S.A. Cycling and those who have previously completed El Tour in less than five hours. 

For the last several years, the Platinum Division has welcomed acclaimed professionals such as Colby Simmons, the 2021 National Junior Road Race Champion and his brother, Quinn, champion of the 2018 National Junior Road Race and 2019 World Junior Road Race. Other participants have included Josh Rinderknecht, winner of the American Cycling Championship Criterium; former Grand Tour Champion Damiano Cunego; 2019 U.S. Criterium Champion Travis McCabe; Olympian Frankie Andreu; U.S. Road Race and Criterium Champ Eric Marcotte and many other top names.

“El Tour is an ‘A-List of Cyclists,’ with names like Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie and younger riders like Quinn Simmons. These are guys who have been, and are currently, the best in the world, so El Tour is a great show with a lot of great press. To have a good showing means everything to your team and to younger guys looking to continue their pro journeys or get professional contracts. It is important to be seen and to have a good performance,” said Alvarez.

The Platinum Division has elevated El Tour’s profile among the international community and broadened its appeal to Canadian and European champions, world-champion triathletes and top teams such as Jetset Racing, Bike House Dunedin, and Monster Media Racing.

“El Tour is clear in enunciating that this is not a bike race, but the Platinum Group are extremely competitive and are out there to win it. Most of the people behind that group are more into personal achievement. They realize they are not going to win but are there to give their personal best,” said Ralph Phillips, a 61-year cycling veteran who rode in the original El Tour. He is owner of Fair Wheel Bikes, Tucson’s oldest bike shop.

Fair Wheel Bikes caters to the increasingly competitive faction of resident and visiting cyclists with a weekly “Shoot Out” from the University of Arizona to Green Valley and back. The fast-paced ride boasts 100-plus elite-level cyclists every Saturday.  

The Holualoa Companies El Tour de Tucson Prologue Camp offers an another opportunity to ride alongside pros. Prior to El Tour, participants in the five-day camp can train with legends such as Hincapie, Bob Roll, Kristin Armstrong, Christian Vande Velde, Mari Holden, Rahsaan Bahati, Bobby Julich and Jens Voigt. 

“With El Tour and these other opportunities, you can be out there on a Saturday in Tucson riding with the best in the world. I couldn’t go play basketball with Michael Jordan or throw a football with Joe Namath, but I can ride with guys who have ridden the Tour de France. That is really cool,” said Alvarez.

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