Duke City welcomes Masters cycling competitors this week

Las Cruces’ Tammy Risner, 47, left, and Albuquerque’s Mindy Caruso, 49, met at a race six years ago and remain friends. (Courtesy of Tammy Risner)

Tammy Risner of Las Cruces was unsettled about entering this week’s USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships in Albuquerque.

Risner, 47, a teacher at Arrowhead Park Early College High School, last competed in the Bike the Bluff race in Show Low, Arizona on June 19, when several bicyclists were injured after a man drove through a crowd. One bicyclist has since died.

Risner said she saw the aftermath, bodies laid on the ground, facial expressions of fear and sadness just before emergency personnel came on the scene.

As the upcoming Masters event (Thursday through Sunday) in Albuquerque approached, many in the cycling community reached out to her, including Albuquerque’s Mindy Caruso, to encourage her to race.

Caruso, 49, is Risner’s competition, but since they met six years ago at a race they have been friends. Caruso has checked in with her friend to provide support in the weeks leading up to the Masters races. They ask each other about their training and motivate each other.

“I was kind of on the fence, but with people like Mindy supporting me and always cheering me on and rooting me on amongst others, I thought we can’t let the senseless act of someone control us,” Risner said. “I have so many different emotions. I’m excited, especially because I get to see people like Mindy and people that haven’t raced in a while in lieu of COVID. But at the same time in lieu of recent events with Show Low, I’m really nervous about it. Really nervous about it.”

Caruso, a five-time Masters national champion who is a nurse, has been doing her best to remind her friend to have fun. Yes, they’ll be competing against each other in the time trial and road races, but they are also friends.

“Tammy has been one of my biggest motivators,” Caruso said. “She works so hard. We need ambassadors like her in the sport.”

The four-day Masters Road National Championships begin with the time trial, also known as the Race of Truth among bicyclists because it is a race against the clock, an individual competition.

Risner and Caruso, in the 45-49 age division, are also competing in the road race, which features Highway 14 in the East Mountains, on Friday and Saturday.

Spectators are welcome for Sunday’s criterium, a race around a track, at Balloon Fiesta Park. Racing starts at 7 a.m., and the day also includes a bike expo, beer garden and food trucks. Those who are fully vaccinated are not required to wear masks, according to USA Cycling.

“You can’t let one person win,” said Susan Rice, the facility and program operations manager for the city’s parks and recreation department. “You can’t let one person dominate it. It’s like a terrorist. If they put everybody in fear and have them stop cycling or sit in their homes, then they won. I don’t belittle anyone for staying at home and I don’t over-applaud anyone for coming out. We just have to move on with life. We can’t change our whole lives because someone is an idiot.”

Rice, who is competing in each race, said the city of Albuquerque, in collaboration with Bernalillo County and Visit Albuquerque, was mindful of the tragedy in Show Low when preparing for the Masters races.

Highway 14 won’t be closed for the road race, but traffic will be delayed. There will be police escorts around the course, in addition to police patrolling the course.

As of Tuesday, there are 500 registrants, some who will be competing in more than one race. Races include men and women in age groups of every five years, beginning with 35-39 and ending with 85-over. They are not required to be vaccinated and there won’t be any virus testing. Mask wearing is required while in large groups such as the awards ceremonies and packet pick-up.

The events need volunteers. Those interested can sign up at www.oneabqvolunteers.com

Albuquerque also will host the USA Cycling Masters Road National Championships in 2022.

An estimate of just over $1.2 million in direct visitor spending is projected for this year’s event, said Tania Armenta, president and CEO of Visit Albuquerque.

“It’s a great thing for Albuquerque,” Rice said. “It showcases Albuquerque as a sports mecca, a sports destination for people. … It’s going to be a really good economic boom to our city, which is probably what we need after a year and a half of Covid.”

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