The place to learn about triathlon.

Tucson: Winter Training Capital

By Tom Demerly.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training co-founder Debbie Claggett rubs noses with the friendly locals during a training ride out to Saguaro East, a must do destination for athletes and training camps.

 From The Mayor of Tucson, Mayor Bob Walkup to cyclists and triathletes around the world Tucson has officially become known as  the Winter Training Capital. It isn’t just the comfortable temperatures from October through April that bring athletes to Tucson. It is a special magic of the people and the area that combine to create a special energy to the high Sonoran Desert and the winter training Mecca.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
On Any Given Sunday: Freeman Road southbound toward Saguaro East. The undulating ribbon of black asphalt sits beneath a benevolent tailwind that topples off the shoulders of Mt. Lemmon.

Cycling and triathlon luminaries like Olympian Sheila Taormina, Peter Reid, Leanda Cave, Chuckie V., Jan Ulrich and Lance Armstrong, numerous cycling teams and clubs and multisport athletes from Europe, the United States and Australia flock to the Winter Training Capital like migratory geese because of roads like Freeman Road southbound toward Saguaro East National Park.

Because there are so many greats rides in the Tucson area, knowing where to ride is key to a great training experience in the Winter Training Capital. The Pima County Department of Transportation has prepared an excellent, updated on- line cycling route map for the Tucson Metro Area that is available here:

Additional resources for epic rides and beautiful roadways along with information about group rides and training camps is available from our Tucson Training Camp Coordinator, Gail who can be reached at:

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
Because the scenery is breathtaking in Saguaro East, you'll want to stop for a breather at the top of a long, gentle gradient on the backside of the loop.

Saguaro East is a destination ride for triathletes and cyclists around the world. The loop is so famous it is featured in a number of indoor trainer videos as an epic route.

The eight mile loop undulates like a desert snake basking in the sun. But like a desert snake, there can be a nasty bite a half mile into the loop where the route descends to a very sharp right hand turn. Desert local Craig Bellmann tells riders headed to Saguaro East to “Just slow down at that one turn”. Park Rangers also remind cyclists to be ready for the tricky turn just inside the park. Once past the kink in the rattler’s tail the road is amicable and lilting. A beautiful climb on the backside of Saguaro East is divided into two parts that is approximately .7 of a mile (one kilometer) with another kilometer of climbing after a brief leveling out. At the top of the climb near Javelina Rock scan the open desert for the odd bear-like pig, the javelina, that roams the Sonora Desert foraging for food and raising their wild piglets.

Athletic riders will complete the Saguaro East park loop in 20-25 minutes while casual cyclists will want to savor the scenery like a spicy Mexican delicacy for about an hour.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
Just north of the Winter Training Capital is Phoenix, the venue for the Ford Ironman Triathlon and a hotbed of multisport activity.

With a virtual year-round season for training and racing Arizona is host to many world and national caliber events including the El Tour de Tucson, The Ford Ironman Arizona and the Phoenix PF Chang’s Rock n’ Roll Marathon. 

In addition to the huge events that draw thousands of participants Tucson is host to small, grass roots events like the Pinal Air Park Triathlon which uses chip timing, aid stations and many big race amenities but has less than 50 participants- now…

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training's Athlete Liason and Training Concierge Gail Leveque (left) chats with co-founder Debbie Claggett at Le Buzz, the famous gathering place for the ascent of Mt. Lemmon.

Tucson supports athletes. With a vast network of athlete friendly hotels and too many great local restaurants to name the greater Tucson area is a perfect training destination in the off season. In the October 2009 edition of Triathlete magazine editors named Tucson, Arizona as #1 on the “Triathletes 20 Best Places to Live”. It’s no wonder. Tucson streets usually feature a dedicated bike lane lined with signs reminding drivers to Share the Road.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
At the southeastern corner of Davis-Monthan AFB is the headquarters of the 309th AMARG, the Aviation Maintenance and Regeneration Group popularly called "The Boneyard". A worldwide destination for history, technology and aviation buffs.

Among the many historic and natural attractions in Tucson is the Pima Air & Space Museum located at the south end of Davis-Monthan AFB and the famous 309th Aviation Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) known as “The Boneyard”. The dry desert climate and concrete-like terrain preserve many historic aircraft such as giant B-52’s and experimental YC-15 and YC-14s. The website for the museum features hours and tour information along with a list of exhibits here:

To the south of Tucson and the Saguaro East National Park lies the Colossal Cave Mountain Park, an area that served as a cave dwelling over a thousand years ago. Colossal Cave Park offers a unique, professionally guided “Wild Cave Tour” for intimate, adventurous groups of 4-7 people. During your cave exploration of “spelunking” expereince you will wear a headlight and be underground for up to two hours. Information for exploring Colossal Cave Mountain Park is available here:

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
Running along the Pima Air and Space Museum perimeter alongside decades of aviation history.

Distance runners from elite to entry level love the numerous running opportunities in Tucson. The unique topography and varied terrain provide flat running on hard packed surfaces or, for a more varied effort, numerous mountain running trails at every edge of town. Trail conditions are among the very best in the world, with groomed, maintained paths running along dry river beds and directly into Tucson. In addition to the great riding opportunities the running in Tucson is truly world class.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
Share the Road: It's a Tucson ethos. Cycling is a part of Tucson life. The mass transit system in Tucson promotes bicycle commuting. Even our buses have bicycle racks mounted on them. Bike lanes are marked off on most Tucson streets and nearly every corner has signs that remind drivers that cyclists belong on the road.

Bicycle commuting in Tucson is common with bike-friendly local roads and bridges and through-ways that are bicycle specific. Few communites have embraced cycling with the vigor and enthusiasm of Tucson. From an active local cycling and triathlon club scene that includes clubs like the famous Tucson Tri Girls and the Cactus Cycling Club along with our own TriSports Cycling Club there are plenty of networks to connect with.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
Cyclists ascend the back side of Saguaro East on their way to the beautiful summit near Javelina Rocks.

Because of the varied topography and terrain there are rides for all ability levels in and around Tucson. From one of the longest paved climbs in North America on the Catalina Highway over 23 miles to the summit of Mt. Lemmon at 9,157 feet to easy park loops and the animated, famous “Shoot Out” group ride on Saturday mornings there is something for everyone on two wheels here in Tucson.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
Trail running around Tucson is superb with challenging routes that include the famous "Phone Line" trail and Sabino Canyon.

In addition to the cycling and running resources in Tucson the trails offer exceptional off road running opportunities. some of the trails in Tucson are so famous shoe manufacturers have named shoe models after them such as the famous Sabino Canyon, also a shoe from trail running manufacturer Montrail. As with cycling routes, running trails in Tucson span the spectrum for easy to advanced including some trail runs that cross the highest points in the Rincon Mountains.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
For an active recovery day a hike in the desert mountains is a scenic training plan for active recovery.

When you need an active recovery day or if you crave adventure and exploration the hiking in Tucson is truly world class. Hiking trails criss cross the desert wilderness and span the highest summits. Day hikes and overnight trips are easy to plan with fair weather and excellent local resources for planning your outdoor adventure.

Famous hikes include Blackett’s Ridge, Ventana Canyon to Maiden Pools and the pleasant Green Mountain Trail. Numerous books and web resources are available to help plan your hike inluding this great link to the Sierra Club’s Tucson branch:

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
Packs of riders are a common sight on Tucson roads. Training camps and clubs are everywhere on the roads on weekend mornings.

Local cycling clubs and famous group rides form the backbone of what makes Tucson such a great place to train in the off season. If you visit Tucson in the off season you will be able to find great group rides with cyclists ready to show you new routes. That combined with the excellent weather create a setting ideal for cycling when the rest of the country is still buried in snow or languishing in freezing temperatures.

An athlete ascends Madera Canyon during the first training camp of the 2011 season.

In 2011 the training camp season started with a military service academy training camp that included athletes from each of the elite service academies such as The U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. These athletes trained for a week in the Tucson area using Davis-Monthan AFB as their home base during the training camp.

Part of the camp’s agenda included an ascent of the difficult Madera Canyon climb south of Tucson. provided support for the ride with their technical support vehicle, two drivers, a mechanic and a camera vehicle and photographer to cover the event for the athletes and this website. makes extensive resources available to training camps visiting Tucson. For information on training resources in the Tucson/Training Capital area contact our Training Camp Coordinator, Gail  at or by phoning at (520) 884-8743 at extension 13.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
South bound on Freeman Road on the way to Saguaro East.

Numerous books and guides detail the best routes to ride in and around Tucson. The titles include local and nationally renowned authors. A survey of these titles can help you plan your visit to Tucson and familiarize you with the wide variety of great rides in the region. Some our favorite titles to review before arriving include:

Desert Journeys: A Guide for the Tucson Road Cyclist. By Jerry Rosen. The quintessential directory of best bike rides in Tucson by an experienced Tucson cyclist. Features route descriptions, rating and maps along with altigraphs that show the profile of every ride.

Road Bike Rides: A Guide to the Best Rides in Tucson, Arizona. By Tyler Ford. A great resource that divides rides by Tucson area and features up to date specifics on where to find water, rest stops and with course profiles and detailed maps. The one page format is easy to reference and the book is small enough to actually take along on a ride.

Tucson Winter Triathlon Training
Magazines from all over the world rank Tucson sunsets as among the best on earth.

Ranked along with Singapore, Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro and The Maldives in the Pacific as one of the most beautiful sunset locations in the world, Tucson is as scenic as it is welcoming for athletes from all over the world. Like no other place in North America, or pehaps the western hemisphere, Tucson truly is the Winter Training Capital.