Monday, May 24, 2010

Rapha Gentleman's Race v2.0

Hup was invited for the second coming of the east coast Rapha gentleman's race. The first iteration was a challenging bonding experience in New Paltz, NY. This one was an even more challenging route starting and ending at Mohawk "Mtn" just outside Litchfield, Connecticut. A similar version of the route was ridden by the Rapha crew a few years ago. Rumor is that some of them couldn't even finish it. For some unknown reason, PVB decided to up the ante for the Gentleman's Race. The route was increased to 116 miles and it included close to 40% dirt and gravel roads including three Zoncolan-esque climbs that had to submitted in the saddle to avoid spinning out in the dirt.

The crew below lined up along with 15 other teams to tackle the monster. We started at 9:45, 15 minutes behind the first wave and 45 minutes ahead of the last wave.

The other team that started with us was the Eastmans. Honestly, they were a very unintimidating looking bunch of 40-50+ year old guys that appeared to be ill equipped for the gravel that we were promised. We rolled together for the first 5 miles or so and then they slowly rolled away. Mur was pretty sure we'd see them by mile 80 totally cooked.

Shortly after the Eastmans rolled away, we started catching some of the squads that started ahead of us. We saw the IF crew, the Seven crew, the Bilenky crew on their tandems, and the Geekhouse guys (in skinsuits!). The terrain was mostly rolling western Connecticut hills. The course was well marked and it quickly became clear that we could expect to always turn onto or follow the dirt roads we saw. The miles ticked away, Mur made sure we ate and then it happened. Our first flat tire. Mike B had a slow leak up front after a gravel road. Too many cooks in the kitchen led to a 7 minute tube change and all the teams we'd passed rolled past.

We got going again and picked up a few of the squads as we started to hit the real hills. Our spirits were high and we ticking away the miles again, even pace lining when the terrain allowed for it. We screamed into the first rest stop at mile 30 still comfortable in second place. We made it a quick stop, topped off water, signed in, and jetted off just in time to see the "Pedro's" team accompanied by an unidentifiable squad pulling into the same stop. They'd started about 15 minutes behind us and loaded with some extremely strong last minute additions, we were fully expecting them to overtake us.

Impressively, we held them off for another 10 or so miles until we once again hit some hills. We rolled together into the first really steep gravel road climb where they pulled away, not to be seen again.
After Pedro's powered through, we didn't see another team for 30 or more miles. We settled into our own groove, ate more clif bars, swallowed more magic endurolyte pills, and joked away the miles.
Then we hit THE climb. I don't even know if the road has a name but it certainly had an attitude. It was one car wide and was more like a forest service road than an actual route. The dirt road started pitching up around mile 60. We had varying climbing abilities in the crew so everyone just sought their happy pace and chipped away one pedal stroke at a time. As we continued up, the dirt turned to gravel and at points, it even turned to rocks. It was nearly impossible to stand as the pitch ranged from 10-20% over what seemed like 10 miles (though it was probably only 3 or 4). We started to descend as a group and were passed by two more teams but both of them were missing members so they were technically dsq. As an aside, who sets out for a team race and leaves their teammate behind (alone) at mile 65 of 116? That's not very "teamly" if you ask me.

The descent was fun. It was mostly smooth dirt and then turned to paved road. We had a warning on the cue sheet that there were some tight switchback turns along the route but it wasn't until I was nailing the brakes, extending the leg moto style and praying not to hit the camera man in the apex of the first turn that I remembered about these. That was a close call. I definitely thought I was going to nail the Honda Pilot parked in the corner (hopefully there is some video of my horrendous descending skills).
The next rest stop was advertised around mile 65 (or so I thought). I really should have paid more attention at the captain's meeting. We were still descending in the woods at mile 65 and most of us were out of water, thinking we were close. We found an angel on the route at mile 68. A bewildered woman out gardening agreed to serve us ice cold water from her garden hose. It was the most delicious water I've had in a long time.

We came up on the actual rest stop at mile 71. We topped off with water, signed in, and exited ahead of the three teams that had passed us since our last ascent. The checkpoint folks promised only a small climb still ahead but our cue sheet seemed to imply otherwise. I wasn't in a mood to challenge them so we rolled off expecting that the worst was behind us. We rolled for about 3 miles on a gentle uphill as the faster teams once again passed us.
There was definitely more than just a little climb left. Holy crap! We took the right turn onto the dirt road and started the climb. I could see an endless uphill slope that eventually turned to the left. Expecting that the climb was .5-1 mile long, I settled into a reasonable pace with my head down. The dirt was reasonably hard so occasional standing efforts were ok. I just tried to forget about the never ending hill and focus one pedal stroke at a time. As I turned left, I could see the hill continue back to the right, then again to the left. I started catching some of the Embro guys as everyone just tried to settle into their own rhythm to get over the hill. The switchbacks got steeper and looser until finally the tree cover started to open up and I had a confident sense that I was near the top. One final crest to the exposed summit looking over a swap and some far off mountains.

At the top we regrouped again. I had time to look at the profile in more detail and it was clear that the worst of the climbing was behind us but despite a lot of descending to come in the next 30+ miles, we definitely still had a few short steep efforts before the finish.

With all six teammates in tow, we set off down a gravely descent that was not nearly as steep as the ascent had been. We got the paceline going and ticked away the next 20+ miles with relative ease, even catching some teams while they addressed mechanical issues.

Then, flat #2 hit us. Chip was off the bike, changing his front flat in no time. Letting him work on it himself, he was back up and running in less than 2 minutes. PRO. On we went until around mile 95 we spotted a random bate and tackle shop with sodas and water for sale. We refueled, unloaded our bladders, and got back to the task at hand.

Before the finishing hills, we were routed onto a dirt road along the Housatonic River. There were a lot of people fishing and a lot of railroad crossings but very few cars. We took up the whole road, just trying to keep the pace above 16 mph and get to the finish line. Despite the shattered feeling in my arms and neck, that stretch was among my favorite parts. I felt like I could ride for hours as my Zank just floated over the rough surface. Truly magical, in the zone type of moment.

When we got back on paved roads we were around mile 105 I think. That's when we hit the appropriately named Everest Hill. Thanks PVB. What we really wanted after 8 hours and 9000 ft of climbing was another .5 miles and 400 ft. At least it was paved though.

After we climbed Everest, the rest was easy cruising. We saw Mohawk Mtn about 1.5 miles before the turn back to the finish but that 1.5 miles didn't matter. We survived. We finished in good spirits, with only 2 flat tires, and no in-fighting.

We were recorded as the 7th team back but 3 of those teams - Pedros, Adler, and BH/Louis Garneau had dropped riders along the way so they were dsq. Officially 4th place. Not bad for a bunch of riders focused on the feel good side of bicycle racing. Hats off to the Eastmans for never being caught and taking the victory. I hope I still have that kind of stamina in 15 more years. Well ridden!

The post ride bbq was a perfect end to the day. Hot dogs, salty chips, and beer. And of course, time to retell the stories with others and watch as the salt-crusted teams continued to trickle in.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Next up on the schedule:

Planning on 115 miles of suffering with 5 of my closest teammates. We'll be starting in the middle of the pack with 4 teams ahead of us and 5 or six really fast ones behind us. We're just gonna hold on and have fun with the suffering that Rapha has in store for us.

There won't be quite as much dirt as the Rhonde but still enough to keep things interesting. Tires will be a little bigger volume than usual and cassettes will be larger than usual. No need for cx equipment though.

I should have some good pictures and stories to share next week.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Don't hate the player, hate the game

I went out to Sterling for the road race on Saturday with no real ambitions. I race one or two road events each year to keep myself honest. I mostly avoid road racing because the Cat 4 field is sketchy, too serious (we're amateurs guys, lighten up) and I just don't get enough of a thrill out of it to do it every weekend.

I heard good things about the Sterling course and I realized riding back home from the race would make for a pretty good day in the saddle. I lined up a ride out to the start with recently minted Cat 3, Greg Whitney (who finished 9th in his first ever Cat 3 race!). Friend, and fellow long ride enthusiast Murat Tasan agreed to meet me in Sterling and ride back. The table was set for a good day. Then I woke up and saw the Doppler. Oh well.

The Cat 4 race lived up to my expectations. One guy rode off the front, the rest of the group was practicing their sprinting and random brake checking, and in general, no one seemed interested in organizing to catch the lone leader. After learning the course on the first lap, I moved towards the front for the second lap. I think I remember the race winner taking off as we rolled up the rain soaked Rt 12 on lap 2 but I'm not entirely sure. On lap 3 I tried to bridge forward in the same spot because I thought I could see him up the road and because the rest of the field was doing a whole lot of nothing. I wasted myself for half a mile, had a 15 or 20 second gap but was not making progress, nor could I see anyone that looked like the leader. Maybe it was a mirage or a 35+ straggler. I sat up and came back to the field figuring we had 2 more to go. On the back stretch of the 4th lap, I decided to mount another effort, hoping to get people motivated in riding hard along with me. Just as I led the way off the front with 7 others, the 45+ pace car was trying to neutralize us so the 45+ field could come through. I was already hammering out of the saddle and the pace car made no clear indication of what it wanted other than stopping in front of our field. No hand gestures, no yelling, no horns. So I kept riding, waiting for someone to tell me not to. So did the other 7 people that came with me.

Oops, we're either DSQ or 2-9. We all agreed we might as well ride until we're told otherwise so we kept moving at a decent pace. On Rt 12, the pace car came back to us. We asked continually if we needed to stop, if we would be DSQ, or what. The race referee couldn't seem to tell us what to do so we kept riding.

Yada yada, we got short changed a lap, were told we were finishing one lap early about 300 meters out, sprinted into the back of the 45+ field, and listened to a bunch of people complain about shoulda coulda woulda.

After the racing I met up with Mur for the ride back into Boston. Both of us were thoroughly soaked by the hail storm that had rolled through. For me it was on lap 2 of the race. For Mur, I believe it was somewhere beyond Concord. We left Sterling about 1:15 and set our sites on Boston. We picked up the Climb to the Clouds route and were making good time.

We found Bob from Cohasett in Berlin. He decided to ride the Climb to the Clouds route, starting in Concord with a friend, two CO2 cartridges and at least 3 tubes. He was sitting on the side of the road with a rear flat and no more CO2 left. We did our mitzvah and invited him to ride back into Concord with us. Bob is a 55+ year old triathlete who's done at least a few ironman events. He hung with us and then flatted again about 15 miles later. I guess he never got the piece of glass out of his Michelin Pro Race3 tire because it was another slow leak.

All total, we spent probably 45 minutes helping Bob with his flat tires. We rolled with him to Concord before parting ways under dark skies but on dry roads. Mur and I stopped to grab a quick snack and walked out of the convenience store to the beginnings of a rain shower. We eyed the commuter rail and while we tucked under the overhang, finishing snacks, we watched the rain shower turn into another deluge.

Our options were to get soaked again for the last 20 miles or wait 1.5 hours for the next train. When the rain let up enough for us to see (but still get soaked) we chose option 1. As we rolled up Comm Ave, the blue sky peaked out and the busy, noisy streets of Boston welcomed us home.

Mur got 105 for the day and I ended up with 95. Soaking wet, covered in road debris, but satisfied. Here are some things I realized along the way.

1. It often sucks to race/ride with 90 strangers in the pouring rain on unfamiliar roads.

2. If you don't want to get neutralized, ride faster. Seriously, this was the second cat 4 race in a row that I've been a part of that has been totally disrupted by the neutralizing of our field. It worked out in my benefit this time but it is still lame to have that impact the results (it's also demoralizing to get caught by the old guys who still had two laps to go).

3. Being a race official is a thankless, shitty job. It's also critical for the existence of these events. If they weren't there, we wouldn't be racing. You can respectfully disagree and talk with any of them. They are rational human beings that listen to reason but that also make mistakes like any of us. Yelling and screaming the loudest will not make you right.

4. CO2 cartridges are not intended for a rainy century ride.

5. It defeats the purpose to carry more spare tubes than CO2.

6. Riding in the rain with your friend is more fun than racing in the rain with 90 strangers.

Next up, the Gentlemanly Adventure, v2 in northwestern CT. It promises to be another looong day in the saddle.