Monday, December 01, 2014

2014 California Triple Crown Stage Race by Cal Erdman

Cal Erdman on the 2014 Heartbreak Double Century

August 2, 2014 – San Rafael California, 5:00 AM

More shameless self-indulgence from Cal, but please allow me to share with you the excitement, and frankly the good bike drama, of the final stage of the 2014 California Triple Crown Stage Race.

The table was set, the players assembled, the moment had finally arrived, the 3rd and final stage of the 2014 California Triple Crown Stage Race – the Mt Tamalpais (Tam) Double Century.  There are 25 organized double century events held in California each year sanctioned by the California Triple Crown organization (CTC,  Each year, on a rotating basis, 3 of the events are selected as timed rides, with a rider’s combined time for all three double centuries compiled as a 600 mile stage race, not exactly for the feint of heart.  There were several members of this club who rode this year’s Mt. Tam DC, not all of them stage race participants, including Paul Mckenzie and Paul Chuck (Tandem riders),  Geogre Vargus,  Terresa Beck (Tandem rider), Igor Bulatov, Joel Sothern (overall winner, 2014 CTC Stage Race), Lori Hoechlin (overall winner, 2014 CTC Stage Race), Luan Doan, Dean Wilcox, Craig Robertson, Ed Middlesworth, and of course myself.  Please forgive me if I missed anyone!  Congratulations to all of us for goodness sake, particularly at our greatly advanced ages, for even completing such a beast of a ride at 194 miles (312 km) with 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) of vertical, and special congratulations and huge KUDOS to Joel and Lori; we have the two overall winners of this year’s stage race right here in the 50+ Club!!

Now it’s one thing to complete such a ride, which might be on any well-adjusted, rational rider’s bucket list, it’s quite another to race a double century, to hang for the whole distance and duration with the top riders out in front, to aspire to WIN.   For reasons that may forever remain unclear to me, that is the rider that has emerged in me.  I started the year with a goal of maybe cracking the top 15 in the stage race, which I assumed would be quite tough, but I entered this final stage of the 2014 Stage Race standing in 5th place overall, with 15 minutes separating me from 3rd place.   1st and 2nd places appeared all but locked up.

Joel Sothern and Rod Palomino on the 2014 Central Coast Double Century

Standing in first was the incomparable Joel Sothern.  I gushed about him earlier in a post here after the first stage, the Central Coast Double, held on May 10th.   At 57 Joel is lean and sculpted and even somewhat demure in stature at around 5 foot 6 or 7 inches and 140-ish pounds, but on a bike he is smooth, subtle, and extremely powerful – man that’s a lot of adjectives!.   Although very polite, modest, and even unassuming (pretty much the antithesis of me), the competitive furnace that is roaring inside will scorch you if you get too close and as I wrote earlier he is, with a few exceptions, basically untouchable at these distances.  Joel won the CTC stage race in 2012 and has more victories and achievements on a bike than this newbie (me) could possibly know or recount.  Joel is a multiple RAAM competitor and record holder and earlier in the summer set a new RAAM two man record in the 50 to 59 year old age group.  I think you get the point, which is basically forget it, you’re not going to beat Joel Sothern in a 600 mile stage race. 

Carl Sanders on the 2014 Central Coast Double Century

In second place, 41 minutes back stood Carl Sanders from Lagunitas California (this ride was in Carl’s back yard!).   Carl is 46 years old, a kid really who couldn’t even join our club here for another 4 years (HI CARL!!).   Although I don’t know him well he seems a very personable fellow, quick with a smile and very attentive.  What I can tell you is that he is an extremely determined and tenacious rider, out of his saddle and hammering whenever the situation calls for it (which is like – always), and able to draw deep and consistently into seemingly endless reserves of power and energy.  When darting my eyes over at him side by side climbing a hill, I might be equally met with either a smile or the piercing stare of a wolf zeroing in on a kill.   Extremely tough, supremely competitive, second place was also more or less of a lock for Carl. 

Robert Choi and Max Mehech on the 
2014 Central Coast Double Century

In third place, 1 hour and 15 minutes back was Max Mehech.  Max is somewhat of an enigma to me really.  At 53 years old Max is jovial, very good natured, humorous, chatty, a total sweetheart of a man really (perhaps I should check in with his wife!).  But HOLY BOTTOM BRACKET BATMAN  -  just try and stay with him on a bike for 200 miles!  Somewhere in there he simply refuses to loose and can draw on all sorts of Rule #5 (= Harden the F__k up!) tools he somewhere developed to simply STOMP you, all the while laughing or telling a story.   Reasonably infuriating actually.  Max placed second in the 2013 stage race to Robert Choi, who, if I have the story correct, overtook Max on the crest of the final pass of the Alta Alpina 8-Pass Challenge ride last year in the final stage, and Max was trying so hard he literally passed out ON his bike, to be followed-up later by the requisite puking etc.  I mean, the guy is slightly determined yeah?. 

In fourth place stood Rod Palomino, at 1 hour and 27 minutes back.  At 46 years old (who let these kids in?!) Rod was a wild card in my mind as I knew him or about him the least of any of the other riders.  I did know him to be an extremely strong rider from my experience with him for the first 70 or so miles during Stage 1, the Central Coast Double, and in truth I was quite worried about him.  Not only was he 10 years younger than me, but he, along with Joel and Carl, had rather easily dropped me in Stage 1 along the coast on Stage 1 at mile 70 as the rollers along the coast up to that point began to lengthen into some real climbs.  I had been following both Max and Rod on Strava since Stage 2, the Heartbreak Double.  A few weeks earlier I had sat in stunned amazement looking at a ride posted by Rod – 284 miles with 12K vertical in 15:23 - an average speed of 18.5 mph!  I mean WHAT THE ……??!! – how was I supposed to stay with THAT??!!

Steve Sharp, Cal Erdman, and Max Mehech
 at the finish of the 2014 Central Coast Double Century

And then there was me, 56 years old and in 5th place, 1 hour 30 minutes behind Joel but only 3 minutes behind Rod and 15 minutes behind Max.  I was a relative newbie to this whole scene, having only discovered a road bike in the fall of 2011.  However, and as I described in a previous post after Stage 1, I had been utterly transformed by this whole biking experience and had made some pretty huge and rapid gains in fitness and endurance, due primarily to my willingness to train like a crazed banshee (does a banshee train?) and SUFFER.  My list of big gnarly rides for the year was growing faster than the wildfires in California.  This was my fifth CTC double century ride of the year, and that did not include an  unsupported double century ride.  Earlier in July, Igor Bulatov and I had ridden all the way up to the top of Ebbetts Pass along Route 4 from Angels Camp near the floor of the Central Valley.   We then joined (crashed) the 2014 Death Ride event that was being held that day riding down and through Markleeville then up to the top of Carson Pass on Route 88, and continued on down the west slope of the Sierras all the way back to the Central Valley on our way to 202 miles and about 22,000 feet of vertical on the day.  Three weeks before that I had completed the Alta Alpina 8-pass challenge, another monster ride at the top of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 199 miles and 23,000 feet of climbing - absurd.  I had reached a point in my conditioning where I didn’t even blink at a ride of 150+ miles with 12 to 17K+ vertical.  These were rides that would likely be the biggest ride of most people’s lives, and I was doing them pretty much every weekend – cause I’m nuts.  And it wasn’t just the total elevation or distance I was focusing on; it was steep climbing that I sought.  I am blessed with two mountain ranges on either side of me in the Sierra Nevada and California Coast Ranges, and both are cut to pieces with deeply incised river canyons and fault-block scarps, all crisscrossed with innumerable roads that inevitably have to crest these impossibly steep canyon walls and scarps.  I knew many of the wickedly steep climbs in the region; Iowa Hill, Prospectors, Bayne, Corkscrew, Cold Springs, Mosquito, Cobb Mt., Howell Mt. East, Oakville Grade, Spring Mountain, Kings Ridge, Coleman, Monticello, Diablo, Hamilton, Sierra Road, Bolinas-Fairfax, Mt Tam – the list was growing and I had ridden most of them multiple times.  I was very happy that at 56, there appeared to be virtually nothing that was off limits to me.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but I seriously doubted that anyone here in the top 5 had trained as hard as I in the intervening weeks since Stage 2, the Heartbreak Double held on May 17th.   And, as a sort of icing on the cake, while lounging around one evening scanning the Strava notifications pinging up on my phone, I pulled up a comment on one of my rides from…. WHO IS THAT?! -   Levi Leipheimer!, who lives and rides a couple of ridges over in Santa Rosa.  It’s true I was just another one of his 4,050 odd followers on Strava, but I’d not hesitated to pepper him with repeated annoying and obnoxious little comments on his ride pages regarding his segment times verses mine on these hills over the previous weeks (guess which are faster?), or asking about roads and climbs in his beloved Sonoma County as I expanded my range west to the ocean.  And slowly he had begun engaging me in the banter then finally clicked on my name and saw what I was doing in his own back yard, and gave me a thumbs up.   I guess he had not heard of the Alta Alpina 8-pass ride and he gave me a “WTF??!!” comment on my ride page as well as a couple other comments on other rides.  As Daniel Cipriani put it in an email to me (thank you btw Danimal):  “You know you’ve arrived when Levi Leipheimer gives you a WTF?!”  I did feel like I’d arrived, and I was standing on the starting line of Stage 3.

Having ridden this event the previous year recreationally, I knew better than to think that the start and the first couple of miles would be anything other than a testosterone-ego-fueled sprint for position and attention; everyone doing 20+ mph and anxious to show how easily they could accelerate to the front if they, you know, choose to.  But now, having become more familiar with what it takes to hang long term with the real lead group on these things, I also knew that the first time the pitch steepened to more than about 4% that about 95% of these speed demons would be quickly dropping off.  We bolted up Lucas Valley Road in the dark following a police escort to the first real hill of the day at about mile 5, a one mile affair at about 5 or 6%.  Sure enough, very quickly the truly strong riders sorted themselves out up at the front and we rose out of our saddles to lock in this separation and to coax our legs into climbing mode.  My strategy was reasonably simple, based on what I’d experienced in the first two stages.  I was ready to ignore Joel and Carl if need be and let them go if they attacked immediately.  My real focus was on finding and staying with Max and Rod, particularly during these first 40 miles that would include essentially racing to the top of Mt Tam.  I found and jumped onto Max’s wheel right out of the gate, and as we positioned ourselves up at the front and fairly flew up this first hill with the 20 or 30 (?) strongest riders, I saw no sign of Rod although I knew he must be in the group.  The first hint of a potentially good day to come soon revealed itself.  I glanced left and right and there on either side of me were both Carl and Max, out of their saddles, breathing reasonably hard, and pounding up the hill.  I was fairly hopeful here, because although I was working hard for sure, it felt well within my limits, not even close to my maximum heart rate for instance, and I knew I could turn it up a notch or even two if called upon.  Perhaps I actually had gotten stronger and now could stay with Carl?  It was still too early to tell however.  We settled into a paceline after the climb, and the lead group motored on up to the base of Mt Tam in the first dim light of dawn.  Igor Bulatov appeared beside me to say hello, cool.  I picked out Lori Hoechlin up ahead on the wheel of the front rider of the paceline and accelerated up beside her to say a quick hello and wish her good luck, not that she needed much luck she was so far ahead after two stages.  There may have been two or three riders even further up ahead, like Mark Moon, the eventual overall winner on the day but who, thankfully, was not participating in the stage race.  I didn’t care, I was content to say with Max and Carl. 

By the time we’d passed through Fairfax and were half way up the lower slopes of Mt. Tam I had my answer.  We three (and 5 or 6 others who I did not know) were fairly ripping up these 4 to 7% slopes at 11.5 to 12 mph average speeds.  But the pace was established, and I now could see that neither Max nor Carl were interested in, or possibly able to go any faster.   I was right there beside them, riding well within my limits, and feeling better and better both physically and mentally.  I even was riding with a camera and could manage some short bursts of speed to swing wide and snap a few shots of them and the group (see link below).  Suddenly Rod Palomino appeared next to me, as I knew he would at some point.  I glanced over and nervously contemplated the tree trunks that passed for his thighs, but it was readily apparent that he too was riding to stay with the group and not to attack it.   We all seemed to be at equilibrium and going about as hard as we cared to given the distance and elevation that loomed before us over the course of the day.  Shortly before the lower slopes leveled off approaching Alpine Lake, Joel Sothern, who I had not seen since the start but who had been quietly lurking on our tail, attacked and came flying by us; the smooth, rhythmical motion of his pedal strokes making it seem more like floating than working.  We all watched him in admiration but no one responded to the attack, why would we want to?  See ya Joel, have a great day!  A couple miles later Carl jumped out front and started pushing the pace through the sweeping turns and rollers as the road twisted around Alpine Lake.  I responded and although there were burst sprints at close to 100% between the curves necessary to keep him in reach, it was nothing that was going to break me.  A waste of energy really, as by the time we crossed the dam at the west end of the lake and hit the base of the first real climb of the day, the 2 mile, Cat 3 Alpine Dam to Ridgecrest climb, the 7 or 8 riders in our group were all back together.  Although Mark Moon, Joel, and perhaps one other rider were out in front of us, we were essentially the lead group, and here again my aspirations (basically don’t get dropped) seemed to be confirmed.  Although we all pushed it up through the 6 to 8% steady grade at about 8.5 mph, with short, but steeper pitches on the hairpin turns, I found that I could continue to ride within myself and stay with Max and Carl.  I began to convince myself that I had definitely gotten stronger, this felt different than the frantic effort not to get dropped on Stage 1.  The scenery up the side of this ridge was breathtaking, this was one of the nicer sections of the entire ride.  We were in the midst of giant redwoods, no traffic, cool, overcast, quiet and moist.  To top it off Max, Carl, and I were each on a beautiful Trek Madone.  It was like a Trek Fest, with my fully tricked out 7.9 with Di2 being by far the best, naturally!  We three were often abreast up front and I wanted to turn around and tell those other guys on lesser bikes to back off; this was the Madone ride!

Cal's photos from the 2014 Mount Tam Double Century are HERE

This all continued as we wound up and up Ridgecrest Road, climbed above the cloud deck into a relatively hot inversion layer, and all the way to the summit of Mt. Tam.  There was good chatter, I took lots of pictures, while we all probably set a bunch of personal records (I know I did) pushing each other up that mountain.  The one bummer was that I managed to loose a water bottle, I’ve no idea how, somewhere on that hill.  As we crested the final, utterly obnoxious 20% little kicker up onto the summit parking lot to the first check in location, I knew I would have to scramble quickly to call out my number, make sure that my one remaining bottle was full, and grab a handful of whatever they had to eat.  Surprisingly to me, Joel Sothern was just coming over the lip of the parking lot about to dive into his descent as we arrived, which meant he was inside a minute or two of a lead on us – not much.   The water was slightly out of reach, the spout that I went for was still sealed and I had to struggle for an extra second or two to break the seal and pop it open, and the seal on the plastic tub containing the fig bars felt like it was cemented shut with Superglue.  That was all it took.  As I shot a glance backward over my right shoulder while filling my bottle, there was Carl in full sprint about to disappear over the edge to begin his decent, with Max just behind him – Araggghhhh!  I slammed my water bottle into it’s cage, wheeled around and took off in pursuit; a gap of 40 seconds on Carl and Max could be potentially catastrophic if it meant I would end up riding solo.  As I dove over the lip in full sprint, I noted Rod laboring up the final few feet of the pitch.  I had not noticed that he had dropped back slightly near the summit, and I allowed myself a glimmer of hope for a moment that I might gain those three minutes I needed from him.  I did not know it at the time, but that was the last time I would see Rod on the day.

I had to chase very hard, and burn some precious energy, but I managed to reel Max back in on the up and down slopes at the summit of Mt. Tam.  I was relieved, as staying with Carl was not really an objective anyway.  Another rider or two soon joined us, and we all began the long and fast descent off the summit to the ocean, through more Marin County bliss – the Muir Woods.  Descending was wonderful as I felt my body recover from the long, steady, and fairly punishing climb up Mt Tam.  We entered the marine layer cloud deck about half way down, and the entire complexion of the ride was turned on its head.  While in the cloud deck it was cold, wet, and blustery, with visibility sometimes reduced to just a few feet.  Max was flying through the curves about 200 feet in front of me.  I was just hanging on to the gap and praying, still very cognizant of my front tire blowout on a ripping descent back in February, and the resulting loss of what felt like the entire right side of my body getting intimate with the pavement.  We soon passed under the base of the cloud deck, the roads dried up and visibility was restored, and we formed up in a group of about 5 or 6 other riders who had caught us on the descent, none of which I knew other than Max.  We checked in with ride organizers at the base of the descent at a rest stop.  I was hoping for a half a minute for a potential bio-break and to grab some more food, but Max called out his number and then to me to immediately resume.  I took a quick and longing look at the incredible smorgasbord of food and drink on the tables to my right, but then complied, particularly as I saw that we had rejoined Carl, the three of us back together again, along with 4 or 5 other strong riders.  Just after turning north on Route 1, the Shoreline Highway that would take us up the coast, we climbed for another mile before the ocean came into view.  At the base of the climb, Max rose up out of his saddle and began pedaling moderately but steadily.  I had to rise out of mine after a bit to match him, then sat back down to take in the view and chat a sec with Carl or something.  Looked back over and there was Max, still out of his saddle.  Ok, rose up again to keep up, reasonably hard pace, sit, say something else to Carl, stare at my wheel for a while and concentrate on the pedaling.  Look over again, there was Max STILL out of his saddle!!  ALRIGHT CHRIS HORNER, will you please sit the %$#&*! down already??!!.  It was like this all day, the guy will grind you down!

Thereafter followed some hard and steady paceline riding, along the coastal rollers through Stinson Beach, along the margin of Bolinas Bay, up the hill and along the gash that is the San Andreas Fault to the rest stop at mile 72 at Point Reyes Station.  As a group of course we enjoyed the benefit of the draft, and at about mile 65 we caught Joel Sothern, who of course joined our group.  The peloton had reeled in the break.  I had consumed my one remaining water bottle at this point, and became more and more aware that I could not go much longer without a bio break but was hopeful that there would be a minute or so group stop at the Point Reyes Station rest stop as others were undoubtedly in the same boat and needed water and food as well.  Within about 500 feet of the rest stop I swung out to the side and called out to the group for this very request:  60 to 90 seconds everyone please, so we can use the bathrooms and refill water etc., but still remain as a group and continue to work together?  I was met with cold stares and stone cold silence.  Oh crap thought I, a bunch of ultra-competitive, non-courteous wolves.  I flew into the Porta-potty, then ran up to the food table stuffing my face as best I could while loading up my jersey with food, called out to the organizers for any spare water bottles (yea, they had one!) and turned my focus for a few seconds to the big orange jugs of Gatorade and water as I filled my bottles.  I swung around to remount my bike and take off and was met with……emptiness.  Gone, they were all gone.  I sat for a second in stunned amazement.  Game over I thought, good God.  I will never bridge back to them riding solo, it’s just me from here on out but what choice do I have?  I got on my bike and began up the road, feeling hurt and angry but mostly embarrassed like the inexperienced newbie that I am – how in the hell do you do this basically without stopping??!!  I hate you.

The moment was over and I needed to get back to business, I still had 130 miles of hard riding in front of me.  I settled into hard solo riding, which I am very accustomed to, but obviously I had lost the advantage of the draft as well as the energy savings available in group riding.  I tried not to think about how the group gap would just get bigger and bigger throughout the remainder of the day.  But then, Godsend!.  I glanced back and saw two riders ripping up the road toward me and in a flash of joy recognized them as two tall and thin guys about my age who I did not know but had been part of our group since the ascent of Mt Tam.  They must have both been using the bathrooms when I swung around to rejoin at the rest stop.  I picked up my speed to match them as they came flying by. They came by me at a speed and demeanor that suggested they were TOTALLY uninterested in letting me grab their wheels and responded to my “OK, let’s catch those dudes!” with total silence.  Apparently I was not too popular with these two, oh well, just try and drop me.  They both spoke with strong Australian (?) or New Zealand (?) accents.  Their clear intent was to get back to the group, which I was thrilled about but it was evident, at least at first, that they were just plain pissed off that I was able to join them.  They kept glancing back with hard faces to check if I was still there.  I pulled a few times and they seemed to warm a little to the fact that I was there and not going away.  Soon the group appeared ahead of us.  In 10 or so minutes of very hard work we had bridged the gap and rejoined.  I swung out to the side and tried to make a joke by admonishing Carl and Joel for ditching me, but again was met with silence – SO serious, oh well.  Max seemed to chuckle a little about it however.

We joined the other organized rides being simultaneously held that day a mile or so later, a metric, a century, double metric, etc.  These were social rides for the most part and the road became littered with hundreds of people going quite slowly so the group rip riding that we were engaged in became quite a bit more hairy as we had to concentrate that much more to both ride hard on each other’s wheels and pass riders constantly.  Our group finally broke up for good, at least as far as I was concerned, at the lunch rest stop in Petaluma at mile 93.  In 2013, the organizers had seen fit to place a check-in table for double century riders out on the road and away from the lunch masses to allow for number call out and pass through if desired – good thinking.  This year, we pulled up looking for that table and were informed that the check in was down among the food tables.  I looked down (a high-school courtyard) into a mass of what looked like thousands of riders and bikes, all stuffed into an elevator – unbelievable that they didn’t think through this situation.  We had no choice so waded in, jostling and calling out for the DC table.  I finally found it and checked in.  I needed to use a restroom again but forget it, it would take a half hour.  I grabbed some food, looked around for some water and was informed that they would have to fill my bottle from somewhere behind the food tables (I don’t think so).  By the time I had worked my way out of the crowds and back up to the road, Max, Carl, Mark Moon, and most of the others had already ridden off.  Joel, myself, and one other 41 year old DC rider named Mike from Berkeley were left.  We could see the other group about 2 minutes ahead of us and we settled in to work together. 

I rode with Joel and Mike for the next 25 miles to the Valley Ford rest stop and check in at mile 117.  It was mostly flat working northwest back toward the ocean.  We did not catch the others out front, but it was a great experience to finally ride with Joel for an extended period, hard and steady riding, with equal pulls by all three of us, cool overcast skys, and hundreds and hundreds of other riders out on the roads.  As I approached Valley Ford, I once again was feeling increasing need to relieve a faily full bladder, and I wondered what the other’s intentions were.  I knew from last year that the DC check in would definitely be out on the road as the rest stop was set back fairly far.  As we pulled in I had made a decision to definitely stop for the bio-break, food, water, and some Hammer supplements.  The first thing I saw was Carl and Max and a couple others who I didn’t know just completing their check in and heading out.  Joel immediately swung around to join them, clearly not needing supplies or a bathroom.   I hesitated for a second, looking back at them and longing to rejoin them, but I had to stop.  Reluctantly, I waded into the masses, but in a hurry.  The organizers clearly were not thinking about stage race participants.  There were Hammer products available for DC riders only, but the table was located at the far end of the rest area, about as far away from the road as they could possibly position it.  I ran up, filled my bottles, and then topped them off with two heaping dispenser cupfuls of Hammer Perpetuem Powder supplement.  I was about to leave when I noticed a bottle of Hammer electrolyte capsules and asked if I could have some.  “Sure” said the woman manning the station.  I threw two or three in the back of my mouth, brought the nozzle of my water bottle up to my lips, and gave it a hard squeeze, instantly filling my entire mouth with powder, I had forgotten to shake the bottles!.  The women at the table looked at me with a puzzled and somewhat horrified expression as dust and smoke were spilling out of my mouth and probably my nose.  It was like a large mouthful of chalk that had instantly absorbed every molecule of water available in my mouth and I was like a suffocating fish trying to work my jaw to produce a word with no success.  I viciously shook my bottles while gagging and frantically pushed some fluid into what was left of my mouth and finally managed to swallow and wash the powder down.  Oh well, it was probably a good slug of much needed fuel.  I raced out to see about a bathroom and was met with a line at least 10 deep in front of ever Porta-Potty in sight.  Screw it I said to myself and raced on up around my bike up front and half way along the wall of a large barn next to the rest area, dozens of cars parked against it.  I had to go and go now and so I did, against the side of the barn shielded from view as much as possible by the parked cars.  I’m sure people were shaking their heads at me but so be it. 

I jumped back on my bike and on the road, alone now and this time I knew for good, at least 5 or 6 minutes behind the leaders with no chance of catching them without the benefit of the draft.  I had about 75 miles in front of me that included a couple of big climbs in Coleman Grade and Marshall Road but I was determined to ride it as hard as I possibly could.  In my favor was a second wind that I felt coming on.  My energy level felt solid even though at this point in the ride my Garmin indicated an average speed of just under 19.0 mph.  In addition, I had a growing database of experience now to draw on from both doubles and my training rides that for whatever reason, the second half of these big rides were often better for me than the first, my legs would often miraculously seem to actually recover, and late climbs often felt stronger than earlier climbs.   I settled in to a hard and steady cadence and used the various riders from the other events on the road ahead of me as targets, zeroing in on each one I saw in front of me, hunting them down and crushing them, and no I’m not competitive.  Near the top of the Bay Hill Road climb I reeled in another doubles rider;  it was one of the men in the duo who had helped me bridge back to the lead group after the debacle at the Point Reyes Station rest stop.  He had clearly broken and had hit the wall.  His shoulders were stooped forward, his head down seemingly on his handle bars, his cadence agonizingly slow and his bike barely moving.  I remembered the dour expression he had given me when I joined he and his friend at mile 74 and I showed no mercy, making sure to stand tall out of my saddle and blow by him almost at full sprint at the top of the hill.  A few miles later near the top of the Coleman Road climb at about mile 130 I picked off another doubles rider, it was Mike, the guy Joel and I had ridden with for a couple of hours after Petaluma.  He was weaving back and forth across the top of the climb trying to create switch backs and I cut straight on through his his S-turns at a steady pace, and he was gracious to acknowledge my effort.  I had seen this many times before, there were a lot of riders plenty strong enough to ride hard with the leaders for 100 to 120 miles, but then the lack of training or the body’s lack of familiarity with the total duration of hard exertion over the entire length of a tough double century caught up with them and they begin to loose power.  I didn’t learn until after the ride, but Max and Carl and the other leaders had been strung out on the Coleman climb perhaps 8 or 10 minutes before this.  This climb was relatively short at 1.3 miles or so, but with grades up to 13 to 14% in sections it was the steepest climb featured on this ride.  Max later relayed to me that while he was laboring up this hill, he was passed, somewhat casually I gather, by a very pleasant fellow who was saying “Hi” to everyone.  Max then did something of a double take when he suddenly recognized the black Pinarello Dogma and Team Sky bike kit and realized with a shock that it was none other than Chris Froome, who was in Sonoma County doing some training.  I missed being passed by Chris Froome on a climb by mere minutes!!  My bike luck sucks.

Mike actually did join back up with me a couple of miles later while I was getting water at the Coleman check-in and water station and we rode and worked together for the next several miles until we passed the Valley Ford rest stop again and I lost him – I’m not positive but I think (?) he pulled in there.  During that interval two bees slammed into my torso along the flats somewhere.  I didn’t realize that they both fell into my jersey that was open at the top until suddenly I was stung twice in rapid succession on my chest and belly – ouch.   I was slamming my hand against my torso while pedaling madly to stay with Mike until I found each one and crushed them between my fingers.  Great, was there anything else this ride cared to throw at me?

I rode with consistent power and push for the remainder of the ride, almost the entire distance alone.   I had no idea how far ahead the leaders were, or even how many in total there were, but I did know that Joel, Carl and Max were the only stage race participants that were out in front.  Rod had faded, and I knew that I had picked up a place and secured fourth place overall for 2014 so I was resigned and content with this.   The course was beautiful, taking us back down to the ocean along Rt 1 in the early afternoon where the temperatures were cool and the air fresh and moist, perfect riding conditions really.  There were hundreds of riders from the other rides still on the roads and they provided an endless source of pick-off targets, which helped me maintain my speed.  It’s completely immodest really, but I was having a completely different experience than pretty much everyone else out there, I was going so much faster and just ripping by virtually everyone, out of my saddle still on almost every incline – I’m sure many thought I was a total show-off jerk and there’s a chance they were right.  As I turned onto Lucas Valley Road about 10 miles out from the finish I got lucky and passed another kid in a Berkeley racing jersey, who turned and said farewell to his buddy, then gunned it up to the back of my wheel.  Perfect I thought. I told him that I was riding the double and my situation and asked him if he could lead me in on the back of his wheel, which he was only too happy to do.  This helped tremendously and on the descent down off the hill on Lucas Valley Road and then out onto the flats we were cruising along at speeds of near 30 mph.    The turn into town and leading up to the finish came sooner than I expected, and in short order I pulled across the finish line and ran through the mob scene of riders and security (check my bike later dude, I’m still racing!) and vendors and tent poles to the final DC finish table and shouted out to stop the damn clock as I hit the save button on my Garmin.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that I was 6th to check in and lot closer to the leaders than I realized.  All the top 6 were bunched up within 12 minutes of the new record breaking leading time set by Mark Moon of 10:44.  I had a 10:56, only 6 minutes off the previous record on that course, with a total ride time of 10:36 – average speed over the 194 miles and 17K vertical of 18.3 mph, easily the strongest ride of my life so far.  Max had a 10:48 total official time with a ride time of 10:42, I can’t recall Joel or Carl’s time but they were all stuffed in there.  Interestingly, I realized that all of us in the top 6 or 7 had about the same ride time, mine was actually a few minutes faster than Max’s.  The difference of course in finish order was the greater time I had spent off the bike dealing with my bladder and water.  Max revealed later to me that he did not take a single bio-break the entire ride, and he only spent 5 minutes total off the bike for the entire duration of the ride.  Wow, impressive, and something to work on for next year!

No comments: