Riding with a Pro with a purpose: Part 2

Our newly assembled team would be riding for the dZi Foundation a nonprofit that provides raw materials and training needed to help underserved communities in the remote regions of Nepal.

In mid July, I joined Scott on one of Studio Velo's memorable cycling trips in the beautiful Pyrenees of Spain. We rode everyday and after a bit of R and R around the pool, would sit down to one of Chef Ritchie's infamous dinners. Despite his demanding schedule,Scott was even able to take time out to  wipe the Nair on and take the hair off. 

I had five days of great rides with Scott, Colin and the gang. This was my second time to the Pyrenees and it is just as beautiful as I remembered it. The climbs can be steep and challenging while the rolling rides along the Costa Brava coastline are stunning. One thing you can always expect when riding in this area. The roads are great and in general the Spanish drivers are quite courteous. Along the way you can anticipate finding a little cafe bar  for a caffeine boost or a small local restaurant for some great Spanish food. 

On Friday afternoon we loaded up the car with our Cyfac Absolu bikes for  the race, said our goodbyes to everyone and headed north for our 7 hour drive to Orelle, France, host country to our 3-day pro-am race. 

We had a long six plus hour drive from Girona, Spain, to Orelle in the French Alps. Broke up the drive with a couple of stops for some of that fine institutionalized "home cooking" at the ubiquitous Auto Grills. We reached our destination around 12:30 am and to our surprise we were some of the first to arrive. Our teammates Thomas ,Craig and Chris together with the rest of the teams were flying in to Lyon from London on a chartered flight and they wouldn't reach Orelle until after 2am. It had been a long day and a comfortable bed was pretty appealing. The next morning we all gathered for breakfast with the exception of Thomas who was noticeably MIA. We planned an early warm up ride, but first we had to find and wake up Mr. Newmeyer. Needless to say he was totally sound asleep having not gotten to bed until after 3am. I think he was still half asleep when he got him down to his bike!

Riding the "Tour de France" with our Pro Craig Lewis

What would it be like to compete in the Tour de France? Whether one is a casual or serious rider, we all have had that dream as we watch the best in the world compete on the cycling world's center stage. Unfortunately for most of us the chance to compete in that arena is only left to dreams.

My dream, and those of my four amateur teammates, was realized this summer as we were invited  to compete in Les Trois Etapes a grueling three stage race in the French Alps consisting of 10 six person teams ( five amateur and one pro ) racing for a sponsored charity.

Our challenge would be to race some of the classic Alpine climbs of the Tour de France including Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, Alpe d'Huez and Col de la Madeleine. In three days we would cover more than 200 miles and climb over 25000 feet. Each team would have its own support car with a two person crew, team radios and complimentary masseurs. To enhance the experience there would be rolling road closures and television camera crews to record the event.

Our team consisted of five Studio Velo riders: Scott Penzarella, Thomas Newmeyer, Craig Parker, Chris Maddox and myself.

Our assigned pro would be Craig Lewis, member of Columbia HTC that won the team time trial in the 2011 Giro di Italia, who currently races for Champion Systems

Our story is as much about our adventure as it is about doing something amazing on the bike for ourselves and our friends in Nepal. We hope you enjoy the read. This is a multi-part blog, with more content and photos coming daily. 

Enjoy our Endless Ascent. 

Studio Velo Spanish Adventure: Day 6 - to arrive in this world

To wake in Catalunya, in the Spanish countryside with coffee brewing and your breakfast being whipped up by a professional chef, is to have arrived--in my estimation.   After breakfast we were off on a twenty minute jaunt to start our ride start in the countryside.  While the 9 women on the ride were rearing to go, Colin was fluttering around looking for this, looking for that--hairbrush, mascara, foundation--and we ladies had fun harassing him. 

Most of the menfolk had been tasked with dropping a van at the ride destination in Roses for the benefit of beaching and beers post ride. Colin, Steve, Marni, Rachael, Petra, Sandy, Mo, Nina, Deanna, Jasmine and Sarah set off at a very civilized pace through some beautiful back country roads.  The landscape was open and wild, and was very reminiscent of the hinterlands of Mexico.  Given the similarities, the Spanish must have felt right at home when conquering the Americas.  Despite thousands of years of civilization, it is heartening to know that such truly wild (except for us riding through on a finely paved road) expanses still exist.

As Colin and Scott had warned, the creamy dreamy pavement of Spain gave way instantaneously to a bone rattling, kidney disheveling descent just about the moment we crossed the border into France--similar to the way that the pavement disintegrates on Sir Francis Drake the moment you cross into Samuel P. Taylor State Park.  After the not insignificant climb, we felt we deserved better.  My brakes were howling like a tortured hyena.  It had gone from bad to worse by the time we got to the bottom where we regrouped at the old fashioned water pump conveniently placed in the middle of precisely nowhere.  This clearly used to be “somewhere”, for a critical (and beautiful) piece of infrastructure such as this was surely an important crossroads in days of old. 

While waiting, the antique roadie who had crested the climb with us flew by in a rather precarious state.  He was covered in blood, fairly pouring from his helmet, down his face and front.  Petra attempted assistance with a hearty “Hey!!  Are you okay??” but to no avail.  He rode off into France, never to be seen again. 

We hooked up with the rest of the crew at a cafe in a beachside town in France, and began another big climb, reunited once again.  The pace had inexplicably picked up again now that the men were back...alas, these were gorgeous climbs and one was always assured of having inspiration to try harder, or a friend to endure with should the legs fail to respond.  Lunch back in Spain was fabulous, though too large for the ensuing--you guessed it--CLIMB.  This climb was accompanied by a fierce, hot, hellish headwind that made me want my mommy.  Fortunately, Ron was there and offered his wheel to Nina and I for the entire suffering duration until at last we were in Roses where Ritchie and beers and the beach and my bikini awaited.


Again, “Esta es La Vida”.  This is the life.

Tomorrow:  Last day :(  we ride Roca Corba outside Banyoles.  Apparently the local Spanish and French pros train here.  Maybe I’ll be at the cafe....







Studio Velo Spain Adventure: Day 5 - Mare de deu & Chocolate Cake

While the hardcorians opted to ride up to the monastery, 50% of us were more of the relaxarian type.  We hit the beach in Sant Marti de Empuries.  Mark, Petra, Mo, Sandy, Jerry, Rachael and Marni, set off properly outfitted with towel, sunscreen, book, a fistful of euro and an eye for the nearest chaise/umbrella combo.  Within 200 yards of the parking lot after a quick 20 minute drive, we found our paradise and set up shop.  10 euro each felt like the best money ever spent for this view of the Med.  Families with children frolicking in the surf, lovers strolling in their own amorous universe, tan and rotund old men, topless ladies of varying shapes and sizes--all were represented.  

After a difficult couple of hours reading, daydreaming (about not being on a climb in 100 degree heat), we collectively yawned, stretched, and decided it was time for lunch.  A quick stroll up behind the multi-hundred year-old church and voila--three beautiful restaurants to choose from.  I suspected our choice would be the “fleece the tourist” variety, but it was utterly delightful and we spent a full two hours perfecting this new level of “I’m On Vacation”.  After lunch and a quick walk around town, it was back to our spots for a full-on snooze-athon. 

With all the work we had done, we clearly deserved a nice dinner, so after a couple of hours back at the villa (how I do love saying that--“back at the villa”...), we headed into Bascara for Chef Ritchie/Chris’ only night off.  Bascara is at the confluence of France and Spain and the cuisine is reflective of the location.  Our dining room held one beautiful long table with high-backed chairs and a view out onto the narrow town streets. 

Ritchie/Chris ordered white, rose, and red for us to try, and the tapas began to flow freely.  We had calamari, bread, grilled local veggies with goat cheese, clams, and mussels.  We had our choice of turbot (white fish from the Med), fillet of another white fish from the North Atlantic, grilled rib-eye, or braised pork.  I chose the pork and was not disappointed.  Ron had the rib-eye, and therefore I had a taste of that as well.  Also fabulous. 

There had been the equivalent of a whisper campaign all week regarding the chocolate cake at this place.  When it came time to order dessert, Scott implied that there were only just so many of those crown jewels available, so you had better really want, and furthermore DESERVE to have this chocolate cake.  The other options were orange cake, local ice cream (torrone--hazelnut), flan, a goat cheese/honey dish and maybe one other that currently eludes me.  The orange cake was drizzled with heavenly chocolate, was moist and beatifically orange-y.  While the chocolate cake was indeed good, I have to saw that mine was better.  Scott later admitted that the shortage in the house was actually on the orange cake rather than the chocolate, and that he and the waitress were in cahoots to herd us into choosing appropriately.  

Properly stuffed, we headed back to the villa and retired to dreams of more climbing the next day.

Tomorrow: RocaCorba.  Apparently it is going to be a torture-fest for our final send off.

Studio Velo Spanish Adventure: Day 4

Today we started our ride in Bisbol, about 30 minutes from the villa.  A quick cortado at the cafe across the street and we were off.  Ritchie led us out as Colin had “forgotten” his helmet and shoes...

 Busy city streets quickly gave way to charming farm roads, and then to a gentle yet mature climb winding through the forest of the old country.  Scott, Eli, Ron, Mark, Bill and Mike had ridden directly from the house and were due to catch us at any minute.  I looked over my shoulder and saw someone coming at me as if he were descending versus climbing this hill.  I said “Hola!” as he flew past, he smiled, and I thought “I wonder if that’s a Spanish pro rider--they train out here”.   As the blur faded, I realized it was Scott. 


We descended into the first of several beach towns which were reminiscent of Venice Beach and other Southern California beach town mob scenes.  Progress was slow but amusing--dodging pedestrians, locals, tourists, kids, parallel parkers, car doors, backer-uppers, roundabouts, etc., etc., etc.  Roundabouts can be a bit hair-raising for the uninitiated.  And that’s when you’re in a car.  On a bike it is a sort of white-knuckle affair where you take a quick look, try to recall the “rules” that apply for this yawning 400-yard radius of intentional chaos, and gas it into the breach while mentally crossing yourself in the hope of some late-breaking divine intervention.

We were miraculously spit out the other side unscathed and arrived at the best beach town where we had lunch watching the locals and the beautiful blue Mediterranean.  Some of us swam before getting back in the saddle for the second half of our day.  Every inch away from the coast saw a tiny tick upward in the mercury, but as the views seemed to be competing with one another, our attention was elsewhere. Around each corner the new view handily outdid the last one every time. 


To this point, the fun rollers and the scenery had combined to create a delicious harmony.  Only now did Scott inform us of the 8K climb we were about to face.  And it would be steep.  And it would be hot.  And there would be no shade.  It would still be beautiful, I just wasn’t mentally prepared for it.  It went up and up and up, and as Jasmine so accurately described it later that evening, “...and then there was the boat ramp”.  Just when you thought it was over, a wall of pavement materialized in front of you, resembling--well--a boat ramp.  A couple of swear words under the (heavy) breath, and we all huffed it over the top to a long descent into Llagosterra. 

 We reconvened at a glorious fountain in town, some of us (me) opting to take the van back, and more than half of the crew opting to ride the rest of the way back to Bisbol.  It was fun watching the hammerheads sprint for the town line from the comfort of the air-conditioned van.

 Back at the villa, pool and beverages were once again enjoyed by all.  Chef Ritchie/Chris prepared his best dinner yet, in my estimation.  Sole, roasted carrots with onion, garlic (balsamic?), braised rabbit, pasta fabuloso, and bread.  Ritchie showed us how to expertly bone a fish, and since there were extras on the table, well, we just had to keep trying it over and over and over.  And since waste is sinful, we had to eat it all as well.  Dessert was a peach over a Greek yogurt panna cotta that was muy deliciosa. 

Tomorrow:  Options--beach day or ride up the really steep hot mountain to the monastery. 

50% chose to ride, 50% chose beach. 

I’ll be the one under the umbrella with a parasol in my drink.