Sometimes a ride, a race, is seen not through the eyes of the narrator, the spectator, but the eyes of the racer, the rider himself, the one who suffers, the one who lives the experience. Below is an inside look at a team, a true team of racers, who through grace and teamwork, experienced and thrived in this year's 2011 West Coast Rapha Gentlemen's Race.
By Josh Flexman
Rolling up, rolling out. Destination was the RGR (The Rapha
Gentlemen’s Race) just outside Portland Oregon. The car ride up was persistent but jovial.
The crew. Racers, racers to be, and something in
between. The six of us enjoyed the
company, talked work, talked food, watched movies, took naps. Something was in the air about us
though. Something we knew was
looming ahead, but could not yet define or predict. Subtle nervousness, angst.
Ok so there was some heat up
there this weekend. Foggy, cool
Mill Valley was shrugging her shoulders in the rear view, sorry guys, good
Our first ride of the weekend took us along some of the
meandering rollers and flats of Southern Oregon, just outside Grant's
Pass. Beautiful country, sweet
warm air. After the near 2 hour
warm up we dipped into the Rogue River for a quick float before continuing the
journey north. Spirits up, heads
up. The balance was still there, always the balance of the next day. The company, the jokes, the bikes, the
vacation all held in balance by what we all knew would be effort of the unknown
We arrived in Portlandia in the
dark; nourished and hydrated. Things were on schedule. The wake up time was 6am. Could we sleep? Some maybe? My night would be a mixture of both dreams and wall
staring. Typical and expected.
Dirt roads change the way you
ride a bike. Especially a road
bike. In my head I was preparing
for some dirt roads. I have ridden
dirt roads many times before on my road bike. I did a lot of training camps in West Virginia where dirt was expected and welcomed. Gear down...b*tches. Slow and steady.
Grade up. This is what I was
thinking before this race. This is
what I was telling myself as we drove mile after mile to the start line passing
countless "pavement ends" signs: It's just going to be gravel connectors. Ok some climbs too, and maybe some
steady false downhill flats. But it's just a long ride, just a long
social ride, a promotional stunt, a "Gentlemen’s" race...
But what I really knew (and
perhaps only knew) going in to that said race was its length: a 130 miles. That is long sure, but I have raced 80+
countless times, whats an extra, ummm 40...? Some level of heat we were un-acclimated to... Thanks Mill
Valley. Dirt roads. We all ride mountain bikes... The wild card was
this; something very unique to
bike racing and riding, something that may not immediately register as familiar
to many, even very experienced bike racers: This was a pure team event, nothing
counted if one of our guys didn't make the full course. We were tied together--- all day long. Bound by this unspoken trust that each
would do what was needed to get to the finish line. Our time was clocked by the last finisher of the team. No support, no sag, no shallow
end. Just steady grinding. Steady chipping. How far down does the well go today for
this SV team. Today it went DEEP.
The environment was beautiful. Rolling green hills, trees on the edge
of deadly thirst, leaves desperately holding on to red summer. Bugs, blue sky, lots of energy. There is a level of awareness one has
about their environment as they start to dig into a big day on the bike. It is as if the beauty is holding you
in the palm of its hand. Slowly
closing, less light comes in, less sounds, more uncertainty. There must always be the respect. Beautiful yes, forgiving no.
The ride started and ended with a
steep dirt, deep gravel driveway.
When we rolled out down the road, already passing the day's first flat
(unknown team), nerves began to settle, and acceptance set in.
Eat drink, drink eat, drink,
drink, eat, eat. Heat.
So far so...well...ok I will use
the word good here, reluctantly.
We got passed by the Rapha Continental team about 6 times in the first
40 miles. Each time they flatted
we would roll by, steady, in control, and driven. When we flatted, they rolled by us, no hi, no bye, just “flatted
First real climb of the day at
less than an hour in burned a match.
Everyone starts with a book of matches. The size of your book depends on what you have prepared for,
what your body is willing to do, and what your mind expects. As we crested the climb, and I looked
down at the Garmin, a feeling of fear washed over me so fast, so
determined. It was a confident and
aggressive fear. Mile 20? No it can't be.
Something was wrong with the computer. 110 miles to go, no way. It’s
can’t really be this hard the whole way.
There were so many times when I
looked at one of my teammates with the intention of asking how they were
feeling and then decided it was unnecessary. So many details of this ride are peripheral. They exist somewhere, at some time, but
are just for us, just for the sufferers.
We all experience these moments, the beats the breaks, the ups the
downs, the peaks and valleys. They
all exist in the balance. This
ride was so hard because we are so rarely called on to go this deep. So many moments of doubt and
surprise. Joy and heartbreak. It was so hard because we all knew the
same thing. The other guy wearing
the same jersey as I am, will not stop.
So therefore, neither can I.
The roads disappeared beneath
us. Mile after mile. The rocks, the dust. Dying and rebirth. Round every corner, the feeling of
anticipation. How long can this
climb really be? Hard climbs. Long dirt gravel climbs. 8 mile gravel false flats are soul
My muscles started revolting at
or around 70 miles in. The fatigue
pounds at the door. Kicking
at the dusty broken, splintered door.
We stand inside, huddled together, heads high, all taunting it. Hobbs almost beckoning. "I dare you," he mutters. Not
yet. The eyes around me said no, so I said no. The energy was still there, always there. Scott made sure, Hobbs made sure, Tom
made sure, Eric made sure, Justin made sure. I breathed it in.
At this point we are all in, chips
down, minds melting. We peddle,
and wonder what the hell we are doing.
Crashes surround us, blood, broken bikes, broken bones. Cars blaze by. Car back, car back. Hobbs has the directions as if the
course was his Sunday ride. Scott
is never too tired to encourage and ground the ups and downs throughout each
and every mile. The contagious disease of optimism fighting back.
This ride, this race, this
“Gentlemen’s” race, was—in light of the challenges—a perfect (well, relatively
perfect) display of teamwork and tenacity... We had a steady, predictable team of riders. Everyone was looking one step
ahead. 4 flats. 4 pro flat
changes. Calm leadership. Determination. Desire.
Of course there were moments where
doubt collapsed on our heads .
Every time a person pushes the limit, or checks what the limit is, there
will be these moments. Checkpoint
at mile 105 was this moment for me.
Broken people littered the area.
Bikes in the truck, bikes on the ground. Sun hitting so hard.
Bastard sun. Water bottles are now dusty abused, hated. I recall
grabbing the brakes as if it was the end, feeling the surrender, and coast to a
stop. I can't lift my leg over the
bike, I stand there, hunched over the bars, and staring at the menacing dirt
road ahead pitch up around the corner. The “team” doesn’t miss a beat. I am pulled back from the
edge. Scott, gets my bottles, fills them up and dumps cold liquid
on my head and on my legs and says, “you are going to get back on the bike and
start pedaling, now do it… I believe in you.” So I do. It
works. I am in disbelief. Skeptically force things back together.
Miles 105 to 130 were 97% dirt,
most of which seemed to be up hill.
We past so many people at this point. Surviving and at the same time
thriving. The f*%$king Garmin
laughing in our faces. Distance:
119, 119, 119, 119, 120... Justin power walking past other walkers one of the
‘final’ climbs. Power he found
somewhere deep. Justin is in
Eric and Tom were so strong, so
steady. I borrowed strength from
them. It was going to be over
soon, we were for the first time in the race in first place? Maybe,..... but that was all it took. That maybe ignited us.
One last flat, 300 meters from the end of the dirt. Flat fixed. Scott was on it. Rolling on. So close now, F
you Garmin you can’t stop us now.
126...... 127. 128. Rollers...ouch. Last right turn on the dirt. Pass a girls team furiously. Sorry girls you are getting put into a
tree if you contest this. We are finishing this now. The last 200 meters of the course was steep, uphill with a
single track paralleling it to the right.
Dismounted the bike to get over the ditch. Left leg malfunction, dragging the bike, looking back. Hobbs yelling help, Justin just
straight in trouble. Blur, bluuuuurrrrrrr
No field sprint, no arms raised,
no kissing sponsors or podium girls.
None of these things; but something else. I would lie if I said I knew it all along, "sure no
problem boss, you can count on me..." We all made it happen today, we all spread ourselves
thin, across 10 hours.
The wave of relief rinsed off our
dust covered abused bodies. Everything
was worth it now. The end.